Yoga and Other Drugs

Lately I have been thinking a lot about what is the meaning of yoga. What does it mean to me, since I am aware that it means different things to each and every one of us. I also watched the documentary ‘Who owns yoga’ by Al Jezeera, which is definitely a must see for everyone interested in the development of yoga and the modern perspectives on it.

This line of thought took me back to basics, so I did some more research on the philosophies behind the yoga practice:

  • The Yamas – they relate to what we should stop doing, in order to live in harmony with ourselves and those around us.
    • Ahimsa – refers to not practicing violence, in words, thoughts or deeds.
    • Satya – is related to always being truthful
    • Asteya – focuses on not stealing; it doesn’t only refer to material items, but also to stealing people’s spotlight, time or energy
    • Brahmacarya – is related to being moderate and controlling our human impulses of excess
    • Aparigraha – instigates to not hoard or possess, cultivate generosity and be helpful and giving towards others
  • The Niyamas – what we commit to ourselves
    • Saucha – being clean. Through the asana practice, the body is purified. More to this, this Niyama relates to eating mindfully and paying attention to what we read or watch
    • Santosha – being contempt with what you have and practicing gratitude
    • Tapahs – discipline and effort. Learning to work hard for your achievements
    • Svadhyaya – studying and loving yourself.
    • Isvara pranidhana – surrender to a higher force, or devotion to your practice. This is related to seeing outside your ego, and spreading love in the universe.

I believe these teachings to be truly beautiful. In a world that values individuality, career prosperity and material possessions, it is refreshing to take a moment and reflect on how we want our path to be. There are many voices out there saying that yoga is much more than asana, and that, as you practice, you cannot help but embrace some of the yoga philosophy. Do you agree?

The above mentioned documentary went from bodybuilders that make their living out of yoga because it’s the trend of this century and an easy source of income, to traditional teachers who still believe that yoga is rooted in hindu thought and that practicing just asana is not yoga. But in the end, who is entitled to define it? I believe we can all attribute our own definitions to it, according to what works for us, and where our personal journey has taken us. I also firmly believe that no one can say what yoga is not. May it be just asana, or may it be practicing while also enjoying a steak or a glass of wine from time to time. And I believe that all those practices the so-called ‘yogis’ have been frowning upon are nevertheless still yoga practices.

So what does yoga mean?

For me, it is balance. Tolerance. Gratitude. Shutting down the ego, when all it would do is harm. Accepting who you are, and who those around you are, and listening to what they can teach you. Silencing the mind when it wants to achieve physical goals (now!) and understanding that many things take practice, and other might never come easy. Appreciating what you have and being happy to be alive, to have a ray of sun caressing your cheek or a warm hug from somebody close. And most of all, remembering who the person you want to be is, and forgiving yourself when you stray away from this idealistic version of yourself. If you are ashamed or sad about your actions, this means you care, you acknowledge, and you learn. Be easier on yourself and try again tomorrow.

What about you? Feel free to share what your yoga practice means for you!

Yes or No to New Year’s Resolutions?

It’s again the jolly time of the year. The time when we take a step back, enjoy the Christmas joy and reflect on everything around us. Hopefully we all take a moment to be grateful for the wonderful people around us – those who crossed our path year, those who inspired us and those who taught us  a lesson. Another moment to reflect on what we have achieved, the goals we met and all the skills we developed.

It’s all in the mind, whether you decide to look positively at all the great things last year has brought, or focus on the things you failed at. It’s not just a pessimist/optimist battle, but more about how deep you dig in yourself and how aware you are of what each scar signifies.

Each year, we hear around “I will start exercising from January” or “I will try that new diet from Monday”, but how many of us actually keep up with these promises? Why start in January or next week, when we can start today? So many of our promises to ourselves involve radical changes, which are difficult to maintain in the long run. Why not try with small steps, celebrating each improvement and being realistic with our goals?

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I have to admit it, I am making new year’s resolutions every year. I think it is useful to reflect on what you want to achieve, and check them up a couple of times per year. I don’t assume they will come true on January 1st. Changing one’s lifestyle is a continuous process, and I believe that it is important to focus on real, needed and sustainable changes. Losing 3 kg to fit in a dress at a wedding next month is a small and not so sustainable goal. Sure, it’s possible, but it doesn’t bring longtime happiness (except feeling good about the great pictures in that dress).

