Now is the Practice of Yoga

A couple weeks ago, I felt pulled to my copy of Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of The Yoga Sutras. Specifically, the first Sutra (1.1) of the entire collection, “Atha Yoganusasanam.” I had been introduced to this Sutra during my 200 hour yoga teacher training, and reintroduced when I attended a workshop series discussing the Sutras, but it didn’t really mean all that much to me.

Maybe it was because in my yoga teacher training we, the trainees, we’re given the translation, “Now is the practice of Yoga.” My thought was, “Well, yeah. We were practicing yoga because we were at yoga teacher training. Duh.” Not much discussion was offered on this, instead we went to the next topic without obtaining much depth.

Or maybe it is because Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of “Atha Yoganusasanam,” is, “Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.” Satchidananda explains this as, “Anusasanam means exposition or instruction because it is not mere philosophy that Patanjali is about to expound, but rather direct instruction on how to practice Yoga. Mere philosophy will not satisfy us. We cannot reach the goal by mere words alone. Without practice, nothing can be achieved.” (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, page 3) Each time I read this I was like, “Neat,” and simply went on.  The thing is, though, the first Sutra of each book is the most important, and the first Sutra of the entire collection is the most important of them all. If I am a Yoga teacher, and I’m not connecting to this first Sutra, then how can I share any kind of depth with my students?

So I started to wade into the muddy water. As I kept coming to this Sutra and looking at Sri Swami Satchidananda’s words, the notes from the Sutras workshop, and other interpretations of this Sutra I started to feel like the water might be come clear at some point, but I still had some wading to do before I would be able see to the bottom of this pond.

One day as I was driving to teach a class I had a thought about the word, “Atha,” which translates to, “Now.” Now is defined as the present time or moment. I feel most people, including myself sometimes, think of Now as a finite concept, like an appointment. However, Yoga is repeatedly said to be a continuous practice because it is done, both, on and off the mat. If Yoga is to be practiced constantly, then it must be practiced throughout every moment. What if “Now” was replaced with “every moment?” That would make it, “Every moment is the practice of Yoga.”

When I made that small, yet profound, switch of verbiage in my interpretation I felt a bit more clarity, but still needed more to really understand. This was the catalyst that caused me to return to my notes from the Yoga Sutras workshop I had taken. The instructor, who had been a student of Satchidananda’s, had broken down a couple more Sanskrit elements.

“Yoga” means to “union,” “to yoke,” or ,”join.” (If you’ve taken any number of Yoga classes you’ve probably heard a teacher use that translation before, but usually referring to the union of breath and movement or breath, body, and mind. I’ve heard it countless times. I’ve even used it in some of my first classes as a teacher.) The next phrase she described was “Anu.” “Anu” is “little moments where you see the most vastness.” These little moments occur when we feel connected to our higher Self, when everything feels aligned and right. That everything is as it should be.

When these new elements are added to the Sutra, the result is, “Every moment is the practice of joining with your higher Self.”

In each moment of our lives, we are trying to attain this state of bliss or enlightenment. Sometimes it happens. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, Yoga is a continuous practice. Yoga isn’t something that just happens on your mat. It happens at work, the grocery store, the park, in the middle of standstill traffic. Every waking moment the practice of Yoga is happening. And with each new moment comes a new chance for this union with your higher Self to occur.

Atha Yoganusasanam.

Now is the practice of Yoga.

Discovering Your Truth

satya

 

Yoga is described as a journey of the self through the self to the self. This is done through physical movement, meditation, sensory deprivation, ethical living, etc. The first step of the journey is through ethical living, and the guidelines for ethical living are called Yamas and Niyamas. Within each guideline is a set of rules or commandments, so to speak.

The focus of this post is truthfulness, which is the Yama known as Satya. “Sat” means “true essence,” “true nature,” “unchangeable.” The practice of Satya is being true and consistent with reality in ones thoughts, speech, and actions. Our thoughts, speech, and actions are interchangeable and tend to be a result of how we feel in a particular moment, a result of primitive thinking, rather than seeing things for how they really are, the unchanging truth. Usually the reaction within a moment comes from a place of fear and conditioning. Thoughts, ways of speaking, and actions are influenced and conditioned by our life experiences such as events, trauma, and relationships.

