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Yamas for a New Year

2015compressedJanuary always forces us to think about who we are and how we want to live our lives.  Do we want to eat less pizza, do more yoga, be kinder to our friends and partners?  Do we want to travel more, read more, learn a new language?  There are so many possibilities, but, let's be honest, despite our best intentions we usually wind up carrying out the earnest resolutions we make for a week, maybe two.

Here in Santa Barbara, yoga classes balloon following New Years.  Mats get squeezed into every corner of the studio as newly invested yogis flock to class to carry out their recently made resolutions.  Sales of meditation benches and cushions surge as people seek props to help them fulfill their personal promise to meditate more in 2015.  And the bulk section at Whole Foods gets crowded with quizzical shoppers who have resolved to eat more whole grains in the new year but haven't quite figured out what amaranth is yet or what to do with it.

Aside form all of the physical practices, the increased exercise, decreased junk food, less frequent late nights, more frequent yoga, which are so easy to pledge and so hard to persist at, we thought that 2015 seems like a good year for expanding our practice beyond the physical.  Physical practice is, after all, only one small part of yoga.  So for those of us who get tired of fighting the hoards of enthusiastic January yogis, why not focus inward and work on the other limbs of yoga.  Specifically, the Yamas.

yoga-class-2The Yamas are the ethical guidelines of yoga.  What better way to start the new year than by reevaluating our moral etiquette.  We don't mean in a haughty or imperious way, and we definitely don't mean with judgement or scorn.  Rather, it seems conducive to greater peace of mind to observe our behavior, and see how it lines up or contradicts our ideals.  The Yamas, which comprise the first limb of yoga, are a general ethical starting point.

Rather than demanding certain behavior, they simply offer suggestions to help us behave in accordance with the principles that are at the core of who we are: 

honesty, peace, compassion, generosity, and love.

1. Ahimsa:  This is the perfect Yama with which to begin, for it means the absence of violence, and opposite of cruelty, which is peace and love.  How do you want to interpret this for a new year and a new you?  Does it mean giving up meat?  Maybe, or maybe it just means speaking carefully, choosing each word with kindness in mind.  Maybe it means giving up gossip, giving up the minute and trivial cruelties that we permit ourselves because *they'll never find out* or *i'm just venting.*  However you choose to translate ahimsa into your life, your kindness will surely rebound back at you.


2. Satya: Satya is a commitment to truth.  It is harder than it seems to be honest not only with others but also with ourselves.  As the year progresses, try to observe your thoughts and challenge them with the practice of satya.

 Are the things your head is telling you true?

Or is there perhaps a more accurate message?  When we clear out our misconceptions and self-deception, life becomes much easier.


3. Asteya.  Non-stealing means non-coveting, and in order to not covet we must focus within, and find contentment with what we do have.

 B.K.S Iyengar says that

"craving muddies the stream of tranquility."  

buddhaWhen you find yourself envying the practice of a seemingly gravity-defying yogi a few mats down, or yearning for a brighter and tighter pair of leggings in a shop window, focus on the intangible treasures within.  I KNOW, this sounds useless and annoying BUT with minimalism comes greater appreciation of the things we do have.  It is SO hard not to get sucked into the quicksand of materialism and commercialism.  But the constant desire for more, faster, brighter, shinier fosters only dissatisfaction.  Asteya suggests that we refocus, in each moment, on what we do have, on the abundance that is our life.

Try starting each day in January with a short list of things for which you are grateful.


4. Brahmacharya: OK we know that this satya is concerning, since it is often deciphered as a call to celibacy.  And perhaps this works for some, but for the rest of us, practicing brahmacharya might simply mean examining our sexual energy, recognizing it's incredible power, and using it wisely.


5. Aparigraha: The final satya suggests that we stop grasping and clutching.  We interpret it to mean permitting the vicissitudes of life to wash over you, and, rather than fighting them, or resisting  them, embracing the endless volatility that is life.  Rather than making concrete resolutions that we will quickly abandon, perhaps the best resolution this year is to forgo resolve and accept the ebb and flow of our determination, our selves, and our lives.


And with that, a happy 2015 to all of you lovely yogis.

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