Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Marissa Wiley, in which she ties the Yamas, a limb of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga, to her practice, on and off the mat.
While reading B.K.S. Iyengar’s book Light On Yoga, I was extremely fascinated by the ethical disciplines of yoga. In the west especially, there seems to be a physical focus on yoga more than anything. However, there are eight different facets of the yoga practice in Light On Yoga and asanas, or the postures many of us associate yoga with, aren’t even the first or second facet. The first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the honorable and humane disciplines. These disciplines are also called the “great commandments”, for they are applicable at any time and in any community on the face of this earth. They are commandments for leading a humane and moral life.
One of the yamas described is ahimsa. Ahimsa guides us away from killing and instead, towards love. This commandment directs the yogi to love and embrace all forms of creation, for we are all children of that same creation. This commandment also specifies that killing or harming any piece or form of creation is an insult to the Creator himself. It’s described that this violence and desire to kill comes from a sense of needing to protect ourselves; this really could either relate to anger or fear. Iyengar writes, though, that men cannot protect themselves, and thus, the thought that they could is wrong. He encourages the yogi to rely on God, which in his eyes will bring about freedom from fear, or abhaya. Abhaya is described as the main way to curb violence, as it brings about an inner peace and love for creation.
This had me thinking about what I’m fearful of in my life and in my yoga practice and what brings me back to a calmer place. Many times I’ve attended yoga class exhausted and mentally drained. I don’t feel up for the challenge, and I certainly don’t want to take risks. There is no desire in me to play; instead, I want to continue with my habitual flow of my safe little bubble. In class this week, TaraMarie Perri shared a Kurt Vonnegut quote with us: “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down”. This quote really struck a chord with me because of my tendencies to avoid risks. This opened up a door in my thought process that related not only to my yoga practice but to many facets of my life. I’ve always been the hesitant kid. I was afraid of fire, afraid of the dark, afraid of strangers, and very afraid to put myself out there. But why not jump off a cliff and figure it out on the free fall down? What’s the worst that could happen? Of course, this requires a lot of patience with oneself. I’ve been trying to work on this a lot in my daily life and in my dance practice recently, but it was extremely refreshing to hear it in my yoga practice as well. It has me thinking of what risks I could take and how I can bring that feeling of play into my practice.
I also can be pessimistic when tired. It can be hard to change my attitude once I get to a certain level of exhaustion, and it’s been something I’ve been working on in yoga. Once I start moving through flow, thoughts will start to bubble up. What always helps bring me back to my yoga practice is pranayama, the recognition and subsequent manipulation of the breath. Bringing my focus back to my breath always helps me dispute these negative thoughts and “what ifs” and brings about a feeling of starting fresh. It’s almost like a reset button for my thoughts and my energy. Now that I’m starting to deepen my yoga practice, I’ve been paying attention to my breath during daily activities. When I start to feel anxious or worried, I bring my attention to my breath and try to focus on it. I almost immediately feel more relaxed about the situation and am more patient with both the situation and myself.
When I have more patience for others, I become much less bitter and angry. Without this excess frustration, I am able to see more clearly. I move through the day with more ease and awareness. With this awareness, then, I am more appreciative of the things around me and the things I am particularly blessed with. This is why I feel that taking risks and pranayama are perfect examples of abhaya and ahimsa. If more people could be affected by yoga and pranayama, I feel like this world could be a better place. It would be a more patient, more playful, less violent, and more appreciative world. People would be open to new things and would be more aware as to how their actions affect others.
- Marissa Wiley