An Introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Part 1

An Introduction to the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Part 1

Are you only practicing one-eighth of yoga? 

I’ve been wanting to do a series of posts on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, specifically, the first two limbs, the Yamas & Niyamas.

If you aren’t familiar with the eight limbs of yoga, that’s not surprising. In the modern, western world, yoga is focused almost entirely on the third limb, asana. That’s right, when you show up on your mat every day or every week, you are practicing one-eighth of what yoga is about. This is not to lessen the importance of the physical practice of yoga, but to introduce and explain the importance of the other seven limbs.

For those of you who have a familiarity and a practice of the eight limbs, I hope you’ll find my perspectives interesting and worth reading. For those of you unfamiliar, I hope you’ll be inspired to investigate and find a deeper understanding of the many facets of living yogic life.

This series is not going to be in any particular order, nor is it going to be a specified number of weeks in a row. It’ll simply show up, based on what I am experiencing, reading and contemplating in my life at the time. I hope to begin to answer the questions of where do we pick up after we pick up our yoga mats? How can we cultivate the feeling that yoga brings us, in our everyday lives? How can practicing yoga both on and off our mats bring us greater contentment, peace and joy in our own lives? How can it help us to help others and become better stewards of the planet?

Deep questions, I know. I am not attempting to answer these questions for you, but to introduce you to a pathway to begin answering them for yourself.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

  • Yama ~ restraints
  • Niyama ~ observances
  • Asana ~ physical practice
  • Pranayama ~ breath practices
  • Pratyahara ~ turning inward
  • Dharana ~ concentration
  • Dhyana ~ meditation
  • Samadhi ~ enlightenment

The Yama & Niyamas – The First Two Limbs of Yoga

Put simply, the yamas and niyamas can be thought of as ethical guidelines for living. They are the foundation of yogic thought. The yamas are defined, variously, as restraints, moral qualities, self-regulating behaviors or attitudes towards life. They are about how we treat other beings and the world around us. The niyamas are described as observances, personal practices and an evolution towards harmony within ourselves. Put very simply, the yamas are about how we relate to the world and others; the niyamas are how we relate to and evolve ourselves.

If you’re wondering where these guidelines came from and who the heck put them together, they were compiled by the sage Patanjali, approximately 2,500 years ago, into the spiritual text known as The Yoga Sutras. Patanjali is not the author, but the editor or compiler of the sutras. Prior to Patanjali, they had been taught and passed down orally, from teacher to student for millennia. There are many different translations and interpretations of the Yoga Sutras. The closest comparison of a text that I can think of is the Bible. The sutras are a series of short threads or verses that explain how to live a yogic life. Like the Bible, they are sometimes difficult to grasp and have been interpreted many different ways. Unlike the Bible, the sutras were meant to evolve and change with the times and circumstances. While they were originally meant for saints and ascetics, they can and should be adapted for the 21st Century householder (us). Also, unlike the Bible, they are not dogmatic and not meant to be taken literally. Interpretation is allowed and encouraged.

There are five yamas and five niyamas. We are instructed to practice them in thought, word and deed.

Yamas 

  • Ahimsa ~ non-harming
  • Satya ~ truthfulness
  • Astheya ~ non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya ~ non-excess
  • Aparigraha ~ greedlessness

Niyamas

  • Saucha ~ purity
  • Santosha ~ contentment
  • Tapas ~ self-discipline
  • Svadhyaya ~ self-study
  • Ishvara Pranidana ~ Surrender

Even as I write, I want to say so much more. These one or two word definitions just barely scratch the surface of what the first two limbs of yoga are all about. But, I don’t want to overwhelm. I know that many yoga students and teacher trainees get overwhelmed when starting to study yoga’s deeper texts and philosophy. I certainly did. It took me years to “get” what the yamas and niyamas were really about, and still, I am no expert. But, I do feel that I have a pretty good working understanding; at least enough to share in a (hopefully) helpful way.

As I continue this series, I’ll delve deeper into the individual yamas and niyamas and share how I’ve incorporated them into my life. I’ll give suggestions for you to do the same.

If this subject lights you up and you can’t wait for more, there are some resources below. If you want to dive deeper, you’re probably a good fit for my yogi-mentoring and yoga teacher mentoring. I love helping yogis fit these ancient teachings into their modern lives and seeing how their light begins to shine brighter and brighter. I’m offering all of my readers a free, 30 minute yogi-coaching session, to chat about mentoring and see if I can help you find what you are looking for in your yoga practice ~ on & off the mat.

