The other day I was having a conversation with a friend about things that are important to us. He said theatre. I said fashion. He said the environment. I said exercise and fitness. He said travel. I said yogic living.
“What’s that?” he asked.
“What’s what?” I responded.
“What is yogic living?”
Yogic living is the heart of Eternal Health Yoga, and the overall focus of our yoga teacher training program. It was like being a fish asked to describe water. I know what it is but describing yogic living to someone who has never been immersed in it gave me pause.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are like a handbook for yogic living. In his writings, Patanjali addresses topics ranging from how to interact with difficult people to how to care for the physical body to what to do if during meditation one finds oneself hovering off of the ground. The Yoga Sutras are a source of wisdom and a solid foundation for any yoga practice. As I considered how to answer my friend’s question, I took my cues from there.
Yogic living is…
Practice and non-attachment
To live a yogic lifestyle requires practice. The next logical question would be what then do we practice? Patanjali leaves that up to the yogi. We each must seek and discover for ourselves the practices that lead us to the state of Yoga, or union. A yoga practice could be anything that we decide to do with absolute devotion for a certain amount of time at regular intervals.
Often when we practice something, we do so with the aim of improving or reaching some sort of goal. Yoga practices are not like that. When we practice yoga, we do so from a place of non-attachment. When we decide we are going to practice yoga, we do our practice regardless of how we feel about it. We may be tired. We may be grumpy. We may want to go to the movies with our friends. All of those things are fine! Do the practice anyways. Non-attachment means letting go of the results of our practice as well. Maybe we find ourselves in a state of bliss after it is over, maybe we don’t. Attaching ourselves to an exhilarating practice or to a mundane one will only make us unhappy in the long run. Yoga is staying present one moment at a time.
Mindfulness is our willingness to and efforts toward dwelling in the present moment. It is often portrayed as sweet and pseudo-spiritual. However, mindfulness is extremely practical and imperative if we want to live sane lives. Living mindfully does not only mean stopping to smell the proverbial roses. It means not checking out or distracting ourselves when things get difficult. We pay attention to and address suffering, both our own and that of others. We do what we can to alleviate suffering, and we know when we have done enough because we are fully inhabiting our experience.
Mindfulness is also not a way to deny or escape our emotions. An emotion lasts only for about 90 seconds. Any lingering response beyond that is not the emotion itself but our reactions and ruminations regarding how we felt. To be mindful means we are able to feel more deeply. We touch in to our emotions and the wisdom they have to offer us. The emotion can then be processed and released allowing us to make clear-headed decisions and navigate the world more effectively.
The Yoga Sutras were not written for cloistered monks and nuns living in a cave. They were written for everyday people who had jobs, families, and community obligations. The Yoga Sutras are particularly relevant to us today as many of us desire to practice a serious spiritual path, but we do not feel called to monastic living.
Yoga offers us a way of bringing our spiritual practice off of our mats and meditation cushions and into the world around us. The Yamas and the Niyamas are the ethical precepts of the yoga practice. If we wish to live a yogic life, these are the standards that we adhere to. We strive to be peaceful, truthful, honest, generous, and moderate. We also practice discipline, contentment, purity, study of sacred texts, and devotion to something bigger than our just our ego-selves. Are we perfect? Certainly not! Ethical living is a practice in and of itself, and it too requires non-attachment and mindfulness.
Care of the body.
Many spiritual traditions regard the body as something to be denied or disregarded. Yoga is a holistic practice that addresses all levels of our being, including our bodies! Our bodies are the vehicle through which our consciousness experiences the world in this lifetime. Therefore, we must take care of our bodies so that we can live comfortably in them. We do this through nutrition, cleansing practices, and practicing the asanas (postures). The word asana literally means to be seated comfortably on the earth. If our bodies are not comfortable we will feel distracted and it will be more difficult to achieve Yoga.
Yogic living encompasses far more than a single blog post can encompass. Now it is your turn! What does yogic living mean to you? Please leave your comments below!