Yamas and Niyamas.
That sounds silly.
Yamas and Niyamas are the first two of the 8 Pillars of Yoga, as written in the Yoga Sutras in 400 CE by Patanjali. The Yamas and Niyamas are ten ethical principles that allow us to live at peace with ourselves, our family, and our community. The five Yamas focus on how to conduct ourselves morally with the world around us, while the five Niyamas are inner practices.
This past weekend at yoga teacher training, each of us gave a quick presentation on one of the Yamas. We were instructed to journal on our yama and then share with the group what that Yama means and how it shows up in our lives. I thought I’d do my journaling here….my big public internet journal:)
(First, the book we read says non-possessiveness is all one word. The internet / WordPress disagrees. In order to prevent a million red squiggly lines, I will hyphenate.)
I chose to present on non-possessiveness because the entire chapter in the book just grabbed me. Every single example made me think, question, relate…
Non-possessiveness can also be thought of as non-attachment, non-greed, non-clinging, non-coveting. I see similarities to the Bible; two of the Ten Commandments are about false idols and coveting. Remember these Yamas were written in 400CE. Very interesting.
I think the #1 lesson here is to let go of the things we cling to — the things that prevent us from being completely free and from remembering that what truly matters is God (your god, the universe, whatever you prefer.) Why do we cling to things – these “false idols?” Immediately I think of my phone. I’m 100% addicted. We easily get attached to material things (our homes, our clothes, our cars) and while they are wonderful and don’t need to be completely dropped, it’s crucial to remember what is truly important. We should not let our posessions consume us.
What about “titles” you cling to? Things you let define you? Mother, Sister, Teacher, Student, Athlete. What about “fit girl” or “smart girl” or “fun girl” or “has her shit together girl.” Sure we can be those things, but when we start letting them dictate who we are, we lose our freedom. We start to act in accordance with how we “should be” instead of how we want to be. I can relate specifically to the “fit girl” mentality — this can be a huge struggle for those recovering from eating disorders or orthorexia. When one has for so long been defined as the one that’s super skinny and in shape, they fear what will happen to them when they don’t have that anymore. Who will they be without being fit? What will others think of them? Will they be ENOUGH? Lovable? Worthy? Beautiful?
Gratitude comes to mind here. Can we remember why we have all these wonderful things in our lives? Be thankful to something bigger than ourselves for giving us such abundance. For the ability to have a phone that lets us communicate and stay connected, a beautiful home, the physical ability to exercise, access to healthy foods to eat.
Most importantly, can we realize that we are completely and totally complete without these things and labels. Can we be grateful that we have God (or your god, or the Universe) that loves us and takes care of us entirely just because we ARE, not because we are ___BLANK___? I talk a lot with girls that email me / call me for recovery advice that the hardest part isn’t just eating more or gaining weight. The hardest part is changing your mindset so you realize that you are 100% beautiful and worthy at any size or shape. When we cling to some idea of what we need to be or what is “good” or “worthy” or “lovable”, we totally lose sight of who we are inside.
Letting go makes us vulnerable. The book uses the example of trapeze artists that must let go of one swinging bar and float in midair, just trusting that the other bar is swinging to them at precisely the right time. HOW SCARY. To be completely exposed, unprotected, out of control.
When we drop the things we are attached to — the things that make us feel safe or comfortable — we become vulnerable. It’s not easy to be completely on your own, to be completely your own person, forging your own path, not knowing exactly what the future will look like. I can think of times when I’ve wanted to get out of a relationship, but wasn’t completely read to let go because I didn’t like the idea of being alone. I didn’t trust that something else good would come along. I was scared of the unknown, of trusting, of being on my own. I also know how scary it was to admit that I didn’t like my old marketing career and wanted to make a change. I was dropping my “has her shit together girl” identity and instead staying true to inner self. It felt awful and exciting and embarrassing and liberating all at the same time.
I am a planner. I am a type-A checklist queen and I like to know exactly what’s going to happen in my life. But that also makes me rigid and at times unable to seize opportunities that are right in front of me because they don’t fit my plan. Yoga helps with this — part of what I love about vinyasa flows is that classes always change. I have to just listen and let go of what I think is coming next or how long I think I can hold the pose. The lesson is that if you stay with your breath you will be fine. If you try something new or push yourself out of your comfort zone you will GROW. When I can be at peace with not being in control for a little while, amazing things happen.
Monkeys With Bananas
In the book, Adele tells the story of how the ancient Indian method of catching monkeys involved putting a banana inside a cage with narrow bars. The monkeys would reach in to grab the banana, and then become so attached that even when they were about to be captured they wouldn’t let go. The bars were too small for the banana to get out, so the monkeys got stuck. If they would just let go of the banana they could run away. They got captured because they couldn’t freaking let go of a banana.
Holding onto things in our lives — possessions, ideas, plans — makes us stuck. When we cling so greatly to the way things are supposed to be, we totally forgo any opportunity for spontaneity, for adventure, for personal growth, for the natural unfolding of our lives. If we just step outside our comfort zone every once in a while, we can see an abundance of opportunities just waiting. As a society we complain about our situations — our weight, our unhappy jobs, our finances, our relationships. How much of that could be changed if we were just willing to let go of some of our beliefs, habits, and safety nets?
The Hard Part
We can’t all just go live in a cave without material possessions or responsibilities. We can’t completely disregard plans for our future. Some people choose to live that way, but it’s not always practically or even necessary. Everything is about balance and mindset. We can still live in our material culture if we ensure that we aren’t putting too much emphasis or importance on any one possession, mindset, activity, or idea. We must always look inside and uncover our true intentions.
Not everyone “trusts” and “believes” that everything will work out. It requires a pretty big buy-in to spirituality or religion of some sort. And with some of the awful hardships that many people experience, it’s totally understandable why one wouldn’t think “oh it’ll all be fine!” is a good way to live. Some people haven’t yet been exposed to some of these ideas, others are totally uninterested. All we can do is live by example and share when others are ready and willing to listen.
Lastly, all the Yamas must exist in balance. The other four are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and non-excess. They all intertwine and at times can feel contradictory depending on interpretation. The lessons are not about absolutes or strict rules, but rather the things to consider as we go about our daily lives. The truth is always in the intention.
(beautiful image via Garden Variety)