I'm continuing on with our exploration of the Yamas of yoga with the fourth Yama - Brahmacharya. This is frequently one that people haven't perhaps heard of, or aren't quite sure of the meaning of it so it'll be really useful to go through!
Although it was previously associated with celibacy and chastity, to encourage those involved in practising yoga to conserve the energy used for sex and use it to progress down the Yogic path. This didn't alway make it very popular!
The actual translation of Brahmacharya is "behaviour which leads to Brahman" who is seen as the Creator in Hindu and Yogic terms. Brahmacharya can be regarded as the 'right use of energy' - behaviour that leads us closer to the divine or higher power, however that is represented for you.
In essence, Brahmacharya encourages us to consider how we use our energy and where we direct it. It encourages us to focus less on those more physical and external things that only provide fleeting pleasure, and focus more on finding peace within ourselves.
That's all very well, I hear you say, but what does that actually mean for me on a daily basis? Great question! As humans, it's very easy to get caught up in the physical things we experience - eating, sleeping, exercise, sex and so on. It's also very easy to get caught up in the emotional and mental experiences we have and see those as reality and as all-consuming. It's easy to forget we are spiritual beings having a human experience rather than the other way round.
Before I go any further - there is no judgement here! Most of us do this at least part of the time, it's all part of being human and moving through life. If you saw how much I focus on food and when I'm next eating you'd think I spent no time at all thinking about anything else!
So, why should we focus less on the physical? A lot of people chase the physical and emotional experiences to be 'happy' or 'fulfilled'. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, although it can be in excess or if we get ourselves into dangerous/addictive situations. The problem stems from us not realising that these moments of happiness and fulfilment that come from the external physical and emotional stimulations only last a short time. We constantly are chasing the next 'hit'...the next delicious meal, the next piece of attention from an attractive person, the next piece of validation from a friend or partner. If we don't get it in the way we want or the timescale we want, then we don't feel happy or fulfilled.
The difference when finding that happiness and fulfilment inside ourselves is that it is always there, easily accessible and doesn't depend on the actions of others. Directing our energy to things that bring us this inner fulfilment and happiness results in an overall happier, more contented and more balanced life. We experience less of the ups and downs that come with relying on other people or things to bring us joy and contentedness.
How we direct our energy and what works for us can depend on the type of person we are. For me, it involves meditation, yoga, talking to the Goddess, serving others and walking in nature, among others. For someone else it could be a favourite hobby, spending time alone, praying to their god(s), reading about philosophy, and more. There is no one path, no right or wrong. It is all about directing our thoughts and energy to those things that bring us inner peace and happiness, which in turn leads to a more fulfilled life.
For me, Brahmacharya works in conjunction with the other Yamas to bring inner happiness. It's something that I don't focus on in isolation. I have found, personally, that living life (as much as I can!) taking the Yamas into consideration has made me a better person, a more fulfilled person, and a person better able and willing to live in a way that benefits others and not just myself.
So - a bit of a long post this time and I'm interested in hearing your thoughts! Get in touch by commenting here, on Instagram or Facebook, or by emailing email@example.com.
I hope you all have a good holiday season, whichever holiday you celebrate, and that 2020 is treating you well so far.
I'm continuing my dive into the Yamas with the third Yama, Asteya. Asteya is a Sanskrit word, meaning non-stealing. As with the other Yamas I've covered with you so far, there is the surface level meaning, and something a bit deeper.
In terms of the surface level meaning, it's pretty obvious! Non-stealing means exactly that, don't take someone's belongings without their permission. This covers, for me anyway, not only their physical belongings, but their mental belongings - for example their ideas or opinions and passing them off as your own.
Asteya can also cover hoarding or coveting. Hoarding of resources that you don't necessarily need, hoarding of resources that others are in need of, or mindlessly consuming natural resources especially if they are finite.
However...something deeper lurks beneath the surface. One of the most irreversible things we can steal from someone is time. Time is something that none of us can ever get back once it is gone, the most precious resource we have. This can range from the obvious, like not standing someone one, to the less obvious.
