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Week 3: How to be a yogi

When it’s okay to stop chasing the ideal and take some time off

This week I treated myself to some great whiskey. And I knocked off a bottle of wine. I also didn’t work or study this Sunday. And I went for a massage. Instead of keeping bliss as a long-term goal, I claimed it in the now. It’s a new attitude I’m going to try in my journey to being a yogi. For me, yoga isn’t what you do on your mat; it’s how you behave when you’re off it. So what are the real measures of a good yogi? It’s not just the ability to wrap your leg around your neck or doing all the asanas. In Patanjali’s sutras, the asanas are the third step in ashtanga (or eight limbs) of yoga practice. The first two steps include mastering the yamas and niyamas.

The first limb, the yamas are the universal laws of morality. And I am finding my own interpretation to these laws of non-violence, truthfulness, not-stealing, sensorial control, and avoiding greed. Just last week I practiced the yama of non-violence towards myself by taking a break from my crazy schedule and being kind to myself. All laws are in accordance with the first yama; so if the truth will cause pain, it’s better to avoid it. The third law of not-stealing also means not being jealous of someone’s success. The yama against greed tells you to avoid hoarding and taking advantage of someone’s generosity. Lastly, when the yogis talk about controlling your senses they mean celibacy. They felt that sexual energy could be used for other things. But for me it’s about finding useful ways of spending my energy and knowing when to conserve it. 

The niyamas are principles on how we should be internally. We should be clean (externally and in thoughts), content, disciplined, involved in self-study, and devoted (to whatever fulfills us). Of course, you must remember that these laws were written in the Satyug – a world without traffic, internet, drugs, chemicals, porn, air travel and stress. So it really becomes about how you interpret these rules and create your own barometer. This is why the practice of yoga is such a personal journey.

For me, yoga is successful when it helps me stay relaxed in a traffic jam, or when someone infuriates me. By these standards I’m still a novice because I still let my temper fly sometimes. The most advanced yogis I have found are people who are kind and patient in the outside world, even when everything around them begins to fall apart. They understand that bliss is just a state of mind and not a situation.

With this in mind, what group of asanas would bring joy? In my opinion true joy only comes from a place of love. This is why heart-opening backbends are so advantageous. Here are the steps to the matsyasana or the fish pose.

- Sit up with your leg stretched out in front. Then lean back and place your forearms (from elbow to palm) flat on the floor. Rest on your arms without touching your shoulders or head to the ground.

- Now roll your shoulders back and start lifting opening your spine vertebra by vertebra from the stomach, then chest, then neck and finally roll your head back to touch the floor – almost like you’re arching your back.

- Keep your legs straight and toes pointing straight and flexed forward.

- Remember not to compress your spine by scrunching your shoulder. Breathe deeply into your chest. Hold for five deep breaths and then relax.       

Vasudha Rai is doing her teacher’s training course at The Yoga Studio, New Delhi, and blogs at www.vbeauty.co.

Also read lessons from the previous weeks: Week 1 and Week 2