Dream On

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.     

J. K. Rowling
Dream catcher, blurred nature background

There is a lot of talk about “living your dreams” or finding your “life passion”. When I take a moment to think about it, I never had solid dreams or goals. I had wants with no real plan to obtain those wants. When people ask me now the question about my goals or “what do you want?” I tend to make up a socially respectable response to avoid the blank stare, the incessant questioning, or the fake understanding of my thought process. My actual dreams that I have in my sleep also provide no guidance, they tend to be an almost hilarious and at times nonsensical story about aliens or talking alligators.

Now that I practice yoga, I’ve found more clarity regarding my goals. Yoga allows me to tame my mind and it interrupts the chatter in my mind that leads to self-doubt or questioning if I’m missing something in life. It is where I find the seventh limb of yoga: dhyana. Concentration and meditation, a mind uninterrupted. Dhyana is to the final step to lead the yogi into the eight limb of yoga: samadhi. That supreme bliss, unity with the Universal Spirit. For me, it’s unifying the scattered pieces of my mind so that it can be clear to find oneness with God. It is finding my breath when I have been holding it all day, its finding my voice when I have been holding my tongue, it is stretching my body when I have been tensing it, it is my release.

Dreams are nice to have especially the good ones when you are asleep in bed. However, I want to find what is real within myself. I do want to know what goals I have that are not influenced by what I feel is expected of me or what goals I have been told to have by my parents and society. Yoga has helped me and continues to help me find my own way in life. My own path is my nirvana.

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Who am I?

This is a question that I ponder daily, one that I have had my entire life. Who am I? This question leads to even further questions. Why am I here? Who was I before I got here? In my last post, I talked about breath (pranayama) and how I use it to bring myself into the present. However, I would be remiss if I ignore that it does not help me understand who I am just yet. I admire those who seem to know who they are and where they are going. At this stage of my life, I am still figuring that out and one would think I would know that by now. Sometimes, I wonder if I my life will just be a finite journey seeking the answer to that question.

The fifth limb of yoga seeks to help answer that question: pratayahara. In a basic sense, this is self-examination. For a yogi to self-examine, she must be in tune with her senses. This may involve withdrawing from external stimuli and in today’s modern world, there is so much external stimuli, it becomes so overwhelming and loud that it drowns out our internal stimuli. For me to “find myself” and I say that with tongue in cheek, I need to be able to hear myself and to hear myself, I need to tune out mostly everything else. I say mostly because I still need to work, feed my family, and pay attention to my son and husband. However, even with all that I have going on, I need to find the good in it all, the joy, and with that, I may be able to “find myself”.

5 Things I Wish I Knew when I started Yoga

1. You do not need special clothes to practice yoga in. One yogi is not better than the other because one yogi pays higher prices for a yoga name brand and another yogi chooses to wear affordable and comfortable clothing to practice yoga in. It is not a competition between who has the cutest yoga attire (okay, it is for some). However, this goes against the niyama: santosa. Santosa means contentment, if a yogi is focused on whether or not she has on the best yoga clothes, she is not content. If she is not content, she will not be able to be in the present and concentrate on her practice. This applies to life in general, when we focus on comparing ourselves to what others have or trying to get more (of what we do not need), we are not able to be in the present on focus on what we do need.

2. Yoga practice is best done in the morning on an empty stomach; particularly the more vigorous practices. The empty stomach is very important, trust me on this one. Initially, I balked at practice in the morning, I’m barely awake and my body is stiff. However, that is perfect, it is a great way to wake up mind and body. It allows for me to shake the cobwebs out from dreamworld, clear my mind so that it can be pure and fresh for the day. Śaucha is a niyama that means purity. An evening practice can also bring about this same level of mental purity by helping me release the strains of the day. In a yoga practice, we utilize pranayama which assists with physical cleansing, opening and aerating our lungs. This assists in purifying our body which for me in the mornings, means loosening the tightness that sleep brings and in the evening, letting go of the tightness that comes from sitting at a desk, typing on a computer, using my cell phone, or physical stress from interpersonal interactions.

