Ah yogis. We are a different breed, aren’t we?
We practice (or try to anyway) all eight limbs in an attempt to find our true selves. Overall wellness and happiness is what we strive for.
Samadhi, or enlightenment, is the main goal. Most of us pretty much know that we may never reach Samadhi, at least not in this lifetime, but it’s a journey and not a destination, so we practice anyway. But being a yogi in this day in age poses some challenges.
Real talk: it’s hard as sh*t. Why? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s different for everyone. I can only speak for myself but I am challenged on a daily basis. The universe seems to constantly test my yoga. Sometimes, I humbly fail these tests. Many times I even know that I am failing these tests.
One thing that we practice is mindfulness. I think the first step in overcoming these obstacles on our path to enlightenment is to be aware of them. Being mindful of your reactions to situations will help you to take a step back. It’s as if you’re watching your life as a movie but you are able to control what happens with the main character: yourself. So if you are like me and you fail to act “yogically” but are aware of the fact that you’re failing, well then you aren’t failing. You’re on the path; you just aren’t there yet.
This is the majority of yogis today. If you act “yogically” all the time, every day, well then I bow to you.
So I will put myself out there. I hope that you read this and are able to be more mindful of when you are being tested. Perfection is an illusion and trying our best is all we can do. Here is where I struggle on a daily basis with all eight limbs of Hatha yoga:
1. Yamas: Moral Restraints (5)
The Yamas (and the Niyamas) are sort of like Yoga’s 10 commandments. They are the basic moral principles for practicing yoga. They are also extremely challenging. Good luck.
Ahimsa: Nonviolence / Compassion for Self and Others
Road rage is the first thing that pops into my mind when I think of ahimsa. When I’m driving home from work and someone cuts me off I immediately want to teach them a lesson. They need to know that what they did is not ok. I’ve had a long, hard day and I don’t need this right now. “Chill, Andrea. It doesn’t matter. Let them go. By getting worked up about it, you are only hurting yourself.” My inner yogi says to me. I snap back “Oh, shut up, self! I’ll be yogic later.”
I am not a liar. You are probably thinking the same about yourself. I lie to myself, though. When you blame other people for your own feelings, you are lying to yourself. So someone called me stupid. I feel upset about that. I’m not stupid. How dare they? They don’t even know me. So now, I am angry, sad or defeated—that person’s fault right? They’re the one that called me stupid.
These are sneaky tests that are thrown at us. It’s not that person’s fault that I’m feeling any particular way. I could have brushed it off especially in knowing that their opinion on me does not matter. I knew it didn’t but I still let it affect me. These are times when I say to myself “I know I’m not being yogic, but I really cannot help it.” And that’s okay.
Again, a thief I am not. I don’t steal other peoples’ property. If only it were that simple. Have you ever had a conversation with someone who keeps interrupting and talking over you? Maybe you are that person who needs to chime in before the other is done talking. Maybe it’s a back and forth of talking over each other and trying to get in the last word. We’re stealing in that case. Not only are we stealing our own peace and serenity but also the other person’s opportunity to shine. Let them talk. Even if you feel like you’re the one being talked over. Let them talk. Simmer down, ego.
This one has many different definitions. Some believe this to mean celibacy but I believe it to be broader than that. Self control is a good way of thinking of the practice of brahmacharya. And when thinking of self control, I think of food. I love food. I’m one of those people that would rather not have any than only have one bite. “Oh just have a small piece of cake,” they say. What they don’t understand is that I’m trying to practice brahmacharya dammit! One small piece of cake triggers me to want to shove the entire cake into my mouth. Maybe just a bite…and it’s over. “Eh, you can be yogic on Monday,” I say to myself with a face full of frosting.
I don’t struggle much with attachment to material items. My mother always hated “stuff” and, as an adult, that totally rubbed off on me. I don’t want any crap you are selling. I don’t care if it’s a great deal, if you give me a coupon, I don’t need it and I don’t want it. But for someone who loves to shop and buy new things this can be a really challenging practice. The media is constantly shoving new products down our throats and convincing us that we need these things. Our lives will be so much better if we buy these yoga pants and wear these mala beads!
I’m lucky that I’m not much affected by this. I do have a bit of a problem with holding on to the past, however. I constantly replay moments in my head, even from years ago, and get mad at myself for how I behaved. I used to be a pretty rough person and made a lot of choices that I don’t consider to be healthy but I need to let go of that. Focus on the present moment, baby!
2. Niyamas: Observances (5)
Again food comes to mind for purity. I think about food a lot. I’m Italian; what can I say? How many times a day/week/month do I eat something that I know damn well is not good for me. I’d say it would have to be, at the very least, once a day. There’s free M&M’s, Tootsie Rolls, and Twizzlers in my office for God’s sake! I eat pretty well in comparison to the general population but I know the glass of beer I’m about to have tonight is not a pure source of energy for my body. Am I going to drink it anyway? Yep!