Have you ever told someone a long, rambling story when you could tell it in half the time? Or asked them for help when you can Google the answer? How about turning up late? All of these steal time from other people, time they can never get back. You might think a 10 minute story instead of a 5 minute one isn't a big deal, and in many ways it isn't, but it is still stealing time from those people.
One other thing that I personally find to be a huge their of time is when people don't lay out their boundaries, rules, processes and so on at the start - I end up part of the way through something before realising it isn't right for me, or I can't fulfil the request due to conflicts in schedules, rules, needs etc. If I had known these at the start, then I would not have wasted my own time, or that of the other people involved. Now, them not being clear at the beginning isn't necessarily intended or malicious, and it is equally not intentional or malicious when I have done the same in return, but it is a thief of my time and the time of others when we are not clear from the outset.
The same can also be said about changing our minds part of the way through a process, especially if this change will cause a lot of issues or stress for the other person. This isn't always avoidable obviously, but it is definitely worthwhile thinking things through to begin with and laying out our decisions clearly to everyone concerned.
However, one of the biggest thief of time I have seen, and continue to struggle with at times, is wishing our time away, letting our mind wander and not truly being present in the moment. If we are present in the moment, we are truly appreciating where we are, truly appreciating the time and moment we have. Once our mind wanders, or we start wishing our lives away, we start to miss our lives, miss the time we have.
What are your thoughts on Asteya? Do you find it more or less challenging than someone of the other Yamas? Possibly you find them all equally challenging - I know there are parts of each I definitely have to work at! I'm interested in hearing what you guys think - leave a comment or hit me up on Instagram and Facebook to let me know.
As part of my deep dive into the Yamas of yoga, I wanted to post an article discussing Satya which means truthfulness. I want to first of all discuss what it is, and then see if we can figure out what it means in our daily lives.
Non-falsehood, or truthfulness, might seem obvious but lets just lay it out a little so we're all on the same page. Satya is one of the Yamas laid out in the Yoga Sutra, which details the teachings of Patanjali. The Yamas are restraints that yoga practitioners are encouraged to incorporate into daily life.
So from this, we can first glean that Satya is more about what we should not do than what we should. It is associated with restraint rather than action.
So, does Satya just mean not lying? Does it mean not lying in circumstances where the truth is harmful or hurtful? Does it mean something completely different? Or is it all of the above? Well, let's break this down a little bit. Firstly, not lying would definitely fit in with truthfulness - not lying to others OR to ourselves (which can be the hard bit!). How about not lying in circumstances the truth is hurtful? Well, say your friend gets a new haircut which you don't think suits them, and they ask what you think. Is it better to lie, or be honest and potentially hurt their feelings? Or is it better to come up with something vaguely neutral instead? Does it depend on the friend?
This is where Satya starts to become a little harder than we possibly first thought it might be on first glance. We've all been in that situation where we haven't wanted to hurt someone's feelings, such as that unflattering haircut, or we've felt like saying the honest thing would potentially open a can of worms we aren't willing or able to deal with. If we tell a 'white lie', we are not being honest with our friend, possibly for the greater good, and are not being honest with ourselves. Not being honest with ourselves can create damage within, but is it greater or less than the damage caused by upsetting a friend? Would it be better to not tell a white lie, but not hurt our friend by searching for something positive about the haircut or saying something like "oh I love that it's made you so happy and confident!".
These are things we may have to constantly wrestle with as we work our way along a spiritual path. New situations arise regularly that might require us to revisit our previous decision on Satya, or to decide which path is the least damaging, for ourselves and others. There may be situations where it is more obvious what to do, but there may be other where it is not. Is it good to be truthful with someone about something they are doing that you believe will be bad for them, risking their anger and hurt, or is it better to lie by omission?
