Living Yoga and doing yoga are two different things
Dr. Swami Gitananda called us to “accept Yoga as a way of life, a way of integrating your whole nature, so that all aspects of your life work in harmony, one with another.” I took these words within me from the very first lesson and during all this time I have worked persistently to attain a Yoga Life by working on the path of yoga and the ethical rules of yoga. By giving myself into this process I experienced a “break down”, a situation where I felt that I was breaking into pieces in order to be formed again. My intention through the Yoga Life was to release traumas, tame the ego and destroy layers (Kleshas) that prevent my spiritual development and the path towards who I really am. Therefore this thesis focuses on the Yamas, the ethical rules of Yoga as a foundation of Yoga Life, aiming a deeper understanding of their practice and perfection, which may also contribute to attain sensitive awareness and bring us closer to our life purpose, our Dharma– responsibility in this life.
Sri Krishna in the “Bhagavad Gita” states to his disciple Arjuna that: “Yoga is skill in action”. Dr. Swami Gitananda describes that: “If a unified life represents skillful, harmonious, beautiful living, then Yoga can also be called the ‘Science of Man’ – of total man. Yoga is ‘Conscious Evolution’, the Reality of learning to grow through the process of evolution.” This process suggests our willingness to be continuously but consciously active on our thoughts, emotions and actions. It implies a constant experimentation in life, aiming our spiritual development through the experiences we attain through the body.
Yoga is a holistic concept applied or experienced truly and deeply in all levels: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual by following and applying its principles through the 3 R’s – “Regularity – Repetition – Rhythm” indicated by Dr Swami Gitananda. This means that one should not be “Doing Yoga” but actually “Living Yoga”, which means to work seriously and extensively with its whole existence in order to develop one’s self and prevent negative old patterns, become more conscious and therefore bring real change in one’s life and within one’s self. Dr. Swami Gitananda explains: “When the mind, emotions and body work harmoniously together with the real Self within, then Yoga can be said to exist. Yoga is the science of the ‘whole man’ ”. In addition he states: “Yoga is a spiritual path whose aim is the individual realization in consciousness of the independent, Self-Existing, Self-Originating, Indwelling Spirit of Man”.
In order to accomplish a Yoga Life we should also have in mind the Four-fold Awarenesswhich are the four stages of awareness in Yoga given by Dr. Swami Gitananda, and they suggest of being aware of the body and how it works, being aware of the effect of the emotions on the body, being aware of the mind and how it can control the emotions and the body, and being aware of awareness. These steps enabled me to create a frame of my own existence and work within this frame to sharpen my awareness, considering that evolution depends on us and that we must be conscious through sensitive awareness. Yoga is conscious evolution and by living a Yoga Life one can increase their awareness in many levels through constant practice and dedication. Dr. Swami Gitananda adds one extra point of awareness to be placed as the first step in this group of awareness’s, and this is to “be aware of how unaware we are”. This point indicates that we need to check ourselves and be aware that we might not be aware (yet).
By being aware of all the conditions that arise on our body, emotions and mind, concentration takes place. Being aware of everything that occurs and takes place as conditions of the body (breathing, movement, action, listening, speaking, eating, painful and pleasant sensations), as emotions that arise every moment (happiness, joy, love or jealousy, fear and anger) and as conditions which are generated and resulted from the mind to the body and emotions is a powerful tool in order to improve concentration and cultivate sensitive awareness. On the other hand is important to be able to observe how our mind and the quality of our thoughts may control our emotions and body in order to avoid negative situations but instead generate positive conditions in our lives.
I do know that a great enemy of awareness is the untrained mind, which has the characteristic of moving constantly and leaping here and there. Many times irrelevant thoughts persist and occupy an untrained mind. This condition of the mind does not let the Self arrive at the present moment, at a “here and now” situation, it does not allow the mind to experience its deepest innermost qualities due to the fact that are covered by all those unnecessary thoughts. By executing all body actions slowly and methodically in order to be able to follow the movement of every part of the body and its organs to the smallest detail, and by observing and being aware of every process of the mind and emotions, one’s awareness will become a constant awareness and concentration also towards the Yamas – the five moral restrains.
Based on my experience I believe that in order to practice the Yamas is essential to first become conscious of how aware we are in life and take into consideration the Four-fold Awareness. With this consideration we practice the Yamas more effectively and we are able to perfect them at some point as the Yamas embrace an overall lifestyle that help us pursuit spiritual knowledge and liberation by having a pure intention in our thoughts, words and actions.
