There are many facets of Patanjali's traditional Eight Limbs of Yoga, but none quite so powerful for me as what I call "the eight-limbed hug" - the yoga of self-care.
Ashtanga, or eight-limbed yoga, codified by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras more than 1500 years ago, is a multifaceted action plan to enlightenment that still holds great truth for yoga practitioners and spiritual seekers today.
And my favourite way to walk the path of "royal union" is in the sacred art of self-care.
My work-and-play time involves countless hours spent reading and writing about the topic of self-care and personal development. It can all get to be a bit much, I know, so I get it if you're rolling your eyes at me right now. But hang in there for a sec, ‘kay?
On Self Care And The Yoga Sutras
The concept can be a bit amorphous. I mean, I know exactly what my body and mind need to feel safe and cared for, because I've been practicing for a long time. But it can still be challenging to actually implement those ideas into real life. That's where Patanjali comes into the picture.
In a recent five-week excursion to the Hridaya Yoga center in Mexico, I was exposed to an entirely new way of looking at the eight limbs of traditional yoga practice. Instead of a strict list of rules to be followed, the Yoga Sutras were presented as a toolkit for experiencing the world from a connected, non-dual perspective.
From this vantage point, I was able to recognize how each aspect of the path to enlightenment could be seen as a plan for supreme self-care. And these are the ripples from that simple discovery.
Eight Steps to Self-Care Mastery
1. Don't Be Cruel
- Non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, self-control, and non-attachment
The first limb of Ashtanga yoga, the yamas are things to avoid or restrict and have to do with our relationships with the world beyond us. These guidelines don't just inform my specific self-care routines, like putting healing rather than harmful foods in my body and being honest with myself and others.
The most important aspect of the yamas is remembering to be kind to myself, to do away with the kind of black and white thinking that turns one poor choice into an entire summer of bad decisions.
2. The Inner Smile
- Purity, contentment, austerity, study, surrender
These five niyamas focus on the inner world and make up another big part of self-care. What this really boils down to for me is positive practice. Start and end the day with a positive look at all those hours hold.
This brings about clarity of mind, happiness, dedication to the habit, insights into my own psyche, and a deep gratitude for all that the universe has to offer me, in one tiny simple action.
3. Power In The Posture: Everyday Asanas
Personally, I find movement like Sun Salutations a necessary part of my daily routine simply for the purpose of not turning into a hunched-up, laptop-wielding desk troll with pain management issues. But there's so much more to the practice than meets the eye.
With each pause in every posture, there is a moment when I feel completely connected to my spiritual heart, my inner divinity. I remind myself daily that I am sacred, body, mind and soul. I deserve to be treated with care.
4. Bated Breath: How To Have Faith
Pranayama can be a transformation practice, but the most potent advice I took home from my most recent retreat is all about trust.
Trust in life like you trust in your breath. Know that I can have faith in myself just like I have faith that there will still be oxygen in the air to keep me alive when my lungs are emptied after each exhale. Can I choose to have that kind of faith in the world?
5. Going Inside: Better Than A Sensory Deprivation Tank
I'm a bit of a paradox when it comes to the kind of sensory stimulation I choose; both social butterfly and overwhelmed introvert wrapped up in one. The limb of pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses, reminds me that sometimes I need to spend some time in my own cocoon. And turn off the TV
When you feel the need to stay in and hide from the world, I find that the idea of desensitizing myself with intense television and endless hours on Facebook is the definition of tempting, but not helpful.
I need to shut off, put my feet on the earth, put some words on a page, stare up at the sky and just relax.
6. Pay Attention: Grown Up Concentration Games
Us modern humans aren't exactly known for our impressive attention spans. It may not seem totally obvious at first why concentration exercises would be part of my self-care routine, but it really provides an important foundation for meditation practice.
I know this simply from the number of times I've ended up checking my email in the middle of meditation times, without even realizing that it happened. Concentration exercises help me to focus on the task at hand, whether that be my own self-care or work towards a (probably long overdue) deadline.
7. Make Time For Meditation....Or Else!
If I don't put it on the schedule, it doesn't happen. And the one thing I realized when I started meditating often while on retreat is that 1 hour of meditation isn't that much longer than 15 minutes of meditation…but it is far more effective for clearing my mind.
Fifteen minutes is better than zero minutes, but if I'm going to do it every day, I may as well do it all the way. So I set the alarm early and get ready for a new day.
8. Celebrate Union: Small Victories
Things rarely go the way I plan. The fruits of my labor are often…more labor. But every once in a while, things align just right, and it's like I can see how everything is exactly as it should be.
The more I practice, the more frequent this experience becomes. That's reason enough all on its own.
It can be disheartening to try and keep a practice on the road. Schedules change dramatically. Professional and social obligations can feel heavy. Sometimes the world outside myself pushes all the right buttons to bring out every bad habit I've ever had.
The harder it gets, the more important it is to celebrate the little victories. Sometimes, getting out of bed is a victory for me. Those days don't happen often anymore.
But when I can pat myself on the back knowing that I've done what I could to keep myself well today, or even when I just need to give myself a consoling hug and remind myself that I can choose to make better decisions right now, that's a big win in my world.
by Bex vanKoot - Bex is a Canadian blogger/writer, spirit and energy worker, tantric Hridaya Yoga practitioner, sacred sexual seeker, erotica author, traveling adventurer, sex-positive feminist, and homebody with wanderlust.
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