I have found, from personal experience, that lying to ourselves can cause a lot of internal turmoil and emotional upset. Lying to ourselves is not always something we are even aware of. It can be something like consistently not asking for something we need because we do not want to bother others, or not telling someone that something they do often upsets or hurts us. We may tell ourselves it is not a big deal, or that we do not want to hurt others, yet it results in hurting ourselves instead. Part of practising Satya is not lying to ourselves and not hurting ourselves, and it is something that can be a tough balancing act - does being truthful to ourselves hurt others, and would that end up hurting us more? It's not something that is easy to answer!
None of the Yamas as 'easy' once we start to look a bit deeper and delve under the surface, but Satya is definitely something that I end up wrestling with more than some of the others. Each new situation can cause a new internal debate on what is the best way forward.
I find, for me, that Satya and Ahimsa tie in quite closely. Ahimsa, as you might remember from a previous post, is non-harm. Clearly one of the reasons we struggle with truthfulness is that desire to not harm others. One thing we need to be aware of though, is whether our desire to not harm others harms us.
I'm eager to hear what you guys think about Satya - do you find it an ongoing balancing act or do you find it easy? Maybe it's something you've not thought about before but want to delve a bit deeper. Feel free to comment or hit me up on Facebook or Instagram.
As always, namaste
I want to apologise for not posting any new articles the last few weeks. I do want to have regular content up here for you all, and have a lot of future articles planned out, but unfortunately personal events conspired to take my focus away from this website and my social media so a lot of things have got away from me.
I'm starting to get more onto an even keel emotionally again (although the situation is still ongoing!) and am feeling mentally ready and able to get back to articles and posting on social media. So here is my comeback post! I have learnt a few things this past few weeks, or maybe just re-remembered them, and want to share them with you while saying "Yes I'm still here".
One thing I've learnt in my yoga teacher training, in meditation training, in self-learning and reading, is the important of mindfulness, of being fully present in the moment and of behaving consciously rather than acting on instinct. All important beneficial stuff of course. I have always, since I learnt this, made an effort to do this on a daily basis despite. That's not to say it was always easy, we all have those stressful periods that can throw us off, but I always made as much of an effort as possible to do this.
Now...this all worked really well for me through the minor stresses in daily life, and even worked for my when my stepmother passed away and my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer. It wasn't as easy to do, I won't lie, but it still kept me going, able to cope and as zen as possible under the circumstances. So far so good, I smugly thought, I'm doing great. Then the universe decided to throw me a curveball!
I'm not going to go into all my personal tribulations, but long story short my husband and I are separating. The relationship had not been working for a long time but I was the one who called it quits on things. We have been together for 10 years and I thought we would grow old together, work through any issues and come out stronger. Obviously this is now not happening and I have been dealing with a lot of guilt for ending it, a lot of stress from the practical side of it and a lot of mourning for the future that I now won't have.
For a few weeks I was all over the place, my personal yoga practice fell down my priority list, meditation fell off my priority list and mindfulness was coming right at the bottom.
Once the initial 2 or 3 weeks passed and I started getting used to my new state...I really noticed the difference in my mental and physical health from dropping yoga, meditation and manfulness down my list. I felt physically worse than even in terms of my fibromyalgia, my IBS was playing up from stress and mentally I felt terrible. I didn't recognise myself!
So, I learnt of the extent of the benefits of these from the absence of them. I knew they were beneficial don't get me wrong, but it was the absence that made me see the full extent and how much of an impact they had on my life. Once I started back again, slowly, I noticed a huge positive difference.
I also learnt the importance of being kind to myself. Not beating myself up that I had let these things slip, or that I wasn't as "good" as I should be. I just accepted that life had happened, that I had reacted in a totally understandable way, that I had done my best and that I was going to get through it.
I understand life can be heard, and implementing things like mindfulness and meditation can be hard during hard times. Believe me though, when I say that doing your best to keep them going in a way that serves you can help you get through the hard times. It's important to hold on to things that serve and benefit you, and that make you happy. It's also important to be gentle with yourself in times when life is being anything but!