Becoming aware of whether and how I apply violence in my thoughts, words and actions I have practiced Ahimsa (non-violence) firstlyby understanding what is Himsa (violence) and secondly by observing my thoughts, words and actions constantly. Whenever I was applying judgment to others and myself or creating feelings of guilt or avoiding providing the proper rest to my body I knew that I was creating violence (Himsa) to myself. Being aware of all these aspects and the situation of how Himsa is generated through me and around me in the world, I broke patterns by being constantly aware of my actions. In addition, being aware of the external situations and factors that apply violence on the earth and the animals immediately forced me to create a shift on my diet and my interaction with the earth through my daily habits and my way of living. Therefore Ahimsa is about knowing what harms the Self and Others and about cultivating compassion towards our Self and Others. This is what enabled me to improve my behavior by valuing Ahimsa.
I have understood Satya, the Yama of truth, by experiencingthe misalignment of thePancha Koshasand how important is that thoughts, feelings and actions should be aligned and expressed as one entity. Once again, in order to understand this Yama, is important to know what is true and what is not true and then be aware of how true and non-true are expressed or reveal things about us in all levels of existence. I experienced how important truth is for inner balance and harmony and the alignment of the five bodies (Pancha Koshas), especially during my yoga practice. In addition, practicing Satya is about understanding that we truly are and by getting rid of any kind of constructed behavior, which was given or adopted from external factors such as our family, culture, society and social models. Anything that does not belong to us, which is not our truth, even people, family and friends that no longer come in alignment with our being should be avoided in order to reach out our true essence.
In order to reach out our true essence (Satya) we also need to set up the proper boundaries for ourselves and others in order to create the desirable outcomes for our spiritual development and form the next steps in our spiritual journey. This can happen through the practice of Asteya (non-stealing). I have worked extensively on the Yama of Asteya in order to form the right boundaries regarding the limits I have towards my own self, the limits I set towards others and the limits I define for others regarding my own self. This was a tremendously difficult tasks as these boundaries should be observed, defined and examined during every interaction with the different people I have in my life through our relationship, encounter and interaction. It was very important for me to apply this Yama alongside the Yama of Satya as I was always asking myself: “What is that I really need, and what is that which creates alignment with my true essence?”. Making choices through this process was an effort to study myself further and learn to respect and love myself and others.
Another reason I came face to face with Asteya was the indescribable pain I have felt from the absence of things that were not given (or happen) to me due to personalized expectations. The Ego / Survival Instinct which was covered under the fear of rejection, has revealed and unfold its several facets, and expressed through the need to control and through the attempt to “steal” what is not offered (Asteya). The action of asking, expecting and needing attention, understanding, approval, compassion and love from others was an infringement of Asteya, as I was trying to “steal” what was not given to me freely. I realized that in my endeavor to take something from others, I was transgressing their limits and then I perceived the re-action towards my actions as a rejection. Often in my attempt to take what it was not offered to me, I was activating the need to control people and circumstances around me. So in terms of Asteya (non-stealing) I was unconsciously trying to «steal» from others that whichwas not given to me voluntarily. Being in that position it was quite disempowering until I realized that what I had to do is to let go all the neediness.
Being aware of the effect of the emotions on my physical body, and also how the mind controls the emotions and the body, and in my quest to find ways to let go of the neediness, I decided to practice Pradipaksha Bhavana (opposite stance): instead of asking for love and compassion from others I have chosen to give love and compassion firstly towards my own self and then to others. This decision was requiring an internal work to be done as everything that I used to ask for I should now find them from within. This internal work empowered me to set excessive boundaries towards myself and others for a period of time and until I cultivate within me what I luck at the moment, and until I form the proper conditions between myself and others.
My main intention was to create loving boundaries between me and others by respecting their limits and at the same time by setting my own limits. I have consciously chosen to create a space within and a healthy distance between me and others where things can be recreated, grow and expand during time, within and in-between us. I have turned inwards in order to dig and find whatever is hidden or lost, and this process was quite painful sometimes but some other times is trully empowering and beautiful. And what I had to do is to accept this process, accept whatever it is with patience and give the proper time to cultivate and establish qualities within me. These qualities may slowly slowly fill in the gaps and holes that were shaping my misery, and then reach out to others to be given and to be shared.