Here is a list of a few of my favorite, user-friendly books on the subject:

The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele
True Yoga by Jennie Lee
The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
Do Your Om Thing by Rebecca Pacheco
The Tree of Yoga by BKS Iyengar (slightly more advanced, or old-school, depending on how you look at it).

Well, there’s a little yoga philosophy for you to nibble on. I’ll go deeper into one or two of the yamas next time. PS – I don’t know how many times I have to type yamas, before my auto-correct stops changing it to yams! So, if it says yamsanywhere in this post, I apologize!

How to Find Your Joy – Look No Further than Your Own Childhood

How to Find Your Joy – Look No Further than Your Own Childhood

My last couple of posts have had pretty heavy subjects. And though I’ve gotten some wonderful feedback on them, I want to shift gears and give you something lighter this week.
Joy.
I think we all want to feel and experience joy. But, as adults, we often don’t. Why is that? I’m talking about real, true, unadulterated joy. Notice the word adult in unadulterated? We may be generally happy or content in our lives or we may be frustrated and restless. Joy, in my mind, isn’t a long-term state. It’s not the same as internal happiness and contentment. We’re taught in yoga and we read in self-help books, that happiness must come from within, that we can’t get happiness from external things. That is true. And, there are plenty of experiences, people, animals, places and memories that can bring us that sense of joy.
When was the last time you experienced pure joy? The kind that made you want to jump up and down and made you smile so much your face hurt? If it’s been a while, I’ve got a suggestion for you.
Look to your childhood. Of course I realize that not everyone had a great childhood. But the thing about children is, they are much more open to joy. They feel it much more easily than we jaded adults do.
I remember once being in a seminar for entrepreneurs. They were trying to get us to figure out how we could make our business bring us joy (my words, not theirs). They instructed us to think about what we wanted to do when we grew up, when we were young. The exercise was to try to find out what we really wanted to do, based on what we loved when we were kids. While I think that exercise missed its mark a bit – not too many middle aged small business owners were going to throw it all in to become astronauts or Broadway stars, I do think there was some relevance in the exercise.
If you met me in the last 30 years, unless you know me really well, chances are, you don’t know that as a kid, my entire existence revolved around horses. I would go to the stable every day after school, until dinnertime and would spend all day Saturday and Sunday there. I worked at the stable, to support my equine habit. I cleaned stalls, groomed, cleaned tack, guided trail rides. I took care of horses who’s owners showed up a couple times a year to ride. My summers were filled with horse shows and 4H.
In the back of my mind, I’ve always said, “Someday I’ll get back to horses.” But it never happened. Until now. 
This summer, my daughter and I started volunteering for a local organization that uses equine therapy to help special needs kids. I was psyched to do something involving horses and she needs volunteer hours to graduate from high school. While I expected to enjoy it, I had no idea how profoundly it would affect me. From the moment I stepped into the barn and smelled the smells and touched the horses, I felt like I was home. It was like no time had passed. I felt as comfortable with the horses as I did 35 years ago. I remembered how to talk to a horse, how to tighten a girth, how to sit on a horse in two-point position. The smells, the sounds, everything. It all came back instantly. And filled me with Joy. Huge, big, happy joy. That feeling of I can’t stop smiling and thinking about it and talking about it.
My daughter recognized this in me immediately. Horses are not her thing. But, she has never once complained, whined, made excuses or any of those other teenagery things. When I thanked her for that, she said, “I see how happy the horses make you, Mom, and I want you to be happy.” (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I pulled the lucky card when it came to parenting!)
My point is that, while deciding to become an astronaut at 50 may not be in the cards, we can look to our childhood to understand what can bring us joy today. Did you love baseball? Join a local softball team. Did you love writing? Download and app and get on it! Maybe it was fishing, camping, singing, acting, baking, dancing. It could be any number of things, and they are all things you can do again. A good friend of mine practiced ballet as a child, and took it up again in her 30s. Another had rabbits as a child and is now breeding bunnies as a happy hobby. Maybe you loved sewing or playing the piano. It doesn’t matter what it was. If you want a little extra joy in your life, turn back time to when joy came much more easily. Before the weight of adulthood began to land on your shoulders. And try it again. It might be a little scary at first. The thought of falling on the ice is a lot more daunting to a middle-aged person, than to a young figure-skater or hockey player. But, take it from me, if you loved it then, you’ll love it now. 
What brought you joy when you were a child? How can you make your way back to it? I would love to hear.
Why I Don’t Love Fathers Day – And it’s Ok with Me if You Do

