Yoga Teachings for Personal Style, Contentment & Gratitude
Do you sometimes find yourself looking longingly at other people's clothes, spaces, and stuff in general? Do you sometimes wish you had that job or her house? It's human nature to fall into comparison and envy, to think, if I just had that jacket or that relationship, everything in my life would fall into place. It's human to fall out of contentment, gratitude, and self-love. It's human to seek out that quick fix, that temporary happiness.
As you well know, that jacket or her house will not make you feel complete and confident in your skin. Things and seeking what you feel you don't have will not get you to contentment, gratitude, and self-love. So what will?
I've been a student and practitioner of Yoga and meditation for many years and have recently begun pursuing my teaching certificate. I hope to share Yoga and its many layers of teachings and life practices with others.
Currently, I begin client sessions with meditation and breath work, focusing with the client on her intention for our work together. Because I work on a very personal level with individuals (the clothing we wear and the spaces we live and work in are among the most personal in our lives, connecting to endless layers of ourselves), offering the option of practicing Yoga tailored to one's intentions, life goals, and spaces seems like a natural and effective progression of my work and offerings.
That's the context for why I've been thinking so much about this book: The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. It is short, practical, and well-written, and is as much about life and life's teachings as it is about Yoga. Then again, Yoga teachings are life teachings.
The Yamas and Niyamas are Yoga's ethical guidelines for living and being in the world. "They facilitate taking ownership of your life and directing it towards the fulfillment that you seek... they are the rare gems of wisdom that give direction to a well-lived and joyful life (p.15)."
The Yamas (Sanskrit for Restraints) include nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess, and nonpossessiveness.
The Niyamas (Observances) include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender.
For the purposes of this article, I'll be discussing the Yama, Nonstealing, and the Niyama, Contentment. To me, they directly connect to one's sense of self, personal style, and gratitude.
According to Adele, Nonstealing (Asteya) guides us to "live with integrity and reciprocity (p.60)," to live in a way that celebrates and respects others, our surroundings, our future, as well as ourselves. When we find ourselves stuck in our minds comparing ourselves to others, instead of truly listening to them, encouraging them, and celebrating their accomplishments, we are stealing from them. We are not giving them the attention and respect they deserve because we are making their story or their accomplishments about ourselves and what we feel we are lacking.
When we live in excess, whether it is through material things, food, the use of energy and water, our relationships, emotions, etc., we are stealing a healthy and balanced future from ourselves, future generations, and the earth.
when we allow ENVY AND LONGING to CONSISTENTLY DRAW our attention and energy TOwards people and things outside of ourselves, we steal from our own potential, and miss discovering our uniqueness in the world.
When we are so distracted by someone else's stuff, we have little energy and love left over to put towards ourselves. We have stolen from ourselves, as well as others.
Equating comparison and envy with stealing from ourselves and others resonated with me because of my own thoughts and experiences, as well as experiences with clients. Often, when I begin working with clients, they feel they need new clothes, a different space, or new furniture.
What we all, and they, really need is space and time to reflect and contemplate our lives, goals, identities, and roles, so that we can see how what we already have connects to who we truly are and where we wish to go.
Through my offerings, clients are guided through a series of personal reflection and observation exercises before we meet. We discuss these exercises and then go through their space or clothes together, arranging items and pairing clothing in new and intentional ways that resonate with their goals, lives, and identities. Clients often say they feel like they have a whole new wardrobe or a whole new space without having to buy a single thing. They happily remark how they feel so much more like their true selves when walking around in the world.
These individuals took the time to observe and reflect, and learned how combining and curating what they already have in new and mindful ways brings forth their unique, true selves and unique, true style.
Really, the work (and the gift) is taking the time to observe, to contemplate the observed, and to play with it or wonder at it. This is a gift we can all give ourselves, in all parts of our lives.
This leads to the Niyama, Contentment (Santosha). Adele writes, if we are always looking outward from ourselves for fulfillment and happiness, we will never reach contentment. When we tie our contentment and emotions to what others say and do, we lose our power and become helpless. We need to look inward, to pull the scattered power back towards ourselves and refocus it.
It is through the practices of observation and reflection that we regain our power and see clearly what we already have. We then feel supported and nourished to take the needed steps to reach our goals.
Swami Rama, a great teacher, said, "Contentment is falling in love with your life (p.130)." I would add that contentment is also falling in love with yourself.
As we enter the holiday season, the ideas of Nonstealing, Contentment, and Gratitude are especially relevant. It is so tempting to fall into habits of wishing and wanting, of feeling a sense of need and lack. I invite us all to give each other, and ourselves, the gifts of time, of listening and contemplation, of rejoicing in what we do have, and of recognizing and embracing our own uniqueness and potential in the world, as well as that of others.