If you have been to yoga classes or have discovered yoga online, you probably started out by learning poses (asanas). If you have practiced awhile, you have likely experienced a nudge toward self-examination and wanting to take that ‘yoga feeling’ off the mat. That is where the yoga lifestyle is developed. While there are sacred texts to guide you, defining your yoga lifestyle will take time and patience. Essentially, it’s how you want to live your life.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were likely written between 500 BC and 400 CE. The Sutras are still considered the guiding principles of yoga and yogi mindset by most practitioners.
In the Sutras, Patanjali outline the Eight Limbs of Yoga:
- Yamas – ethical vows to the self
- Niyamas – behaviors and ways of being
- Asana – yoga poses
- Pranayama – breath control
- Pratyahara – moving the focus inside; sense withdrawal
- Dharana – concentration
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi – union of the self (soul) and universal spirit
There is so much to discuss and write about the Sutras, and I will be covering them in more detail in the future, but a wonderful book that outlines the practical application of them is The Secret Power of Yoga, by Nischala Joy Devi.
My Own Personal Eight Limbs
I have been practicing yoga on and off for 31 years now. I started when I was 16 in my basement bedroom with a book I picked up from the local used-book store. Even though I have taken breaks, I always come back to yoga. These guiding principles have added so much to my life:
- Physical Movement – It is important to me that I am not stagnant, physically or mentally. From the physical standpoint, I have gone through many phases with yoga nearly always present. I am currently also running a few times a week, which I find has great mental benefit.
- Moderation – I find that I feel my best when I live in moderation. This is applied to my diet, money habits and possessions. I am uncomfortable with opulence. I like to feel light and flexible. Of course, this is all relative. Someone living off the land would likely find my life excessive.
- Compassion – I have always valued empathy. I try to support vulnerable people, even if their struggle is not something I personally experience. I extend this to animals. While I am not vegan, I limit meat consumption. If I eat it, I endeavor to choose humanely raised animals.
- Non-Judging – This is a journey for me. I try to limit judgment of myself and others. If I find myself judging, I try to be mindful and modify my thoughts.
- Peace – Over the years I have learned that so much of others’ actions are just not my business. I’ve also taken a message of Maya Angelou’s to heart: “You don’t really have to ask anybody. The truth is, right may not be expedient, it may not be profitable, but it will satisfy your soul.” I always try to do the right thing – whether it’s telling a store clerk that she gave me too much change or helping someone in need.
- Mindfulness – It is important to be self-aware and appreciate the small moments of life, and I try to practice this. I also practice meditation often. To me, meditation is my spiritual practice.
- Withdrawal – I am an introvert. I need time away from others to reset and rest. I also need it to create, write and be inspired. I love being around others, but I find that alone time is a necessity for me.
- Seeking – I am always on a mission of being better, growing my spiritual connection and understanding myself. This is a lifelong journey that excites me, motivates me and allows me to give to others.
Am I perfect at living according to these principles? Of course not, but it is what I strive for every day. I know some people will not agree with my list. Some yogis insist that a vegan diet is required for living the true yoga lifestyle, and I respect that immensely. We all need to determine how we want to live.
How Do You Define the Yoga Lifestyle for Yourself?
If you are feeling a need to define this, you can start with these questions:
- How do you want to live your life?
- How do you want to be remembered?
- What do you want to contribute to the world?
Developing these guideposts can enrich your journey and help you find fulfilment. Just remember to be kind to yourself and others as we all figure it out on our own time and paths.