I have missed you all and am so glad to be back writing articles and posting for you guys. I'm excited to hear your comments on these articles and posts, and if you have any requests get in touch!
As always, namaste.
Happy Friday to you all!
I posted an article a while ago that briefly touched on what a 'yoga lifestyle' is and what it means. In that article I mentioned the 8 limbs of yoga and the yamas, which are the first limb.
I want to delve a little deeper into the yamas over the next while, and am starting with the first yama - Ahimsa.
First things first - what is a yama? The yamas are sometimes referred to as the "five restraints" because they describe what we should avoid to lead a fully spiritual life. Following the yamas help us cultivate a sense of peace by transforming the negativity in our lives and it is this peace that helps us to advance on a spiritual path.
So, now we know what a yama is. But Lesley, I hear you ask, what is Ahimsa? In Sanskrit, the language of yoga, a prefix of 'A' means "not". Himsa means harming, injuring, committing violence. So Ahimsa means "not doing harm". It is the practice of non-violence.
If we take this on a very high level, it seems easy - I'll not kill anyone or hit anyone. I'll not kick puppies or squash that spider in the kitchen. What could be easier? Unfortunately this is only a very small part of Ahimsa. Yes it does mean non-violence, but not just physical violence. It means emotional violence also. By this I mean not saying hurtful things to others, not doing something I know would hurt someone's feelings, not causing them emotional pain.
There are times, obviously, that we cause people harm without realising. This is part of being human. If this happens, following Ahimsa, we should of course apologise and try not to do it again.
So, apart from not hurting people physically or emotionally, what else does Ahimsa mean to me? I take non-harm further to cover animals also. I don't eat meat, I don't buy products tested on animals, I don't wear leather, I buy vegan products if I can. I also extend it not harming the environment as much as possible. I recycle, try to buy things without plastic packaging, plant flowers in my garden that bees like, and so on. I'll not bore you with the details!
The hardest part of Ahimsa, for me anyway, is non-violence to myself. This includes not eating (too much!) junk food, exercising to keep healthy, taking care of our physical body and needs. It also includes not being emotionally mean to ourselves, which is the bit I can struggle with. We shouldn't think things about ourselves that cause us emotional harm, such as looking in the mirror poking faults in our looks, or calling ourselves stupid.
Now saying all that...we are all human and far from perfect. We are all a work in progress and we all stumble along the way. We don't have to succeed at all aspects of Ahimsa all the time, the important factor here is that we try and we do our best.
You might also find that you want to Ahimsa further than I do, or not as far. Again, we are all human and that makes us individuals!
I definitely struggle more with Ahimsa towards self, other people find it might the non-harm towards others - for example struggling to give up meat or gossiping about work colleagues.
What aspects of Ahimsa do you struggle with, or if this is a completely new concept for you, what do you think might be the hardest? Is it even something you want to follow at all?
I'm looking forward to hearing your opinions on the article, and I'll be covering more of the yamas in the next few!
Happy Wednesday to you all and I hope everyone is enjoying their summer!
I wanted to do a quick post about meditation and physical ailments. Most of us, if we think of meditation at all, might assume it helps mental health more than physical. We've all heard, and possibly experienced, the benefits of meditation on stress, anxiety, depression and so on. Which obviously is fantastic stuff, but what about our physical ailments?
If you know me, follow me on Facebook/Instagram, or have read the front page of my website, you'll know that I suffer from fibromyalgia. Now, fibro can be a complicated illness as it affects different people in different ways. It's also a chronic (meaning long-lasting/forever) condition and can have around 200 symptoms associated with it. Personally, I get horrible IBS type symptoms with it - bloating, cramps, etc. - as well as joint pain, muscles spasms, painful scalp, brain fog, pain points which make it painful when someone or something touches me, skin irritation, headaches and a whole rake more.
