We have moments in our lives when we are given the opportunities to introspect – to look more closely at ourselves, to assess where we are and decide what changes need to be done to live happier lives. Going in to a new year is one such moment and it is a good thing if this opportunity is used carefully to make a real positive change that will help us become better versions of ourselves. But we don’t always know what we could do or change to affect any meaningful change in our lives. What I want to talk about today is how yoga can inspire us. The yogic philosophy describes a way forward, a path, that anyone can follow to find true peace and real lasting happiness.
Patanjali, an ancient sage who contributed immensely to the philosophy of yoga, established what is referred to as ‘Ashtanga yoga’ meaning the 8 limbs of yoga (ashta=eight, anga=limb). It is an eight-fold path that offers guidelines for a meaningful and purposeful life. These eight steps explore and prescribe moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline. They’re simply there for us to follow and to help us direct our energy and attention towards the betterment of one’s body, mind and spirit. Yoga is often believed by many to be only about physical postures when in fact, the Asanas, the physical part that we all know, represents only one of the steps.
What I want to focus on today is Yama, the first element and how it can help us shape our new year resolutions.
As the first limb of yoga, the five Yamas are the foundations for a successful life. They consist in developing positive traits that will transform our human nature into a divine one. By sticking to these ideals and principles one’s heart is filled with love, goodness and light.
Ahimsa is the abstinence from harming any living creature. But It goes much beyond non-killing. We should aim to rid our body (behaviour), speech and mind from any negative or harming influence. To be complete however one should also be kind towards oneself.
Let’s pledge to be kinder human beings this year. The world could do with so much more kindness. Kindness towards one another, towards other species and most importantly towards ourselves because only hurt people hurt others and only unhappy people make others unhappy.
To be truthful, one’s words should agree with one’s thought, and one’s actions should agree with one’s words. By not being truthful, one’s conscience and mind get polluted with negativity. On the other hand being truthful brings powers. It is believed that if we speak only the truth for 12 years, we will acquire ‘vak siddhi’, which means that whatever we say will come true!
Another aspect of Satya is that one should remember that whatever one hears, feels or sees is not the absolute truth but only a part of it. We see things as we are, not as they are. If we look at our body right now, we see a big mass of solid matter, when in fact scientists have proved what the sages said all along – this solidity is an illusion and we are in fact nothing but energy. And this is true for everything around; nothing is solid, everything is energy.
So, remembering that the we are more than what we perceive is satya. Remembering that there is a higher reality is satya. Remembering that we simply don’t know everything about everything is satya. And when we follow satya, we move in the right direction; the direction of happiness.
Let’s give up pretences and judgements this year and move towards being truer to ourselves and let other people be truer versions of themselves.
Asteya is non-stealing. A person steals because he/she wants something that cannot be attained by rightful means. But we’re not talking only about the obvious theft here. This can also be taking things from the office like paper or pencils etc, hoarding too much money, overeating or adding to your cravings – all of this is stealing. Why does a person steal? Because of our endless wants and desires. Essentially the need to steal arises due to a lack of faith in ourselves to be able to create what we need, a feeling of being incomplete, not good enough. So, when we practice asteya, we learn to accept this moment as it is, not as we would like it to be, remembering also that we are already what we are looking for.
Let’s start by simple changes. Let’s not over eat for instance. There is so much poverty and hunger in the world that it should be a crime to over eat or throw away food. It also fits in with the resolution to lose weight this year, so a win-win situation.
Traditionally brahmacharya means continence from sexual activity. For serious spiritual aspirants, the sexual energy is not “wasted” but channeled and used for higher purposes – that is why the highest spiritual beings usually advocated for celibacy.
For the rest of us, brahmacharya does not imply celibacy but rather self-restraint from over indulgence in anything be it sex, alcohol or food. Brahmacharya means to use our energy in the right direction, away from external desires (you know those pleasures are ultimately fleeting!), and instead towards being happier, calmer and more peaceful.
Let’s try to not overindulge in our behaviour and desires. Let’s forge meaningful relationships and restrain from harming ourselves and others in any way possible.
Aparigraha is the last of the five yamas. Here ‘graha’ means to take, to seize or to grab, ‘pari’ means ’on all side’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself. It can be translated to ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’ and ‘non-attachment’. It basically means to take only what we need and discard what doesn’t serve us.
Let’s practice a little austerity and a lot of contentment this year. Why desire what we can’t have or what other’s have! Let’s count our blessings and feel the joy all year round.
The first person to benefit by observing these rules, is our own self. Often, we don’t realise how our small but nonetheless negative behaviours and thoughts affect our own psyche. To be truly happy in 2018, let’s work towards cleansing our inner world and ridding ourselves from negativity in turn creating a more joyful place for all to co-habit.
Happy new year!!!