By practicing Asteya through my personal story I am questioning myself: How do I perceive what is not offered? Of course the thought that something is not offered follows the clinging to take something. By noticing this thought and by recognizing what is “missing” I try to find it and cultivate it within.If something is not given I should always remember that my sourse of happiness should be only internal. And with this thought I feel trully and fully responsible of what is happening to me, of the happiness and unhappines in my life. Applying judgment in this situation is important tobe done through a loving compassion. Only through a loving compassion the evaluation towards ourselves merits the effort and the outcome.
While practicing this opposite stance (Pradipaksha Bhavana), of turning from the outside towards the inside and accept things as they are, I realized that letting go is an amazing tool which is connected to Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). Practicing Aparigraha is all about letting go. Let go of controlling, let go of needing, let go of wanting more love, affection, and attention, just let go of what I do not need, of all the neediness that creates unhappiness in my life, of all that does not serve me. Applying an opposite stance for this situation is not about searching things outside of myself but within me, it is not about taking things from others but accept things only when they are trully offered. It is about accepting people and situations the way they are and avoid creating resistance while developing tolerance and patience towards them. And by accepting what it is, is like creating a space for new things to arise and happen, born and expand, arrived at the perfect moment.
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) has formed within me a deeper understanding that nothing belongs to us, neither people nor experiences and memories we have shared with them. The action of possessiveness suggests also a waste of our own energy (Prana) through our luck of finding and cultivating the energy within us and through our endeavor to take energy from others (Asteya). This is also connected with the Yama of Brahmacharya, the sexual purity and purity of mind and actionas it is linked with the way we use our energy and vitality towards things, situations and people. Again we can prevent this by setting our boundaries (Asteya) and distribute our energy wisely on aspects of our life that are beneficial mainly for our spiritual development, and always with compassion and good-will for the benefit of ourselves and others (Ahimsa).
The action of letting go – as an action to improve Asteya (non-stealing), but also as an opposite stance (Pradipaksha Bhavana) towards possessiveness and the infringement of Aparigraha (non-possessiveness), is very important for the perfection of Aparigraha. Letting go may be the way to free ourselves from thoughts and emotions which may create psychic diseases (Adhi) that may become bodily diseases (Vyadhi). Through my personal experience of how a psychic disease reveals itself as a physical disease, takes me to the third stage of the Four-fold awareness, which suggests the awareness of the mind and how the mind can control the emotions and the body. Therefore in the same way that the psychic disease (Adhi) becomes a bodily disease (Vyadhi) it happens also with the positive thoughts. If we think and then act positively then these positive things are embodied and revealed in our body.
Adhi-vyadhi is suggesting the higher mind, the conscious mind. When this phase is accomplished, a new awareness can be sought, one in which the conscious mind is transcend by a higher aspect of the mind, a higher faculty of awareness (Buddhi). And I believe that perfecting the Yamas can be a powerful tool to accomplish good health for the body, mind and emotions while increasing our capacity for concentration in life but also in our meditation practice. On the one hand, Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) are powerful tools for the production of this awareness and to improve our behavior within the realm of Yamas. On the other hand by perfecting the Yamas, our concentration (Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana) will be uplifted in a higher level.
For me the perfection of Yamas is essential in many levels as it implies a starting point but also an important basis on which we can build a Yoga Life. The perfection of the five Yamas – ethical codes of conduct, which are contained in the first limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga system, are a basis for the five Niyamas – internal observances, which are contained in the second limb and are related to the yogi’s internal state of body, mind, emotion and spirit. I believe that in order to reach Niyamas and the next limbs in the eight-limbed yoga system properly, one should consider perfecting the Yamas first. And in order to perfect the Yamas one should be able to allow one’s self to experiment and even make mistakes in the process instead of holding back. Therefore my personal position on Yoga Life finds me in a constant experimentation and evaluation of myself through the practice of the 5 ethical rules – the Yamas, while enabling me to create a foundation for my spiritual awakening applied in my everyday life. “Yoga is a way of life where the principles and practices of Yoga are made the foundation of the spiritual life and one lives Yoga-fearlessly, the Yoga Life!”. ~Dr. Swami Gitananda
© Christina Georgiou
Thesis for Step-By-Step Yoga Course in Ashtanga (8 Limbs) Yoga by Dr. Swami Gitananda