When you do yoga regularly, your relationship to your body changes. You begin to uncover secrets your body has held for you, truths your body has saved for you and experiences your body has wanted for you. As you begin to experience your body as a partner and a story you can listen to, you begin to realize that you have all sorts of connections you want to attend. The food you put in your body begins to matter. The clothes you place on your back, the mat you face each morning all begin to take on new meaning and importance. The air you so mindfully breathe becomes not only more precious but more interesting and more deserving of your care.
These realizations begin to break down the boundaries between you and your environment. Your inner and outer environment seem so much more intertwined that you are willing to make changes in your external environment to watch the transformation in your inner environment. You see the connection between your breath and your mind and you begin to feel the effects of smoking yesterday or last year, or riding your bike along the smog filled corridors of the city. You become willing to make changes to your routine, the valuable building blocks of your everydayness in order to stabilize the bliss of your mental state, the yoga high after leaving class. Which changes are the best and most important to make?
With any change junkie, the most important place to focus is inside. All too often, when we realize that there’s something we can transform for the better we start with others. We’ve quit smoking, and it’s hard, so we begin to proselytize to other smokers. This allows the just quit smoker to take her focus off her distress. So begin with your own change, your own discomfort, your own mind. How’s your internal environment? What do you tell yourself over and over?
The Yoga Sutras give us an elegant blueprint for life: the Eight Limbs. The first two of those limbs describe 10 characteristics of a yogi, five observances for personal discipline and five qualities of social grace. From these spring the need to move the body: asana. From asana, or yoga poses, spring breath (pranayama). From breath grows inward sensing (pratyahara). From inward sensing grows focus, then concentration and from the tree of practice springs enlightenment, the eighth limb. In those first 10 qualities are all the instruction we need regarding our inner and outer environments, which then support the flowering of the rest of our practice.
Brahmacharya, one of the yamas, or restraints governing social interaction, refers to conserving life energy. On the mat this translates to using the least effort to express a pose as full of energy, grace and beauty as you are. Off the mat this can translate into being conscious of how you use your personal time and energy as well as how you use electricity, gas and other communally available sources of power.
Saucha, one of the niyamas, or causal laws governing liberation, refers to cleanliness or what is often termed “purity.” This refers to the cleanliness of our bodies both externally and internally. How free of pollutants is the food and air you are taking into your body? What is the state of your near physical environment? Could your practice or work space do with some tidying up? How do you treat your props at your studio? How do you deal with the waste you generate in your everyday life?
Aparigraha, another of the yamas, refers to non-possessiveness. How do you relate to your acheivements? Do you have a sense of entitlement, or do you feel as if you deserve certain extravagances for your hard work? Or do you enjoy the very fruits of your work and practices as your just desserts?
All of these other reflections on your internal and external environment are supported by the practice of Svadyaya, one of the niyamas, which translates as “self-study.” As you begin to become an observer of your reactions and beliefs you become the master of your actions, not through “sheer willpower” or harshness, but through wisdom and knowledge. Allowing the practice of yoga to permeate your entire life will transform your relationship not only to your internal states, but to your physical environment as well. Allow these revelations to change your behaviors gradually and incrementally and enjoy the transformation in your entire life.