How does one practice Satya?

First of all, in order to be honest with others we must first be honest with ourselves. It’s typical for people to identify with judgments. For instance, “I am a bad person…,” “I am not in a good mood…,” “I have a bad shoulder so I just deal with it.” These judgment usually arise in the moment and we attach to them. In order to detach from irrational thoughts or feelings offer yourself some space and stillness. Allow yourself to slow down and sit in observation of your thoughts. One way is to observe each thought as it comes up, offer a polite greeting, then watch each thought pass by, as if you are passing someone kindly on a street or watching cars drive by.

However, sometimes a thought or feeling sticks around or continues to come up. In that instance, allow yourself to analyze the thought or feeling. Instead of letting it multiple and grow into this mass of irrational thinking, ask yourself questions. “Why does this thought keep showing up?” “Why does it show during this particular scenario?” “Why do I feel this way?” Begin to dismantle the thought, gently and non-judgmentally taking it apart so you can arrive at the root of the thought or feeling, the truth.

This practice of observing thoughts can be done with regards to other people. Watch your thoughts as they come up. Analyze the recurring thoughts or feelings. Come to the truth about why you feel or think that way toward that person or group of people.

As you start move away from fear based thinking and feeling you can start to live and speak your truth. Allowing your entire self to be seen by everyone and voicing your needs. Speaking the truth can be just as difficult as, if not more difficult than, observing thoughts and feelings. When one is speaking it is easy to state an opinion or judgment. “I don’t like the way you fill the dishwasher.” “I can’t believe you are wearing that dress. It’s so ugly.”

Satya is the second Yama. It follows the first, and most important, Yama, which is Ahimsa (non-violence). In speaking our truth we must also practice Ahimsa. This means we must try to speak in a way that will not hurt ourselves or others. This requires us, again, to slow down and observe what is happening. A way to practice non-violent speech is Non-Violent Communication. Non-Violent Communication (NVC) is observing thoughts and feelings, creating a dialogue, and expressing needs in a way that contains compassion and truth. For instance, you come home and your partner forgot she had a cup of milk on the side table and one of the dogs had gotten on the furniture to get the cup, which resulted in milk spilled on the rug. A lot of thoughts are probably popping into your head, “I can’t believe she left a cup out again! Our dog is in so much trouble! This is ridiculous! I just got home and I have to deal with this crap!” Instead of immediately reacting and coming to your partner with all of these thoughts in your head, give yourself some time to slow down, breathe, and start to observe. Start the conversation by making a non-judgmental observation, “There is milk on the floor.” Then consider and state your feelings, “I am frustrated.” Followed by stating your needs, “I need to come home from work to an orderly space so I can relax.” Then make a request, “Would you be more conscious of where you leave things?”

This type of dialogue will result in less arguments, people will be more willing to accommodate your requests when you approach them in a calmer manner, and you will have spoken your actual truth. This can be used in all kinds of scenarios with all kinds of people. I try to use NVC when speaking to my classes. I recently had two very full classes. One being 36 out of 41 spots filled and 34 out of 35 spots for the other. I become very nervous and very concerned with student safety in classes that full because students only have about a block width between them and each person around them. I handle this by stating the obvious fact, “Wow! There are a lot of people here today!” Then I express something like, “I am so excited to have all of you! I’m also a little concerned about safety.” Followed by my needs and request, which is typically, “I need to create a safe space for each student, and because there are so many of you I need your help with that. My first request is you become and remain conscious of those around you. I’ve literally been kicked in the face while taking a class. It’s not fun to have someone’s foot touch your face. [pause for laughter] My second request is you refrain from doing particularly complex postures, like handstand. Save those for another time, please.” It is incredibly rare for a student to not honor these requests.

Keep in mind observing thoughts and feelings is a difficult task. People are used to having a constant monologue of self-talk in their heads. People are used to reacting from an emotional place. Know there may be times that you are trip up and cause yourself or someone else pain. It happens. In those instances, offer a heartfelt apology, then keep going. This is one of the reasons why Yoga is a practice.