At this point, you are possibly wondering why I'm telling you this, and I don't blame you! After all, this isn't a medical blog :) The reason I'm sharing this is because I've noticed that while meditation definitely helps my mental wellbeing, it also seems to help some of my physical symptoms. Obviously people who have a chronic illness can find they are stressed by symptoms, depressed or anxious about the future so even if you think meditation can't help the physical - at least try it for the mental.
I meditate several times a week. I would honestly love to meditate every day and probably have no excuse if I'm brutally honest with myself but I average around 5 days a week. Since I started meditation in earnest I have noticed huge improvements in my IBS symptoms and headaches. I do believe that the stress of my condition and life in general makes these symptoms worse, so obviously dealing with my stress levels will have an impact on my physical health.
How many of us out there have physical issues that are exacerbated by stress? Or potentially caused by stress? Whether it's pain, tummy issues, chest issues, or anything - if stress makes it worse it stands to reason that reducing stress can help.
I am not saying that reducing stress will 'cure' the problem or work miracles - nothing annoys me more when I say I have fibro and someone tells me their granny's dog's sister's cousin was 'cured' taking/doing xyz! I know fellow suffers who find yoga helps, including me, and others who are in so much pain it doesn't. I know people who find taking apple cider vinegar solved their skin condition and others who might as well have taken smarties. No one thing works for every person.
What I am saying is that...what can you lose by giving meditation a try! It has been scientifically proven to help people deal with stress and anxiety, and that stress can negatively affect your health in a myriad of different ways. So give yourself a head start and try some meditation!
You can download one of my meditation tracks (https://www.serenityyogabelfast.com/store/c4/MeditationDownloads#/) or sign up to my newsletter through the popup on my website for a free track. You can use an app - I recommend buddhify personally - or you can find something on YouTube. The important this is to make a start and try whichever one works best for you.
Until next time....Namaste and happy meditating!
I am just back from an amazing holiday - my first in over two years and wanted to share some holiday thoughts with you while it was fresh in my mind.
We went to Poland - first Limanowa to stay with friends then on to Krakow. Neither of us had been to Poland before and it is an absolutely beautiful country; if you haven't been I would definitely recommend it!
So, what has my holiday got to do with gratitude you might ask? Obviously I am super grateful that we both have the cash to spend on a holiday, that I was able to get the time away and that we had some willing to take care of our three cats while we were away. But it wasn't just that.
Our friend was kind enough to pick us up from the airport to take us to Limanowa and on our way there, only about 10 minutes from Limanowa itself we had a car accident.
If you've ever been to south Poland you will know that the roads can be quite windy and they have a ditch literally on either side of the road. As our friend took a corner the wheel hit some loose gravel and we seemed to get sucked into the ditch.
The car rolled and we ended up in the ditch on the opposite side of the road, facing the wrong way. I was in the back seat, my husband was in the front and our friend was obviously driving.
Now...here's where the first part of the gratitude comes in - thankfully no other cars were involved, just us. Some other guys had seen it happen and stopped to help us. All three of us walked away from that accident basically unhurt! I did get some bruises and mild swelling from the seatbelt but honestly I'll take that as a win!
Second piece of gratitude coming - so many people who were driving past stopped to offer help, check we were ok. It was honestly so touching and I couldn't believe how nice everyone was. I am so grateful to the two men who helped us out of the car and all those people who stopped to offer help and check we were ok.
Third piece of gratitude - I don't always wear my seatbelt in the backseat. Yes I realise that is not good and I should wear it and I am writing this very shamefacedly! For some reason, something in my gut/instinct/intuition/whatever you want to call it told me to put on my seatbelt that day. I am so grateful I did! Honestly if I was not wearing a seatbelt I would not have walked away from that accident. I am convinced I would be seriously injured or even dead.
I'm still walking around feeling totally blessed we are all ok but the weird thing was, after the accident I didn't feel stressed, annoyed, angry, anything negative. I felt an overwhelming sensation of gratitude and thankfulness that no one was hurt. I definitely felt sympathy and concern for our friend as the car was a write-off, but the 'old' me would honestly have stressed and complained about the whole thing. The newer me, the meditating me and the cultivating gratitude me didn't complain once!
