Those of you who have been practicing with me for a while may recall that last January we began an exploration of the eight limbs of yoga to start off the year. We will revisit the 8 limbs this winter; I will share new reflections and hope to spark some conversation.
This is a time for resolutions, all the things we are going to “never do/eat/say again” or all the things we are going to do, run a marathon, lose 10 LBs, etc. These goals tend to be self-serving, which is fine, but they also set us up for feelings of negativity and self-flagellation when we do not fulfill them all. Perhaps think of the new year as a time to focus on things that bring us joy, like taking a short walk every day or setting aside 15 minutes to knit each evening. If fitness and weight loss are a goal, make small incremental changes in your exercise or eating habits like eating one more piece of fruit per day or fitting 15 minutes of yoga (walking, pole vaulting) into each day.
Another thought, possibly find one thing that you can do for the greater good to add to your routine. This does not mean abandoning your life to move to some far-off land to build a school or become the chairperson of the board of a nonprofit. While these are wonderful goals, perhaps think of smaller things that are easier to fit in. Perhaps give a couple hours a month to your local soup kitchen, or to volunteer for a clean up of a local park. There are so many opportunities out there to do small things that collectively do so much good. The satisfaction we get when doing these small things can provide us with feelings of well being that go beyond what forgoing that cookie or running that race will do.
I do not suggest one or the other, I suggest being kind to yourself with realistic expectations and take small steps versus the monumental ones that often leave us feeling bad.
Exploring Yoga's Eight Limbs
We can take inspiration from the ancient text, The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. This text is sort of a handbook on how to proceed along your path to a meaningful and purposeful life and ultimately spiritual enlightenment. Living our yoga off the mat. There are 8 limbs of yoga outlined in the sutras, and only one, the asanas, relates to a physical practice. The other 7 relate to breath, rules to live your life by and meditation. Rather than short term goals, taken as a whole, the 8 limbs are like a guidebook for a life lived with both ethical and moral behavior as well as self-discipline.
Let’s approach the new year with a kinder, gentler plan. Instead of making sweeping pronouncements, I propose we dive in and take some inspiration from the sutras and see where we land.
To give you an overview of the 8 limbs, please see below, taken from an article at chopra.com called “What are the Eight Limbs of Yoga?”
The Yamas are rules of moral code and include ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
The Niyamas are rules of personal behavior including saucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline or austerity), svadhyaya (spiritual studies), and Ishvara Pranidhana (constant devotion to God).
Asana refers to yoga postures but in Patanjali’s initial practice, it referred to mastering the body to sit still for meditation. The practice of yoga asanas came about eight centuries later, which helped disciples ready their bodies for meditation.
Pranayama is yoga breathing techniques designed to control prana or vital life force.
Pratyahara means withdrawal of the senses.
Dharana refers to concentration.
Dhyana is the practice of meditation.
Samadhi is merging with the divine.
Are you excited to learn more?
I attach some new articles since last year’s blog. Keep in mind that the interpretations may vary, especially when comparing an ashtanga (traditional) approach to more flexible practices.
Links are from an ashtanga perspective:
A basic description from Yoga Journal:
And one I included last year with some additional philosophy:
Our Practice – Twisting the Old Away
Some yoga practitioners believe that twisting postures actually “wring out” toxins from your organs and stimulate circulation. Twisting do help with spinal health, range of motion and overall flexibility. I like the symbolism of twisting or wringing bad things out and getting things healthfully flowing.
Think about twisting out the old and bringing in space for the new!
For more on this topic, see link to article in YogaJournal on this topic.
Meditation – New Years “Resolutions” - and Blessings For a New Year
“Adere to: faith, unity and sacrifice. Avoid: backbiting, falsehood and crookedness. Admire: frankness, honesty, and large-heartedness. Control: Tongue, temper and tossing of the mind. Cultivate: cosmic love, forgiveness, and patience. Hate: lust, anger and pride” - Swami Sivananda, Indian Spiritual Leader
A Blessing for the New Year - JOHN O’DONOHUE
On the day when The weight deadens On your shoulders And you stumble, May the clay dance To balance you.
And when your eyes Freeze behind The grey window And the ghost of loss Gets in to you, May a flock of colours, Indigo, red, green, And azure blue, Come to awaken in you A meadow of delight.
When the canvas frays In the currach of thought And a stain of ocean Blackens beneath you, May there come across the waters A path of yellow moonlight To bring you safely home.
May the nourishment of the earth be yours, May the clarity of light be yours, May the fluency of the ocean be yours, May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
And so may a slow Wind work these words Of love around you, An invisible cloak To mind your life.
Nurturing With Food – New Years Black Eyed Peas and Greens Soup
I love legumes and greens combined. I mentioned this recipe last year as black eye peas are considered good luck in some regions and cultures and should be eaten on New Years Day. I am always looking for an excuse to make them and suggest we try this for a warm and nurturing soup all winter long, and if it brings good luck, even better!
See you on the mat!