Why I Don’t Love Fathers Day – And it’s Ok with Me if You Do

For the past few years, I have dreaded Father’s Day. My father died in May of 2016. My daughter’s father died in January of 2017. I miss them both terribly. My biological father died in 2018, and though we weren’t that close, I have found myself missing him much more than I expected.
My daughter and I pretty much ignore this day. There are lots of fathers in our life that we should probably reach out to, and I’m hoping by the end of writing this post, I’ll be ready to. Am I being selfish, wanting to ignore Father’s Day? Am I making it all about me? Should I celebrate and honor this day, even though I don’t want to?
I know there are others who feel the same. There are those who have lost fathers, there are those who are estranged from their fathers, there are fathers who don’t have relationships with their kids. There are fathers who have lost children. There are moms who are divorced and alone today, because their kids are with their dads. It sometimes seems like there are more reasons to ignore Father’s Day, than celebrate it.
So, if we have negative associations with this day, what can we do to turn that around, or to at least make it a moment for reflection and growth?
I am starting with gratitude. For the father who gave me life. For the father who raised me. For the father of my daughter.  Even though none of them walk this earth anymore, their influence does. And for my daughter’s paternal grandfather, who, after many years of estrangement, is making an effort to have a relationship with her. My dad was the kindest, most generous, most loving man I’ve ever met. Those who know my sister, can see how he passed those genes along to her. I am darker, by nature, but being raised by him gave me any of the kindness and sweetness I might possess. He taught me what it was like to be loved unconditionally, and to be supported an encouraged in all my endeavors. He was full of laughter and joy, and taught my sister and me to look for those qualities, as we grew up and started to have our own relationships with men.
Stella got the same from her dad. Though Brian and I divorced, she never doubted his love for her. He never said an unkind word to her. He loved her unconditionally. He made her laugh.
From gratitude, I move to respect. I have the utmost respect for so many of the fathers I know, especially the single dads, who put their kids above everything else. The Petes, the Erics, the Jans of the world. They are doing it alone. Raising their kids without a partner, which I suspect, is in many ways, harder than being a single mother. I know that’s a broad generalization, but I think there’s truth in it. Society wants to help the single mom. Not so much the single dad.
I extend this respect to men who are raising other people’s kids. Taking on that responsibility is one of the largest acts of love imaginable. My dad did it for me and for my mom. That is big, big love.
Then, there’s forgiveness. Sometimes it’s hard for me to forgive Brian. For allowing his addiction to take precedence over his parenting. For seeing little of Stella in the last few years of his life. How could her dad not make every effort to see her as much as possible? Looking back, I think he thought he was doing us a favor. He let me call all the shots and make all the decisions in Stella’s life. I think, in a strange way, he thought she had a better life without him. In a way, I wanted him to fight me. To fight for more time with her, to clean up his act so he could be more present with her. I saw other single dads doing everything to be with their kids. Brian wasn’t that dad. I couldn’t make him the dad I wanted him to be while we were married, so why would I expect him to magically become a great dad after we divorced?
I have forgiven him though. And I know that there are lots of fathers out there, both alive and not, who should probably be forgiven. Not because their actions (past or present) were ok, but because holding onto anger and grudges hurts the holder more than the one to whom the anger is directed. If you have a father who has wronged you or hurt you, see if you can try a little bit of forgiveness, not for his sake, but for yours. If you are a father who has screwed up, it is not to late to change things. It is only too late when someone dies. It is too late for Brian. If you and your kids are alive, it is never too late.
The last emotion that comes with this day for many, is grief. If you have lost a father or your children have lost their father or you are a father who has lost a child, this day will give you an extra shot of grief. But, really, it’s just another day, isn’t it? It doesn’t remind me that Brian is gone and that my dad is gone. I can’t be reminded of something I never forget. But it does turn up the intensity.
So, those are my emotions for the day. Gratitude. Respect. Forgiveness, Grief. Kind of a heavy load. Yes. And. (I’m trying to replace “yes, but” with “yes, and” in all my interactions).
Yes, those are heavy emotions. And, feeling, speaking and expressing my emotions is a much better choice than shoving them down somewhere and then being moody and snappy with people because I haven’t dealt with my emotions.
So if you have, or are an awesome dad, I don’t begrudge you this day. You don’t have to tiptoe around the subject with me. I am happy for you. I might not have been, if I didn’t get this all out on paper. And if you don’t have, or are not a great father, I send you my love and healing thoughts. Whether you are the one who needs to forgive or the one who needs to be forgiven, the need for healing is the same. Maybe some of my practices will help you to feel better. Maybe something different will.
Today is Sunday, June 16. Make it what you choose.
When Life Goes Awry

