Yoga your way – part two
A three-part series on expanding your practice to make it support your body, your life, your needs.
By Esther Marie.
Part Two: Mind
Yoga can support our mind through two different approaches: on the mat and off the mat. Through our on the mat asana practice, we are able to steady the wandering mind and draw focus back to the present through movement that is mindful and united with our breath. this is often said to be experienced as the post-yoga 'high' – a sense of mental peace and clarity, even euphoria.
Off the mat, we can use the teachings of yoga philosophy to not only practice yoga without physically moving on our mats, but also embody the practice.
There are eight so-called 'limbs' of yoga, only one of which relates to the physical – the other seven paths to practice yoga do not involve actual, physical movement. Within this eight-fold path, there are guidelines, principles, and concepts, all written to help us understand ourselves, connect to ourselves and create inner harmony. All of which I think we need into today's frantic, modern world more than ever.
I found yoga philosophy before I found yoga asana, which is the usual way these philosophical concepts are discovered. I started practicing mindfulness and meditation which led me to find the eight limbs of yoga when I was battling severe anxiety and depression over 10 years ago. To say I have a deep love and passion for yoga philosophy is a big understatement! The teachings of yoga philosophy have been able to heal the wounds of my past that years of psychotherapy alone could not. Despite the teachings of this philosophy being written sometime between the second and fourth century BC, they are able to be adapted and made relatable to life in 2023. They are as relevant today as they were back then.
Here are my three favourite yoga philosophy concepts and a few tips on how you can bring them into your everyday life to find inner peace, strength, and balance without even stepping on your mat:
Ahimsa, meaning non-violence or non-harm. Traditionally in yoga philosophy it is written that ahimsa is to mean non-violence towards all living creatures, oneself and an attitude of universal benevolence. To truly extend this attitude to others we must first cultivate acceptance, tolerance, and compassion for ourselves. Think about how you talk to yourself silently: is it kind or sometimes cruel? Have you ever judged yourself? Been hard and critical on yourself? By being more aware of your automatic thoughts — and taking a mindful pause to reframe any unkind ones — you are embodying ahimsa and practicing yoga. It is only after we are able to truly treat ourselves with compassion and loving kindness that we can then extend this to others, and the world. This teaching has created the most dramatic change in my life. From living a life of self-sabotage, crippling anxiety and total disconnection from myself, it was ahimsa that showed me another way to think and to live.
Santosha means complete contentment and satisfaction. This is generally considered to be both an attitude of the mind and a state of deep inner peace. How we can integrate this into our lives today is by expressing gratitude. By becoming aware of all the good in our lives, noticing and appreciating it all, rather than only wanting more and more — in this way, we are embodying Santosha. Another way of practicing this is through slowing down and savouring the moment and simple pleasures around us. For example, savouring and sipping your cup of tea in the morning instead of gulping it down whilst watching the news. Gratitude and Santosha both teach us that paying attention to what’s going on outside of our head, rather than in it, allows us to experience new and deeper levels of appreciation for everyday life.
Aparigraha is often translated as non-attachment. This has been one of the most eye opening and ongoing lessons for me in my yogic journey, both on and off the mat. We can experience Aparigraha by making sure we are not cluttering our homes with excessive things, that we are not hoarding, not wasting food, or even holding onto things from our past that no longer serve us. Another way we can use this philosophy is to let go of the belief that we ‘should’ or ‘ought’ to be doing or living in a certain way. This mentality is one of resistance and often makes us feel worse. By adopting a non-attachment mentality, we focus on the moment rather than the result, rely less on external and material possessions and we discover the freedom of doing things for the joy they bring us in the moment, rather than worrying about the outcome.
I hope this has provided a little insight into how yoga philosophy doesn't have to be overly complicated and is still very much valid, needed and relevant for modern life. Personally, I believe the basic principles of yoga philosophy are beautifully simple in essence. They teach us how to nourish and care for our body and mind and connect to our higher soul self. They encourage us to explore our inner world and adopt healthy habits in our external world. You could even say that yoga philosophy is actually the oldest and wisest written teaching on what self-care truly is and how to practice it, on and off the mat!
Esther Marie is a yoga teacher trained in meditation, mindfulness and stress reduction. Her classes merge her love for functional strength and movement as medicine. Find her on Instagram @esthermarieyoga and practice with her online via her yoga and mindfulness app EMY: Wellness & Yoga.
Read Part 1
Read Part 3 (available 15th June 2023)