This Niyama is definitely the most difficult one for me. I am getting better at it but I have my moments, as we all do. I picture my life to be a certain way and it’s not that way all the time. I want to be happy 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but I’m not. I want to be yogic all the time but I can’t. I do not like it when things don’t go my way. And let me tell you, things do not go my way often. But there’s a greater plan. I can’t begin to even pretend to understand that plan. But damn is it frustrating sometimes.
True story: I repeat “tapas, tapas, tapas” every morning when my alarm clock goes off. Tapas is what gets my butt on my mat, in the gym and to work. It’s that fire inside of me. It pushes me to do all of the things that I know I should do even if they are less than pleasant. A perfect example of the tapas struggle was this morning. I had every intention on a nice long meditation this morning. Today I wanted to do at least 20 minutes. Ah, but I hit the snooze button one too many times. “Tapas, tapas, tapas, zzzzzz.”
This goes back to what I mentioned earlier: it’s as if you are watching yourself in a movie about your own life. Why am I feeling this emotion? Why do I have the urge to react this way? What can I do to come back to mindfulness? So when I’m arguing with someone a lot of the times I know what I should do. I know that the best thing to do is to step back and practice svadhyaya. But dammit sometimes I’m too mad and I don’t care anymore. “Thanks for the advice, self. But I’m going to be angry instead.” That’s still self-study, isn’t it?
Isvara pranidhana: Surrender to a Higher Being
I strongly relate this niyama to santosa (contentment). It all comes down to control. As a human being, I love to be in control of things. I want control of myself, my emotions, and my path. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could control what other people did too? I could have everyone practicing yoga! But we just can’t. That greater plan is being worked on and I need to trust it. This is so much easier said than done. I guess the struggle is also part of the greater plan. Whoa. Mind=Blown.
Okay we are finally out of the morals of yoga! The hardest limbs are over with! However, none of them are easy. So we now get into the more physical aspects of yoga.
3. Asana: Postures
Asana practice is what everyone thinks of when they think of yoga. In fact, a lot of people have no idea that yoga is anything more than asana.
Asanas originally were created to prepare the body to sit for long periods of time in meditation. To say that asanas are hard is an understatement. They are hard physically and mentally. I can’t count all the times I’ve heard someone talk about how hard their yoga class was.
For some people, physical fitness is the only reason they practice yoga and that’s okay but it’s not really yoga; it’s just asana. I try to practice everyday but as I said, it’s f*cking hard, dude! I’m tired. I’m sore. I’m cranky. I’m everything you can think of that would make me not want to practice my asanas tonight. Not to mention my ego keeps shouting out me that I will never master that one pesky transition! Ugh! “Shut up, Ego!” See: physically and mentally.
4. Pranayama: Breath Control.
Sometimes pranayama makes me feel claustrophobic. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some good breath work and I practice ujjayi breath (victorious or “ocean breath”) pretty much all day, everyday. But sometimes, I’m like “I’d rather not!”
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawal of the Senses
6. Dharana: Concentration
7. Dhyana: Meditation
I am combining the three of these because they all go together. Withdrawal of the senses and concentration are what bring you into meditation. Ah, meditation. One of my favorite things in the whole world.
I hear it all the time “Oh I can’t meditate. I just can’t turn my mind off.” Haha! I laugh at the fact that anyone thinks I can turn my mind off! It’s a practice! I try hard to meditate during savasana (corpse pose/final relaxation pose) and this is usually what happens:
“Ommmm. I wonder if that guy is gay? Ommmm. He was not shy about taking his shirt off. Ommmm. I wonder if anyone else is thinking this. Ommmm. I have to pee. Ommmm. Sh*t, I forgot to switch the laundry! Ommmm. I need to remember that sequence she did at the beginning of class. Stay present, Andrea. Focus on your breath. Ommmm. Did someone just fart?! In savasana!? Let it go. Focus. Ommmm. Yeah someone definitly farted. Oh my Om, I can’t breathe! Ommmm.”
And that is a typical meditation my friends…
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment!
This is where you become one with your higher being. This is the ultimate goal! That being said, it’s also not about the goal. It’s about the journey to get there, even if we never do. I cannot elaborate much on this one as I have never experienced it…yet.
So that’s it! Easy, right? So easy being a yogi. It’s just all rainbows, sunshine, happiness and om’s. We’re on this path together and it’s inevitable that we will make mistakes. It’s part of the journey; it’s part of the plan. The main thing we need to remember is that it is ojay to mess up. That’s how we learn.
So the next time you want to beat yourself up for not being yogic, remember that you are a human first and foremost. Practice your minfulness. Practice your yoga.
Good luck, yogis. Let’s go mess up!
Author: Andrea Valerino
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Author’s Own