3. Instagram yoga challenges should be done in moderation (if at all). There are many yogis who frown upon IG yoga challenges and see them as narcissistic grabs for free yoga swag from a company or focusing on the look of an asana rather than teaching people how to properly get into an asana, how to breathe, or even just focusing on the first step of the asana. This can lead to those who participate hurting themselves attempting an asana that is beyond their ability. In addition, those hosts running the challenges are not practicing tapas, a niyama that means working without a selfish motive. Not to mention, many are not licensed yoga teachers so potentially can cause harm because they are not providing safe instruction and guidance. When I initially began participating in yoga challenges, I stuck to the challenges that offered classes that focused on the asana of the day. This was most helpful and helped my practices. However, I started joining challenges because a friend was participating and there was no specific focus it seems outside of the asana was “cool” or had a silly theme like Game of Thrones. This did not help with svādhyāya or study of self, which is an integral part of yoga practice. There was no relationship between myself and the host(s) of the challenges so no mutual respect and comradeship. There was just me trying to copy a picture and not learning.

4. Start from the beginning and practice the foundations daily. Having a strong foundation will lead to growth. There is no need to push my body harder than necessary. No need to frustration and see reaching a level as a battle to be won. I was seeking personal gratification in getting myself in an asana rather than how my practice was enhancing my relationship with myself and my faith. I would find myself despairing when I could not do a certain asana. This happens in my daily life as well, if I made a mistake or if something did not go the way that I wanted, I despaired. I was not practicing the niyama: Īśvara pranidhāna, faith in a greater power than myself. In having faith in a higher power, there is no need to despair because all things will come through that power. Life should not be seen as a battle, its a journey, an adventure which means there will be mountains to climb, hills to fall down on, and as long as I am able, I will get back up and keep moving.

5. It’s way more to yoga than asanas and meditation. I thought yoga would be boring and have a lot of chanting. I was wrong in both aspects. Yes, some yoga methodologies do have chanting such as ashtanga. Speaking of ashtanga, I had no idea that there was diversity in yoga. I thought it was all the same, was not aware of the different types such as: kundalini, vinyasa, hatha, bhakti, and many more. It would have been helpful to do a little bit more research before jumping into yoga. It is okay that I did not as I am doing it now. I am a self-taught yogi, this is possible no matter what anyone tells you. One thing that I have taken from my yoga practice; a beautiful thing, is that I will continue to be a learner and there is always room for growth.

Less is More

When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and past in order, too.

Marie Kondo

Currently, I am reading multiple books simultaneously. This does not seem very mindful, does it? It is for me as they each serve a specific purpose but a the same time, one purpose. In fact, they work together, specifically Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. You may be asking yourself how right now. For the past month, I have been writing about the first limb of yoga: yama. I have now come to the fifth yama: Aparigraha which means to be free from hoarding and collecting.

Marie Kondo works to help people essentially declutter and she writes in her introduction that when people declutter their homes, this affects them in a myriad of ways including aspects outside of their homes. For me, clutter in my home also leads to clutter in my mind. I am not referring to the normal clutter that brings me joy such as my child’s toys scattered everywhere or my many books on my bookshelf. I am referring to the clutter of objects and things that I do not need. Kondo mentions those who are very good at prettily storing things are still essentially hoarders. Is what you are storing something you actually need? Iyengar connected aparigraha to another yama: asteya which is non-stealing. Just as I do not steal things that I need or do not need, there is no need to hoard and collect things that I do not need immediately or even in the future.

This does not only apply to items. Holding on to anger or hurt, allowing it to build within is the same thing. There is no need to hoard and collect anger and hurt. It serves no purpose besides causing further pain within and eventually without. Hoarding negative energy is stealing positivity from your life. This is not to say that you nor I will not experience negativity, this is to say, we do not need to collect it and carry it with us like extra luggage. Yoga helps me to release negative energy, not hold on to it, leaves me feeling lighter yet full. I practice yoga in a decluttered space because with clutter, I am focused on the clutter around me rather than tidying the clutter that is within. How often does your mind feel cluttered? When you look at your surroundings, what do you see? A tidied space or a space cluttered with items you have no use for? What about in your mind? Is it cluttered because you are hoarding thoughts that serve no purpose besides making you feel worse than you already do? Tidy up your mind just as you would tidy up your personal space.

Since its Earth Day, when you are tidying up, make sure you recycle and if possible repurpose items.

The Right of Way

Woman doing a twist on a yoga wheel with a black background

“Where your attention goes, your time goes.”

