There’s something I want to get off my chest about Yoga, what I teach and what I believe. I feel after teaching Yoga for just over a year, I owe it to my students to write something about what out of the Yoga philosophy I believe and why I do not teach certain things in my classes. I did for a while try to follow all the teachings of Yoga and found this restrictive to the point where I found it hard to enjoy myself. Then one day a friend of mine said: “just be the Cady who also teaches Yoga”. This struck a chord and from that moment on I decided to drop all the bullshit and just be me and teach from heart without all the pretence. I also want to challenge some misconceptions about what it is to be a Yoga Teacher, as I don’t like the classic yoga teacher label of being a: Vegan, smoothie slurping, leggings sporting, holier than thou, hippie. I also feel that society puts us Yoga Teachers on a pedestal. This is something I massively dislike. I want to make it clear, that I am a person. I am like you, I drink, I party (okay not so much anymore), I eat junk food, I get angry, I swear, I drink lots of coffee, I don’t exercise every day. In practising Yoga I am on a path just like you, being a yoga teacher doesn’t mean I have reached a higher state of consciousness or I am holier than thou. In fact right now, I do not practise Yoga to reach enlightenment, I practise because I like the calming effect it has on my mind, I like to keep a supple and flexible body and I want a more peaceful life. In fact I would go as far as saying, some of my students are probably further along the path to enlightenment that I am. As a Vinyasa Flow Yogi and Yoga Teacher my Yoga practise doesn’t wholeheartedly involve following the Eight Limbs of Yoga. However I do follow and practise some. Out of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, I largely practise: Asana (physical postures), including (Bandhas, Dhrishti and Vinyasa) and Pranayama (breath control). I do practise Dhyama (meditation), Dharana (concentration) and Pratyahara (sense withdraw), but not as much as Asana and Pranayama. However I do tie all of these things into a typical practise (it’s pretty hard not to concentrate when standing on your head!). This doesn’t mean to say I do not see the benefits of practising the others, just right now I barely do or they are not for me yet…
With regard to the Yamas and Niyamas I am going to list them and then tell you my interpretations of them and what I believe, right now in this state of my life and practise. I encourage you to do the same, to interpret them, rather than follow what someone else has said you ought to believe. I am rebellious by nature, and so the idea of following something blindly makes me very uncomfortable. I certainly have great respect for anyone that follows them all. If my interpretations do not fit with you, then I ask you to keep in mind that I am also on a journey too and by no means think my way is the right way, but is it right for me. That said these beliefs and interpretations are what I believe now and may change in future. So here it goes…
Ahimsa (non-violence) – To me this means exactly what it says, non – violence. To me this means, don’t get into fights, don’t punch people in the face and certainly do not kill anyone (unless in self defence or for a very good reason eg. in a revolutionary struggle for example). In the way I interpret this, it doesn’t mean – go Vegan. I have a largely vegetarian diet, as I think industrial farming is horrific and I oppose the harm it does to the environment. I do eat meat, but only if it has been ethically treated and killed. As in not eating meat, my body loses a lot of weight and that would be considered as not practising Ahimsa to myself.
Satya (Truthfulness) – To me this means, be honest and truthful at all times. I believe in this one, as it makes us better humans. But I am by no means perfect, and do tell the odd porky from time to time. On the flip side, sometimes I have been guilty of being too honest and have been known to be a bit of a ‘say what you see’ type of person.
Asteya (non stealing) – To me this one is pretty black and white, it’s do not steal. Yes I believe this one wholeheartedly, don’t steal, stealing is bad. Minus pinching cookies 😉
Brahmacharya – (Continence) To me I interpret this as having some control over wants and desires. Moderation in all things including moderation, is what I believe. You have to let your hair down some times! Otherwise life would be boring.
Aparigraha (non-covetousness/non-attachment) – To me I interpret this as non attachment to material possessions. And I agree it is the way forward for humanity. Our modern world is far to obsessed with money, wealth, status, what have you, rather than what you need. In that you can train the mind to detach from these things, that would be most liberating.
Soucha (Cleanliness) – To me this means to be clean both inside and outside. I think in our modern world of showering and excessive bathing, this one is a cultural given. Perhaps back in the day it wasn’t and so this is why this one exists… Also you don’t want to be giving of a funk whilst at a Yoga class it’s just not polite. Cleanliness inside, I take this as do not put shit into your body, do not poison your body.
Santosha (Contentment) – To me this means exactly what it says. And boy do I need to work on being more content. I am a discontent person by nature, please someone teach me how! This is what I love about Yoga, in practising Asana, Pranayama and mindfulness it does make me more content. That’s one of my main reasons for practising.
Tapas (fiery cleansing) – To me this one means in painful or uncomfortable situations (like fasting) we can focus the mind and use the pain or discomfort to still the mind. This pain brings us into the present to focus on what is going on and learn to accept it and take learning from it.
Svadhyaya: (study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self) – To me this one is to be self reflective and learn from our mistakes. I can’t say I am a particularly a religious man, but I do believe in a universal force/higher power and state of consciousness. But that doesn’t mean what religious texts say is rubbish. I believe there is much that can be learnt from studying sacred texts, after all in Buddhism for example some scriptures are learning about the human condition. In a tried and tested way, we can use to make our lives better for ourselves and those around us. Learn from wise teachings handed down generation to generation.
Isvara pranidhana (devotion to the divine) – To me this is about offering oneself completely to the Divine. But if you do not have a Divine god, then this is tricky. Instead I try to devote myself to humanity, the universe, my yoga practise and all the things I believe that encompasses.
So those are my views on the Yamas and Niyamas. I would also like to say something about Mantra. Mantra is something I do not really believe in and therefore right now it isn’t something I include in my classes apart from ‘Om’. The way I see it, why not just sing the same thing in English? That way students will instantly know what they’re saying and there wouldn’t be this “What was that we sang in Sanskrit? It could have been anything!” feeling. “Om” to me is all you need, I read that the reason that Om-ing was developed thousands of years ago was as recognition of the vibrational under tone /frequency of the universe, which has now only just been picked up by physicists. It also brings a group of people together, sounds great and creates a uniting vibe.
In closing, take what you need from Yoga. Be who you are and be free! And if that doesn’t fit with the class you’re attending, find another teacher. Teachers like me, have different views about Yoga and what Yoga is, and you’ll find every teacher is different. Which makes it such a beautiful and diverse thing to get into. Your Yoga class should never feel like a cult and certainly isn’t a religion. Enjoy Yoga and take from it what you need, be light in your practise and try not to get too bogged down by the heavier parts. Find a balance between your practise and lifestyle.
In love and light
If you enjoyed reading this check out my addendum: ‘Be light in your practise, question it. An existentialist stance on Yoga’