Archive | June 2012

Don’t Tell Your Friend She Looks Fat in that Dress (Even if She Does)

Satya: Chapter 2 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Satya requires truthfulness.  That’s easy, right?

But I know that you have had one of these questions before, or at least something like them:  Do I look fat in this dress?  How do you like my pound cake?  Should we invite your mom?  And you know what your answers were: No, it’s gorgeous!  Mmm, delish!  Yes, of course!  And then, you know what you really meant: It’s 4 sizes smaller than you actually are, what do you think?  If you were going for stale cardboard, then I love it.  Yes, only if you’d like me to jump out the window.

So here’s what truth is about.  Stop being a liar.  And stop being mean.  And do both at the same time.  What you’ll notice throughout the Yamas and Niyamas lessons is that Ahimsa (non-harming, non-pissing on each other) is a recurring theme.  At the heart of all of this is that you have to avoid hurting other people, and yourself.

Here’s how: In yoga teacher training, we learned about “the four gates of speech.”  The idea here is that before you say something, it should be able to pass through four gates: (1) Is it truthful?  (2) Is it necessary to say?  (3) Is it the appropriate time to say it?  (4) Can it be said in a kind way?  If all four things are true, let it rip!  Let’s practice.

You get home from a long day of work to find your spouse in the bedroom.  He tells you that he was fired from his job this morning.  You hear him but observe that he hasn’t showered all day, socks and other dirty-things are strewn about, there’s an empty pizza box on the floor, and in the bathroom the toilet seat is up and maybe there’s a little urine dribble on the edge.  (I don’t know whose spouse this is, but you have my deepest apologies.)  As you survey the scene, your honey notices your expression and says to you, “What’s wrong?”

How do you answer?  (I’ll give you a hint: there are no expletives involved.)

So let’s go through the four gates: (1) Would it be truthful to tell him that the place is a mess and it stinks?  Yes, absolutely; so we move on.  (2) Is it necessary to say?  Well, yes, only if you want to stop roaches before they start.  (3) Is it the appropriate time to say it?  Skirrrrrrr!  He got fired this morning.  Have a heart!  Yes it stinks, yes that’s gross, no it wouldn’t fly any other time.  So you have two choices: You clean it up yourself, or you just sit still with your honey and talk to him about the mess tomorrow.  Or maybe you manage some combination of the two.  I’m lucky enough to have a honey with a sense of humor, so I could probably muster a, “Babe, I’m so sorry about your job.  But you didn’t have to piss on our floor in protest.”

You get my point right?  Try the four gates often, particularly when your first instinct is to just annihilate the other person verbally and deal with the aftermath later.

But here’s the real homework for you: Try this on yourself.  Can you find a way to be honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and things you want to improve, without beating yourself up?  It’s ok to acknowledge that you want to lose weight; and if you are obese, then being honest means that you recognize that.  But you don’t get to call yourself fat every morning as motivation, or tell yourself how worthless you’ll be until you lose the weight.  That’s not even truth, that’s just mean.

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Don’t Piss in People’s Cornflakes

Ahimsa: Chapter 1 of Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Ahimsa embodies the concept of non-harming, both with respect to yourself and others.  I say “others” deliberately, because many people have taken this concept as the basis for being vegetarian or vegan (e.g., not harming animals).  On the one hand, Ahimsa is one of the five Yamas, which means that it falls within the category of practices that we are supposed to direct towards other people.  On the other hand, I find that all of the Yamas and Niyamas work both ways, and so we’ll also look at what it means to practices Ahimsa towards ourselves.

So what does all of this mean for us?  If this were a different setting, my explanation would start with, “It’s about looking inside yourself and….”  But this is yamas for normal people, so here’s where it starts. When you’re driving, stop speeding up so that person with his signal on can’t change lanes.  Stop yelling at your secretary.   Stop criticizing your spouse.  Stop ignoring your in-laws’ phone calls.  Or maybe, do ignore your in-laws’ phone calls if you need time to yourself.  And don’t let anyone cut you off when you’re driving, because it’s unsafe (and annoying).  Be direct in expressing your needs.  Stand up for yourself.

Wait a minute, those things sound inconsistent!  But at the core of all of this is letting everything you do be something that fertilizes what is good in you, or in someone else; but all in balance.

Ok, that was fluffy, let me try again.

If you have ever traveled in an airplane before, you have been instructed that in the event of an emergency, you should put your own oxygen mask first, then help your child.  For many of us, that sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense.  You’d be a pretty sh*tty rescuer if you passed out, right?  You have to be ok, and then you can help other people be ok.  You can’t share your jellybeans if you don’t have any jellybeans.

So non-harming for normal people is about making choices that keep you safe without hurting anyone else in the process.  (And conversely, being kind to other people without hurting yourself in the process.)  Did your in-laws show up to your house unexpectedly and announce that they were staying for the week?  You have a right to say how you feel about that.  But do it after you’ve taken a few breaths, and without telling them that you never really liked them anyway (even if that’s true).

Now, I’ll leave you with three homework assignments: (1) Stop doing one purely sh*tty thing that you do to someone else.  You know, that terrible thing you do that brings you absolutely nothing in return.  (2) Find at least 2 minutes (I mean it!  Just 120 seconds!) to do for yourself today.  Maybe you take a Cosmopolitan magazine to the bathroom while your kids are taking a nap and read that steamy sex position article you’ve been trying to sneak in.  If you don’t have an hour to go get a pedicure, be daring and just file ONE toenail.  Who knows, be creative and start small!  And then (3) Thoughtfully and creatively explore that one challenge in your life where you find that you are sacrificing your health and sanity for someone else’s sake, or vice versa.  And see whether there’s anything you can do to even that balance.

And if you don’t have time for any of this, then just….start by not pissing in anyone’s cornflakes.

The Yamas and Niyamas for “Normal” People

Ok, I just said that to get you here 🙂
As part of yoga teacher training, we had to spend a bit of time on the Yamas and Niyamas.  The Yamas (practices for adjusting your interactions with other people) and the Niyamas (practices for adjusting your relationship with yourself) come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  Well, that could be a month-long blog session in itself, so let’s stick a pin in that one, ok?  But suffice it to say, this the Yoga Sutras are very important to yoga students, and I’m a yoga student, so we’re going to talk about them!
Now, the Yamas and Niyamas are:
Aparigraha
Saucha
Santosha
Tapas
Svadhyaya
Ishvara Pranidhana
You know what’s fun?  I’m not going to tell you what all of them mean right now.  Just click on a word that appeals to your mental palate and go with it!  I find that when you are drawn to something naturally, you learn it much more permanently than if you force it upon yourself.  So check out the list at your leisure and see what strikes you.  (And I mean “strike” in a totally non-harming way.)
Before we jump into this adventure, I’ll share with you what prompted this.  As I read about each principle, I found that many of them seemed rigid, or lofty, or otherwise impossible to execute while living in America with a full-time job and a family and bills.  So what’s a yogini to do?
I’ll tell you what.  Jump in and figure it all out!   I am hoping that over the next couple of weeks, we figure out together how to make them work in our lives.  The point isn’t that we “attain” or “perfect” any of these skills or principles; the point is that we continue to explore what they mean for us, and how we’re going topracticethem every day.  So, let’s begin, shall we?