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Sunday, 26 May 2013

Yogi or Weekend Warrior?

Are you a Yogi or are you a Weekend Warrior?

What I write about today is at the core of Yogi-hood. It is like saying you are a little bit pregnant. Everyone knows that you either ARE or you AREN'T. There is no "little bit" about pregnancy just like there is no "little bit" about being a Yogi (or Yogini for us ladies). So what is it that distinguishes our beloved Weekend Warrior from the true Yogi? At the heart of this matter is one simple distinction which once explained it is easily understood by anyone. The answer is this:

Yoga is a Lifestyle.
Yoga is NOT something you do once a week (or maybe twice if you feel like it).

As a yoga teacher and a teacher of yoga teachers, I often find myself being asked this philosophical question by both new and experienced students alike. My answer is always the same: Regardless of time spent in yoga class, the numbers of classes you attend or how long you have been taking classes, a true Yogi can be a complete beginner or an advanced practitioner. Though both students may only participate in yoga class once a week, the core difference between the two is that the Yogi takes what they have learned in class and integrates it back into their lifestyle and lives their yoga every day. The Weekend Warrior on the other hand shows up for class, enjoys it while they are there (and probably feels lovely benefits) and then leaves their learnings at the studio when class is done. These people whether they realize it or not, then move out into their daily activities operating from a place that is inconsistent with what Yoga really teaches us.

So what is a Yoga Lifestyle?
A yogic lifestyle is a lifestyle that incorporates yogic philosophy, practices and behaviours into the everyday. Someone who lives a yogic lifestyle chooses to consistently live by a set of values that have their roots based in love and respect.

What are these Yogic values?
In Sanskrit they are called Yamas and Niyamas. The Yamas are a set of five attitudes or morals values and the Niyamas are a set of five practices or observances. Similar to the Ten Commandments as outlined in the Bible. In our yoga philosophy studies we learn that the Yamas and Niyamas form the first two limbs of the eight limbed path to enlightenment. 
Though there are many interpretations and translations of the Yoga Sutras (threads of knowledge), my favourite text and translation is that by Nischala Joy Devi, "The Secret Power of Yoga, A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras". In her book, she describes that Yama are a "reflection of our true nature" and that they "encourage us to live in peace with ourselves and one another". In her chapter on Niyama she goes on to say that they are "evolution toward harmony" and expands on that statement by saying that the Niyama "allow us to continue our journey inward towards wholeness and discovering our divinity".

Yama (Reflection of our true Nature) are listed on page 177 of Ms. Devi's book. *Note that I have added the additional translations for the Sanskrit words to help expand your understanding.
  • “Embracing reverence and love for all (Ahimsa/ Non-violence), we experience oneness.
  • Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya/ Honesty/ Truthfulness), our thoughts words, and actions gain the power to manifest.
  • Abiding in generosity and honesty (Astheya/ Non-stealing), material and spiritual prosperity is bestowed.
  • Devoted to living a balanced and moderate life (Brahmacharya/ Moderation in all things), the scope of one's life force becomes boundless.
  • Acknowledging abundance (Aparigraha/ Non-attachment/ Non-possessiveness), we recognize the blessings in everything and gain insights into the purpose of our worldly existence.”
Niyama (Evolution toward Harmony) are listed on page 203 of the same book. *Note again that I have added additional translations for the Sanskrit words to help expand your understanding.
  • “Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha/ Cleanliness/ Purity), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms.
  • When at peace and content with oneself and others (Santosha/ Contentment), supreme joy is celebrated.
  • Living life with zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited (Tapas/ Austerity/ Self-Discipline), revealing inner light.
  • Sacred study of the Divine through scripture, nature, and introspection (Swadhaya/ Self-Education/ Self-Study) guides us to the Supreme Self. 
  • Through whole hearted dedication (Ishwara Pranidhana/ Surrender to the Divine), we become intoxicated with the Divine.”
So what does it mean to live a Yogic Lifestyle?
A yogic lifestyle boils down to whether or not you are consciously living according the ten values and practices noted above. If you are then as far as I am concerned, you can call yourself a yogi. Some would argue that there is a black and white to these values while others take a more liberal approach with varying degrees of commitment and practice. For example: raw foodist vs. vegan vs. vegetarian vs. partial vegetarian vs. omnivore, OR entire morning kriya routine vs. basic hygienic practices).  

For myself if I work through my day consciously practising each one of the Yamas and Niyamas to varying degrees and TO THE BEST OF MY ABILITY, then I have lived a good day as a yogini. In the spirit of the first and most important Yama; Ahimsa or Non-Violence to myself and others, the best of my ability is the best that I can do at any particular time and I am welcome to all the rewards and non of the criticism that come with that.

If I am not living a Yogic Lifestyle what does that mean?
If you do not consciously practice the Yamas and Niyamas then by default you are a Weekend Warrior who simply loves taking yoga class. This is not a bad thing. Keep in mind that as a Weekend Warrior you are still taking yoga class and this is still a good thing. It means that you have found something you enjoy, that makes your body feel good, that clears your mind and gives you a boost when you need it most. Chances are that is where you leave your practice, that is as far as it gets. After class you move back out into the world to enjoy a Saturday night at the bar or a weekend playing video games.

If this description is you, then read through the list of Yamas and Niyamas once more and look to see where in your life you are practising these things without even realizing it. Chances are that you will see at least one thing on that list that you do regularly (ie. Ahimsa/ Non-Violence: are you kind - in thought, word and deed - to yourself and others? Saucha/ Purity of body and mind: do you eat healthy foods, brush and floss your teeth?). My guess is that you are practising some of these things already and that you have simply been on auto-pilot.

What you may not realize is that the seeds for a greater, deeper yogic lifestyle are being planted. Your perceptual lens is slowly widening with every new insight and understanding. You are becoming more open and aware to the world around you. Suddenly, one day you will wake up and realize that there is more to life than you thought there was. There is more to your experience than meets the eye and that everything happens for a reason. When this happens, I encourage you to welcome it with open arms and travel inside yourself to discover your own personal truth.

You can do it!
Anybody can be a great yogi or yogini, the biggest key is a conscious intention to change your thoughts, feelings and actions and align them to become more peaceful, loving and tolerant. The best and only place to start doing this - is within yourself. When we take the time and energy to love and take care of ourselves every day, our capacity to love and take care of others multiplies. This, by definition is a yogic lifestyle. 

Have fun exploring!

Love and Light, 

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