When Life Goes Awry

This isn’t the post I had scheduled for this weekend. I generally plan my posts several weeks in advance and schedule them out. This one started in my head this morning and continued to grow, so here it is. Raw and uncensored.
Today marks the day that would have been my 22nd wedding anniversary. When I married Brian, I expected to live and grow with him until a very old age. I got married for all the right reasons; I was 32 and had been dating him for 4 years – not too young, didn’t rush into it. I wasn’t pregnant, broke or desperate. I had plenty of married friends, but plenty of single ones too, so I didn’t feel any pressure to get married.
If I had been able to look into a crystal ball and see my life today, my response would have been, “Wow, WTF happened?” I certainly didn’t expect to get divorced. I didn’t expect Brian to die. I didn’t expect to raise our daughter by myself. In Wisconsin (of all places!).
I’m seeing friends who’ve been married for 20 years watch their kids graduate and go off to college, and prepare for empty-nesting and their next phase of life together. And I realize that I’ll never have that. Even if I were to meet my soulmate tomorrow (I use the term “soulmate” loosely; I have many soulmates, both male and female and am grateful for all of them!), I will not have the experience of growing from young to old with someone, or to raise children with someone. I missed that boat. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow.
Sometimes I’m amazed at how my life didn’t go the way I had expected it to; the way I thought it should have. Sometimes it bums me out. A lot.
And then I look around me and see how few people are living the life they thought they would when they were young. I have plenty of divorced friends. I have friends who are in shitty marriages – worse that being divorced, IMO. I have friends who have lost partners, who have lost children, who are struggling with addictions, who’ve been abused, raped, wrongly accused of crimes. Nobody expects any of that.
How do we detach from the ideal of what life should have been and be ok with what life is?
We can look for the good. Not the good in what happened, but the good that can come out of it.  I have never been a believer in “everything happens for a reason,” but I am a believer that out of any bad, can come good. That we can learn and grow from all the ways we screw up our lives. If I hadn’t been through the experience I’ve been through, I wouldn’t be who I am today. We can all become stronger and more resilient, and possibly even happier, from our tragedies.
I can honestly say that I am happier today than when I was married to Brian. I tend to put him on a pedestal because he died. But the fact is, I divorced him for very good reasons. Today, I live a pretty contented life. I’m proud of the job I’m doing with my daughter. She’s growing into a kind, thoughtful, independent young woman. We have an incredibly close relationship that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I love my little house on the corner by the park. I love the fact that I don’t have to check with anyone on big decisions. I am the boss of me! When it comes time for me to empty-nest, I can do whatever I want. And I plan on living life to the fullest. Yes, I sometimes miss having a partner, but honestly, there’s no shortage of men in my life. I’ve dated a lot and it’s mostly entertaining. Most of the men I’ve met, though none have been serious romances, remain great friends who’s company I continue to enjoy. We all tend to grow up with the thought that the ultimate goal in life is to be one-half of a couple. I realized a few years back, that that may not be my dharma. I was that for a long time. While I am not opposed to the idea, should the right man come along, he would have to blow me away. Honestly, why would I settle for anything less?
I am happy with my life that I never expected or planned. I live near my family, I am have a ton of love in my life. I’ve done a pretty freaking good job at parenting by myself. So why lament that it wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be?
Of course I wish that Brian hadn’t died. I wish my daughter had a father. I am often sad that her story will always be, “my dad died when I was 13.” But, that is only part of her story. She has so much more and will continue to have so much more. She will grow up to be who she is because of and in spite of her experiences.
I could get caught up in “what if’s” and “if only’s”. We all could. Is your life what you expected? If not, are you embracing the life you have, or wishing for the life that might have been? We can’t change the past, but we can embrace the present. We can’t know what the future will hold, but we can do our best to create the life we want. If we can keep loving and laughing, keep continually striving to be our best selves, enjoy life and treat others well, we can love our lives, even when they’ve turned out very differently than expected.
A wise yoga teacher once said, “It is better to do your dharma poorly, than to do somebody else’s well.” I’m living my dharma. Sometimes gracefully, other times like a train-wreck. But, it is mine.
Just Say Maybe to Drugs