I prefer goals related to cooking more healthy meals and eating out less. This doesn’t mean I will never eat a pizza again. This means that I am aware that I could make some improvements in this department, and I will try my best in the future. I also had a goal of being able to do Scorpion pose last year. It didn’t happen yet, but it’s not the end of the world. Everything is a journey, and as long as we’re moving forward, things will be fine. One day, I will get there. And if not, I will still benefit from other things I learn on my way.

Next to saving more money or changing the car, inner resolutions are something we should look more into. They are some sort of reality-check, showing us how we perceive ourselves and whom we would like to become. It’s not easy, and it can be discouraging for some, but they are needed in order to understand ourselves better. We can say “I will be more patient”, but if we don’t understand what makes us lose our patience in the first place, what is the point?

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How to understand yourself better?

Often, new year’s resolutions are related to things we wished we did or skills we wished we had. We tend to like and admire in others the qualities we desire for ourselves. Think about what you admire the most in your significant other, or in your closest friends. Is it that they are very detailed-oriented, or great at presentation skills? Maybe a friend always knows exactly the best thing to say in a difficult situation, or one is very fast at making decisions.

The next step is understanding that we cannot all be the same, and we cannot all be great at the same things. Yes, many things can be trained, and you have big chances of improving by asking advice from those who master it and then practicing. However, don’t be discouraged if you will not be the best at all those things, since it’s not humanly possible to excel in everything.

Try to focus on your strengths. They are what make you special. Those are the things you do with ease, and those others admire you for. Maybe you are great at organizing or you speak 4 foreign languages. Well, instead of focusing on what else you can learn, think about how to develop those skills even further, develop a career or a hobby out of them, or help others. This will bring you more satisfaction and self-confidence.

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Best Tricks for Keeping your Resolutions

Be yourself when stating your resolutions! There are common things people wish for, since we are programmed by sociecty to believe this is what we have to do. Even if everybody is aiming to set more aside in their pension account, maybe it’s not what would make you the happiest at this point in your life. Yes, of course it’s useful and needed. But if it’s the last year you can timewise afford to travel the world and discover new cultures, why not starting saving next year? Your reality is different than others’, so set resolutions that fit what you want to do with your life.

Create mini-goals. It is difficult to achieve major changes on the spot, so make sure to split your goals into smaller, achievable ones, that would make you see the progress. Keep track of them and reward yourself everytime a step forward is made.

Don’t be afraid to fail. It’s unrealistic to believe that all your new year resolutions will come true. You will definitely make improvements in the areas you want to, but, like mentioned above, it is a continuous process. Be happy and grateful for what you managed to achieve. And if you fail,  at least you have learned a lot in the process and will take it forward in the future.

Yoga and Competition

“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.” (The Bhagavad Gita)

I don’t know about you, but I am a pretty competitive person. I was raised to aim for the best, to try to push limits and do more. I got a secret rush from being better than others, or recognized for my merits. I loved contests and classaments, and would always strive to get higher. Being introduced to yoga, I was on unknown territory, where everything moves slowly and smoothly, and I wasn’t the best anymore.

I felt it’s so challenging, that I could never do it. I hear many people saying they cannot practice yoga, because they are not flexible enough. This is one of the biggest myths about it, since very few of us are. But gradually, through regular practice, flexibility increases. You start out by not being able to touch your toes, and you can end up after a while in a beautiful dancer pose.dancer_pose_yogaYoga teaches you many things. Among others, patience is one of them. You cannot just do everything from the beginning. You need to work your way through poses, learn to listen to your body, understand and respect it. There might be days when your body cannot balance as well as in others, and you shouldn’t force it. It will come back, when you are ready. This is one of the wonders of yoga, and this is what many of us fail to understand. It is more than a “sport”, it is more than a race to be able to do all the cool poses you saw online. You might never be able to do some of them. And that is okay.

My competitive self started by checking out the instructor, and wanting to be like her. She was so flexible, I assumed it just takes more practice, so I pushed myself. I started practicing daily and I was improving. However, I could always discover cooler poses, different girls online holding impossible positions. I started setting goals for myself: “next month I will be able to do the split”. My motivation got shaky when I felt I was not improving anymore as quicky as before, and reaching my goals felt very difficult.

