At the ashram where I took my first yoga class 25 years ago and became a yoga teacher in 2002, there’s a saying: "The physical practice of Asana is the door to the rest of yoga." Students came for the workout, but they stayed for the spiritual tools that made their lives better. The physical workout of yoga is a major draw for many, but how about the other benefits of the practice? The simple applications of the emotional, mental, and spiritual rewards tethered to yoga can help boost your self-care strategy for a better life in between poses.
Here are a four yogic beliefs that can help shift your perspective and transform your life on and off the mat.
1. Practice Ahimsa—or self-compassion—on yourself.
Yoga’s ethical principle of Ahimsa, or "non-harming," is usually invoked as a spiritual directive to be vegan. Why stop there? The definition of Ahimsa I learned (handed down from Swami Satchidananda, whose translation of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is used by yoga teachers worldwide) is not causing pain to any living being—including ourselves.
The next time you hear a negative voice in your head criticizing something you’ve done, or the way you look or behave, practice Ahimsa on yourself by recognizing self-criticism as harm––sometimes even a form of violence. Treat yourself as compassionately as you would another living being.
2. Recharge your batteries with Pratyahara.
Yoga nidra, the period of deep relaxation at the end of class, is meant to leave space for a quiet sense withdrawal once you bring awareness to all the koshas (body, breath, mind) and connect to your deepest self.
Try Pratyahara to bring awareness to your senses within. Lie down with a rolled blanket or bolster under your knees, a folded blanket under your head, an eye pillow to shut out light, and—most important—your phone on silent. Bring awareness to your body by tensing and then relaxing your muscles; to your breathing, by not trying to change it; and to your mind, by observing your thoughts—without judgment. Finally, enjoy your own personal sacred space in stillness.
3. Replace the negative with the positive using Pratipaksha Bhavana.
This is a part of yoga philosophy usually shared in teacher training programs. Pratipaksha Bhavana is from Sutra 33: When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. My teachers called it "the yoga thought-swap trick." If you have repetitive thoughts that are causing you harm, swap them out for more positive thoughts.
Not a difficult concept, but not that easy to do in the moment. That’s why I make a list of positive things I can say to myself to redirect my thinking. When negative thoughts begin circling, call in those positive thoughts and use them as repeated affirmations. Do this regularly and new neural pathways will form and become stronger while the negative thinking becomes less convincing.
4. Create positive change with Karuna.
In yoga classes, we’re (hopefully) encouraged to practice Karuna, or compassion. In these times of great social unrest, compassion, while worthy and noble, may leave us feeling somewhat frustrated. Empathy may not be enough, which is why Karuna is a yoga tool that has come of age again—the practice of Karuna fuses compassion with taking action.
Wanna learn to wield the power of your inner voice for good? First, read more about how to understand the voice.
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