I honestly believe that cultivating gratitude in your life, whether through meditation, journaling or whatever method you choose has amazing benefits and changes your life for the better - and for me this is proof. I am so much more positive and grateful, even in the stressful situations life throws at me and I feel so much happier. I even think it's rubbing off on my husband who kept laughing and saying "at least it's a memorable holiday". Once that day was over we spent the next time just having fun, sightseeing, catching up with our friends and enjoying the weather!
Today I want to talk a little about the 'yoga lifestyle'. What does that mean to you? Maybe it's something you haven't even heard of before. I am definitely going to delve more into some of the topics I'm going to mention today but I want to start off simple and build up!
I started doing yoga for the very shallow reason of wanting to be able to touch my toes. I was 15, not the most athletic being on the planet (understatement of the month!) and saw some lithe, lovely person in a magazine touching their toes. They looked so pretty and perfect, and I think I believed somehow that if I could also do that I might be a touch more pretty and perfect too!
All the yoga classes I took in my teens and early twenties focused on the asanas - in fact the vast majority of any yoga class or workshop I have been on have only focused on the physical aspects of yoga; the poses, the breath and how we feel in a pose. A small minority did mention the mental side but not one I went to ever mentioned the spiritual side.
I do have to be honest here - I don't delve much into the spiritual aspects of yoga in my classes either. A lot of people either are not interested or think that spiritual means "not their religion". I talk a little about it but try to show them about the spiritual side of yoga through example - how I live.
Some people equate the spiritual side of yoga with the 'yoga lifestyle', which I don't mind if it helps them understand it better or makes it more real to them. I know some yogis would be really annoyed at this, and possibly denounce me as 'not a real yogi' but I am 100% down with people using whatever helps them to understand a concept and whatever helps them be a better version of themselves. My way is not the only right way after all!
Now...lets talk a little about what a yoga lifestyle or the spiritual aspects are. There are 8 limbs of yoga, one of which is the asanas we practice in class. The other 7 are what can be seen as the spiritual/lifestyle aspects, and some of these limbs can have several concepts associated with it.
One of these is the yamas, which is one limb of yoga made up of different concepts we can incorporate into our everyday life to make it more meaningful, ethical and purposeful. There are 5 yamas - which I will delve into deeper in other blog-posts - and which are:-Ahimsa: nonviolence
For me, practising ahimsa involves not eating meat or dairy as I prefer to extend non-violence to animals and don't agree with how they are treated in the meat and dairy industry. I also refuse to use any products involving animal testing, animal ingredients, or cruelty of any kind. For others, this might not be the case. We are, after all, individuals! Some people only see ahimsa as being towards other humans.
I also see asteya as not just the lack stealing of someone's physical belongings, but also the non-stealing of time or emotions - I refuse to waste people's time, lead them on or make promises I can't keep. Other people might take it further or not as far.
Even without the other limbs of yoga, the yamas alone count for many as a 'yoga lifestyle' or a spiritual side of yoga. Maybe you see someone who practises yoga every day as living a yoga lifestyle, or only someone who follows all 8 limbs as living the yoga lifestyle. Maybe you hadn't even heard of a yoga lifestyle, or thought it was something only hippies did!
There's no right or wrong but I would really be interested to hear what you think. Let me know commenting on here, emailing, Instagram or anywhere you can find me :)
I'm going to be talking a lot more about the yamas in the next few blog posts, before moving on to the other 7 limbs, let me know if you want me to focus on anything or you're interested in something being covered in more detail!
I'm a yoga fanatic who been practising yoga for 22 years and teaching for almost 4. I'm quite spiritual, a bit of a hippy to be honest, and love discussing theoretical aspects of yoga as well as the practical elements. You'll find articles on how yoga benefits my life on both a physical, mental and emotional level, as well as how it can help you - as well as some non-yoga related articles just to keep you on your toes!