This is when I met an amazing instructor, in a random gym in Seville, Spain. She opened my eyes towards yoga and myself on so many levels, I couldn’t be more grateful. Each of her classes was different, and she took us on inner journeys and introduced us to so many aspects of the practice. I have never met any other instructor like her. She was showing us how to believe in our body and in ourselves and explaining that sometimes we just need to shup up the mind. It is the one that tells us we are afraid or we cannot achieve something. Our body can do much more, if we just believe in it.

Sometimes, when holding a difficult pose, she would encourage us to think about something we are afraid of. To feel it, understand it completely. And then comprehend that we can overcome anything. Yoga is more than a body challenge to reach certain position. It’s discipline, hard work and relaxation. Sometimes it is okay not to achieve something, and other times we just need to be more patient and allow our body to get there. If we listen carefully to our inner self, we will understand our needs better.

serenityThis made me stop looking at others. Not compare myself anymore with instructors, fellow yogis in the class or skilled and flexible ladies on the internet. We all have our inner journeys, we all have our own challenges and limits. What matters is what we learn about ourselves after each practice.

Finally, I learned more about flexibility. I used to wish to be able to do those amazing back bends, and I’m sure you’ve felt like that. However, I read more on the topic and learned that this increased flexibility is more than regular practice and hard work. Some people are just born like that, but others are hypermobile. That might look cool, but can be painful and sometimes dangerous. So I decided to be careful what I wish for, and focus on what my body needs.

The only competition for me is knowing myself and my body more. Not wanting what the others achieve, but treating myself better. Improving whom I was yesterday, not necessarily physically, but emotionally.

“The study of asana is not about mastering the posture. It’s about using posture to understand and transform yourself.” (Gary Kraftsow)

Who is the most important person in your life?

Internet is full of articles, questionnaires and books about knowing yourself and self-development. We hear it everyday: love yourself or no one will love you. But we are social beings, and studies have showed that we are happier among others. Why is that? Because happiness is contagious – and this goes both for introverts and extroverts! Being among happy people makes us more positive and confident. This also influences our health, since it is easier to recover from illness for people who benefit from love and support of family and friends. Being among others also contributes to our sense of identity, since we feel accepted and belonging to a group. Not to mention the benefits and motivation others can bring, for example by encouraging you to continue a healthy lifestyle, go for that half-marathon or apply to your dream job.

This being said, why are so many of us so individualistic? I recently came across this question in an article: “Who is the most important person in your life?” and it got me thinking. There are so many factors you can take into consideration when looking at this: whom you care about the most, whom you spend the most time with, who is always there for you, whom influences your decisions, whom you make compromises for.

Knowing yourself

I asked this question to a couple of close friends, and the answers I got were interesting. From their life partner or their family (parents), to themselves. All these choices bring interesting considerations. Of course, it is an individual decision and many times it is understandable that it is difficult to choose. Choosing family or your relationship is tricky, especially when you are faced with distinguishing between different types of love. Firstly you have the love for the ones who gave life to you and have formed you to be whom you are now. Secondly there is that one person who is with you day after day, chasing away your demons, loving and supporting. You may be so lucky as to have both of them around you, and then why on Earth would you even choose?

Interesting for me was to hear the answers of those choosing themselves. What does it mean? Are they more self-centered than others? Are they afraid to let love in? Or are we just naive to ever believe we are anything but alone?

I am a believer in personal connection, learning from others, helping others, sharing your life, experiences and knowledge with others. I know I am happier when I surround myself with those I care about. Some may say this is insecurity – this is why it is important to know, understand and accept yourself, without needing constant confirmation from the outside world. Others may say that you are happiest when you follow your dreams and do what is best for you no matter what. In this case, you become the most important person in your life, since you independently choose your path, with small or even no outside influence. In the worst case scenario, this leads to the well known image of the person ending up alone in his/her 50s, with a lot of money and no one to share them with. This is, of course, an extreme case, but it successfuly underlines my point – making decisions only based on your needs will eventually lead up to disappointing those around you and alienating them.

I am not a big fan of compromise, who is? But I believe it is important to see the difference between putting yourself on the second place on the one hand, vs. not considering anyone else, on the other. You may make all your decisions based on what your needs are – but then, how much are you willing to risk for love? How much are you willing to give? How deep is the nature of your personal relationships?

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