There is a side of yoga that is often not talked about enough in drop-in classes. We get all wrapped up in the asanas – lets call it the gravy – and tend to forget about the essence of the practice of yoga (everything underneath the gravy; the meat, potatoes and veggies). According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are 5 yamas that practitioners should follow. These are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-coveting, or the absence of greed).
These Yamas are like the “Code of Conduct” for yoga. There is LOTS of discussion to be had around each of these yamas, but one has a lot of prominence for me lately: Satya.
In my first Teacher Training, we were required to complete a 40 day Sat Kriya meditation. Every day for 40 days, we spent 11 minutes chanting the mantra, “Sat Nam” with our arms straight overhead (to learn the Sat Kriya meditation, go here). For me, 11 minutes with my arms straight overhead was going to be IMPOSSIBLE. I have multiple shoulder injuries, including surgery on one shoulder to repair rotator cuff damage. My shoulders have always been my weakness, and the though of prescribing them to such an intense activity as the Sat Kriya felt crazy.
As soon as we were told about the Sat Kriya (which friends had also pre-warned me of, before I started the training), I ran up to my instructors and asked if there was a way for me to modify without losing the benefits of the meditation. Of course there was. Palms together in front of my chest. What if I wanted to try to do as much of it as I could in the full expression, but not the whole 11 minutes? Yes, I was allowed to bring my arms down halfway through. No, it’s not cheating, it’s honoring what your body is telling you.
When discussing the Yamas, our instructors asked us to dedicate a full day to observe each of the five.
The day I chose to observe Satya was a Sunday – one of our days off from training, so a day we had to do our Sat Kriya alone (much harder than doing it with the energy of a group). Just before I sat down for my 11 minutes, I had a thought; What if my story of “I can’t keep my arms up” was just that? A story, made up out of fear of re-injuring myself. I decided to give it a try. What’s 11 minutes, right!? If anything, I figured it could make my arms/shoulders stronger. And if the truth was that I really would injure myself…. Well, I’d never know if I didn’t try.
About 4 minutes in, I felt great. My arms felt strong, my shoulders were feeling ok…. But I suddenly got a MASSIVE itch on my face, just beside my nose. I desperately wanted to bring just one arm down to quickly itch.
And then it hit me. As soon as I let go of the notion that my shoulders were preventing me from doing the full expression of the meditation, my mind tried to come up with a different excuse to bring my arms down! I realized then that I was strong enough, that it wasn’t my physical limitations holding me back, but my perception of my limitations. I laughed out loud mid-meditation at this realization.
Coming to this realization is one of the most freeing things I’ve experienced in my life so far. And now, in every circumstance I like to ask myself if I’m living my truth. I try to always question my perspective, always trying to get to know my true self a bit better.
While the asanas help to uncover and shed our “stories”, we can also just become more aware by examining ourselves in any given situation, by changing our perspectives.
So today and this week, I challenge you to question your beliefs, your stories in an effort to uncover your truth. Why is it you’re doing what you’re doing? Is it out of fear or love? How can you shift your perspective?