Just Say Maybe to Drugs

This post is going to be controversial. So, I am going to start by giving you my intent. My intent is to incite thought. I am not attempting to change anyone’s opinion, nor, as you will find, do I have a particularly strong opinion one way or another on some of the topics I’ll be discussing.
I think that we can all agree that drugs can be good and drugs can be bad. Drugs can save your life or kill you. We’re talking about drugs a lot more these days than we have in the past. From opioid addiction to legalization of cannabis to the debate over vaccinations, there is so much to know and so much information and misinformation.
We have such ingrained beliefs about certain subjects, that we can’t see them for what they are – beliefs. Let’s use dairy milk as an example to express how strongly we hold our beliefs. I know that more and more people are not drinking dairy milk for a variety of reasons, but I’m sure at sometime in your life you drank it or at least there are people in your life that drink it. It is universally accepted as something that humans consume. Let’s just accept that for the point of this exercise. OK, so, now, lets say I hand you a glass of dog milk. Or rat milk. Or even human milk (probably the best milk for us, if we’re going to drink milk at all!) Do you want to drink any of those? Or does the thought repulse you? Why? Because it’s culturally ingrained. There’s nothing more or less gross about dog milk than cow’s. It’s just a belief. We have similarly ingrained beliefs about drugs.
I’m going to start with vaccinations, because this seems to be the most heated debate lately. I’ll start by saying that I am neither pro nor anti vax. My daughter got all of her childhood vaccinations. With the resurgence of measles, I think it’s probably a really good idea to have had a measles shot. We don’t get flu shots. I haven’t had the flu since I was 22 (I’m 54) and my 15-year-old has never had the flu. I have also opted to not have her get the hpv vaccination. I’m not arguing that you should do what I did, or justify my choices. I’m simply encouraging everyone to do the research and make informed choices. Don’t accept or decline all vaccinations, just because. Do your research. I know people on both sides of the debate, who I respect. They’ve done their homework. They’ve come to differing conclusions. As long as the pharmaceutical industry is a for-profit industry, I know that their number one priority is their bottom line. Not my health. So, I will continue to be skeptical.  I’d recommend researching and talking to your doctor about every vaccine that comes along.
Now let’s talk illegal drugs. My daughter came home last week and told me that they are learning about recreational drugs in health class. They had learned about LSD that day. That it is highly addictive, that people who take it more than a handful of times go insane, that people who take it never make anything of their lives and many die from it. The problem with this lesson is IT IS NOT TRUE. Now, before you unsubscribe because you think I am advocating teens taking LSD, I am not. But, I am also not advocating telling them falsehoods to scare them from drugs. And what I find particularly disturbing is that I’m sure the teachers who teach this, believe it is true.
The fact is, LSD was researched extensively in the 1950s and found to have many positive applications for treating anxiety, depression and addiction. It was legally distributed by the Sandoz company until it was made illegal and classified as a Schedule 1 drug in 1962. LSD is also anti-addictive, meaning that after someone takes it, they don’t have the desire to take it again, for a long time. Another fact is, there has never been a death attributed to LSD. Not one. Ever. Compare that to legal opioids, that kill almost 17,000 people every year, and destroys the lives of many, many more.
It wasn’t until the 1960s, when Timothy Leary and Ken Kesey and their ilk started telling kids to
“Turn on, Tune in, Drop out,” that the establishment community got freaked out and took it off the market and demonized it. If you’re interested in reading more on the subject, Michael Pollan, well-known author to foodies for his books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, In Defense of Food, and Cooked, among others, recently deviated from his usual subject and wrote a comprehensive book on psychedelics called How to Change Your Mind. There has been a resurgence of the study of psychedelics for psychiatric use, since the 1990s. But, don’t expect to be able to go to your doctor and get a prescription for acid anytime soon!
After tackling those two heavy subjects, bringing up marijuana seems a little anti-climactic. I will say that since I lived in Colorado when it became one of the first two states in the country to legalize it, I got a front row seat to its effects. I can’t say that I saw any negatives. It brought a bunch of revenue into the state, the taxes collected helped local communities. It brought in more tourism, for sure. The dispensary in my tiny town of 250 people, had visitors from all 50 states in its first year. For people who needed it medically, but lived in states where it wasn’t available, it became easier to come to a state and obtain it recreationally, rather than to try to get it medically, across state lines.
I’ve intentionally left out links to any drug research, because there’s just so much, on both sides of every argument. Any link I could add, would take you to an article with an opinion, and as I said in the beginning of my post, I am not arguing one side or the other. I am only arguing that we think and question.  Always question. Question what you read, what you are told and even what you believe. Question your doctors, teachers, political & religious leaders. Never accept anything “just because.” And never say that to your kids!