– Idowu Koyenikan

I wrote about the yama of asteya in my last post. I talked about how I was stealing my time participating in activities that served no productive purpose. I was not using my energy in the right way which is what the fourth yama is about, how energy is directed: brahmacharya. Now this is commonly interpreted as meaning sexual restraint, celibacy. and chastity. However, I am a married woman with a child so clearly I am not chaste. So this yama would appear to not be relevant to my life. Appearances can be deceiving.

Brahmacharya is directing your energy correctly and for the right purpose. It would be easy to question what the right purpose is but it is also easy to know where your energy should be directed. Is your energy focused on obtaining more “things”? In our world, we do need money to get our basic needs met but a lot of the time, we find ourselves focused on external desires such as a big(ger) house, a newer car, name-brand items, having what others have (“Keeping up with the Joneses” as my mother would say) rather than stoking our internal fire and finding happiness from within. This is cliche, I understand this well, but it is possible to find happiness within one’s own self. And it makes a big difference in how you experience life. This is not saying that you will find nirvana but it is about accepting who you are with what you already have within.

In the fitness world, we may find ourselves trying to participate in the newest fitness exercise fad, wear the fashionable fitness attire, try the newest food diet, and possibly idolize a certain body type. We could be using that energy working on a fitness regimen that works specifically for our body. What works for one, may not work for others. Not to mention, much of what we see, particularly online, is not always reality. For me, I was not using my energy in the right way. I was participating in yoga challenges that focused on a specific pose for the day. This was not particularly helpful for me regarding my yoga growth because I was using my energy focusing on getting into the pose rather than focusing my energy on practicing what I could already do and learning what it took to actually get into the pose. I feel much better now that I longer participate in yoga challenges. In fact, I have started from the beginning with my yoga practice. And what I mean is not beginner classes but focusing on alignment and breath. These are areas that I was neglecting and now I am directing my energy towards what I have been avoiding.

This goes for my life off the mat as well, there are areas that were being avoided that need not be. I am redirecting my energy to the areas that need it, one specific area: my spirit.

Thou shalt not steal joy

“A complex is stealing energy from our personality.”

– Sunday Adelaja
Woman sitting cross-legged backlit by sun

I have recently downloaded an app to monitor my app usage, mainly my use of social media apps such as Instagram and Twitter. I had come to believe that these apps, specifically Instagram, were providing me with no substance and I was wasting time, time in which I could be productive. For example, the app called Stay Focused indicated that I spent 46 minutes on Instagram one day, granted this was due to watching an episode of Lizzo discussing overcoming problematic life views which was inspiring and motivational. However, was it a productive use of my time? Was I stealing time from myself that I cannot get back that I could have used focusing on projects and tasks that I needed to do or say that I never have time to do? Depends on whether I was being mindful in the moment, if I were really focused on what Lizzo was sharing in the video.

We have come to the yama of asteya or non-stealing. I am not a thief of physical items but I have been stealing from myself on the mat and off the mat. I do not allow myself to fully experience the moment even in my yoga practice. I find my mind wandering in mostly everything I do. If I am practicing yoga, I become engrossed in a stray thought which can lead me to falling out of a pose. I am aware that this happens and I am actively working to become more mindful and present. I am distracted, non-focused, thinking about everything else that I have to do rather than focusing on what I am actually doing. My time on Instagram is mostly mindlessly scrolling and a mode of procrastination. I am actively avoiding the tasks that I say I want to do and need to do. I need to practice yoga as it does much more than strengthen and stretch my body, it does the same action for my mind. I need to focus on my family’s growth and success. I need want to travel more but this requires intense planning. So I am starting from scratch to reclaim my time.

I used to spend time planning my yoga practices for the month. Each week, I targeted an area that I did not feel particularly strong in or needed more practice. It kept me consistent but over time, I stopped doing it and my practice suffered because of it. Not only my practice but my balance off the mat. I started to feel old insecurities and doubts creep back in, my energy began to decline, my worry levels increased, and I was losing my joy. I was stealing my joy by not providing time for myself, for the services that I needed, yet I was keeping things that I did not need. I do not want to steal from myself any longer. I have recommenced planning my yoga practices; even just the planning gave me joy. And I am left with a sense of accomplishment when I follow through on my practices. I want to grow within my spirituality and move beyond trying and into doing.

How often do we find ourselves not doing what we say we would do? We find ourselves participating in activities that serve no purpose; as in they are not providing us with joy or balance? Stealing from yourself is just as egregious as stealing from others. Our time on Earth is minuscule and we should not rob ourselves of our own lives.