I don’t know about you, but when the winter comes and the days are short and cold, I feel like hibernating. Not literally, but I see the pattern each year and know that I tend to want to withdraw from people and shut myself in. Let’s call it “hermit mode”. I have found that if I succumb to this urge, I increase my chances of really dropping into sadness and depression. It’s not uncommon, as many people get seasonal depression this time of year, the clinical name is Seasonal Affective Disorder. Our bodies thrive in daylight and when that amount of light shortens, we feel the physical effects.
I find the most success in fighting this “SAD” time of year in forcing myself to stay busy going out with friends and being around the students at the studio. I get out my weekly calendar and start contacting people to get together so that most days, I have something nice to look forward to. Taking care of myself in this way helps me to move through these dark winter days. The friendships I take time to nurture sustain me and keep my spirits lifted.
I’m very interested in finding out about ways you might cope with “SAD” if you get it. Please take time to respond below and share your brief story. Thank you for taking time each week to read my blog, and for the encouragement to keep at it. Let’s remember that we’re all on this planet together, sharing our community, and find ways to remove that feeling of separateness. Reach out to me today!
Of course, with Thanksgiving a few days away, the theme for my blog is Gratitude. It’s easy to be grateful for the good things in life – family, friends, home… but, this year, I’m reflecting on the challenging times, the ones that are painful and leave you desolate, and finding that I can have gratitude for those times, too. Because, it’s those hard days that build our strength. It’s in the fight that we attain the victory. It’s through enduring the suffering that we become resilient. Just as we use resistance training to build our bodies’ muscles, it’s Life’s resistance that builds our inner strength. So, I’ll be more mindful this holiday of the adversity that has made me stronger. And, saying I’m eager to face more challenges in my future would be stretching it, I will say I don’t fear them. I know pain is never permanent and I know I’m good at working through it.
The 3rd limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Asana, or posture. Finally, something you’re familiar with, right? Asana is the physical practice of yoga and is meant to strengthen, build flexibility and symmetry, and bring about a spiritual connection of our bodies and minds. Asana is the study of how our bodies move. If we look at our practice as a self-study, it helps develop our acceptance of where we are in the moment, unattached to the outcome of the work. Studying the placement of feet, the alignment and power of the legs, the building of the posture can be very grounding and quiets our minds.
You may still be a beginner and working on opening up the back body (hamstrings, lower back, etc. ) or you might be more advanced and your asana work is in the demanding inversions of 2nd or 3rd series. The same benefits of asana apply to us all. We learn a new posture, working on alignment, transitions into and out of it, and by repetition we come familiar and more comfortable with it. Asana practice is a parallel to the study of the self in all areas of life. Asana practice is practice being you. It requires discipline over avoidance, compassion over coldness, and love over fear. It’s learning to see the beauty and the power of a single breath. It’s the consciousness of our contribution, through practicing mindfulness, to peace on earth. It’s learning to love ourselves just the way we are, right now, as if there were no tomorrow.
That is asana.
Practice and all is coming.
The second rung of Ashtanga Yoga is the Niyamas, or personal observances, that as we cultivate, can help us to overcome much of the suffering we bring upon ourselves. These five have to do with our relationship with ourselves. And for our relationship to god or the higher power you might believe in. As you read them over you might want to reflect on the ways the niyamas can elevate us to become our best selves. They are:
Saucha or Purity. Think of purity of mind, purity of body (diet), cleanliness of your living spaces.
Santosha or contentment. Learning to live within our means, and having gratitude for the life we live right now.
Tapas or fiery disclipline. This is the niyama of abiding commitment. It is energetically showing up each day in your life (or on your mat…) and meeting that day’s challenges with passion. What are ways you can keep your fire fueled?
Swadhyaya or study. Seeking after knowledge and wisdom. Specifically, this refers to the study of spiritual texts, but applies to all things that inspire us. Further, it is study of ourselves in our practice and our day to day lives.
Ishvar Pranidhana or surrender. Think of letting go of our fears for the future, and regrets of the past. This niyama is related to faith that “things are as they should be”. For those religious people, you might see this as “ Faith that God is in charge”.
As we strive to improve ourselves, we can find wisdom and guidance through the Niyamas. You may see parallels between Yamas and Niyamas and many religious teachings. Remember that truth is constant, no matter where you find it.
So, let’s learn a bit about the first rung of the ladder of the 8 limbed practice of Ashtanga Yoga. The Yamas is a list of 5 rules or guidelines that have to do with the personal ethics and self- discipline. As you read these, think of ways in which you currently live the yama, then, think of ways that you can improve in each area. There is always room for improvement!
1) Ahimsa – or Non-violence. Ahimsa can be practiced toward all beings and toward yourself.
2) Satya – or Truthfulness. Honesty that does not cause Ahimsa. Sometimes a challenge!
3) Asteya – or Non-stealing. Is it really free, or just free to you?
4) Brahmacharya – or Moderation / restraint. Where do you over-indulge?
5) Apraragraha - or Non-possessiveness. Do the things you possess really own you?
I gave a brief description and a short thought regarding each Yama just to get you thinking. This is just the surface of this first rung, and requires reflection, self-study and humility from the yogi. I encourage you to write them down and keep them in a location you’ll see throughout the day. Think about these in relation to some different areas of your life: your yoga practice, your relationships with others, and the way you tend to view and treat yourself.