By Austeen Freeman
This article was originally published in the Crazy Wisdom Journal, Issue #74. Read the whole issue here.
Today I practiced yoga for a full 24 hours. Whoa, right? Sounds like an intense, almost insane practice. Why would anyone do yoga for 24 hours straight? Well, it was a crazy practice, but not in the way you would think. What if I told you that I didn’t practice one Asana (yoga posture) or movement? What would you think? Where would your mind go? Would you ask, how can you practice yoga for 24 hours without any movement? This is where we may have some ground to make up as a yoga community. Asana is only one of the many practices of yoga. I practiced the other foundational concepts. I practiced yoga with my mind, my actions, and my thoughts.
The first yogic practice I focused on was Ahimsa (non-violence). I was intentional with every word I spoke, with every thought that came into my mind. My goal was to refrain from harmful thoughts about others and myself. Now that does not mean I succeeded. The occasional inner critic came trampling through my mind every five minutes, or so it seemed. The harmful inner critic had its eyes on me, but also on other people. I found it wanted to judge others, to point out their flaws, and find a way to make itself feel better than them. Throughout the day I observed and corrected the thoughts that sought to judge. Admittedly, this was an exhausting task, much harder than any physical asana I have ever done. But every time that critic showed up, I replaced her violent thoughts with supportive compassionate thoughts, for me and for my fellow humans. Toward the end of the 24 hours I discovered I could stop the thought before it was finished and replace it with another one or let the thought go all together. It’s important to remember that Ahimsa is just one practice that we can choose to indulge in during our journey with yoga.
The next yogic practice that occurred in my 24 hours was Satya (truthfulness). This is truth to yourself and others. Day to day, we tell a lot of truths, but I was looking for whole truths. Nothing left out, nothing omitted, no sacrificing parts of myself to appease others, but my full-blown real truth. I have never felt so liberated, speaking exactly how I felt, but being mindful of not blaming others and continuing my Ahimsa practice at the same time. Your truth doesn’t have to be harmful to others and truth doesn’t include the words “you” or “their.” Using those words can start the blame game, and how you feel is strictly how you are allowing yourself to feel. I really used to dislike that advice in the past. I used to say, how can it not be their fault? I can be mad at someone’s actions or speech, but I’ve learned that my own internal environment has nothing to do with them. How I take things personally is all me, and it is dependent on my mood and how I feel about myself. Satya (truthfulness) is an honesty practice—honesty with others, but more importantly, honesty with yourself. This truth practice was a tad easier for me than dealing with the harmful inner critic who had no boundaries in my mind.
In these 24 hours of yoga practice I really concentrated on practicing these two concepts. I have practiced them before, and I genuinely try to incorporate them into my life, but I dedicated these 24 hours strictly to these two concepts. I sought to understand them on new levels. If you are interested in the different practices of yoga, I would begin with the Yamas and Niyamas (the first two limbs of yoga out of the eight).
The Yamas and Niyamas are ten yoga concepts that yogis include in their practice. Ahimsa and Satya are two of the yamas. Other Yama practices include Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. An Asteya yoga practice is a mindset of abundance and trust. This concept asks the practitioner to refrain from thoughts or fears of scarcity. Asteya (non-stealing) is truly believing that the universe will provide you everything you need in this life. The trick with this practice is allowing the universe to fulfill your needs. We security and safety driven humans tend to want to take matters into our own hands. To practice Asteya is to practice perfect trust and to allow things to happen for you, not against you.
Brahmacharya translates to maintenance of vitality. This foundational yoga practice asks you to sustain your energy and vitality. To not give more than you can, to not take more than you give, but to have the ability to sustain your own energy for your own life. Accomplishing this practice takes many of the other disciplines that come from the Yamas and Niyamas. A practical approach to this concept is to indulge in life experiences that add to your happiness and your energy. The last Yama is Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). The number one emotion that Aparigraha attempts to dissolve from your mind is jealousy. Thoughts of comparing, of grasping for what is not yours, or striving to be someone else are not the beliefs of a yogi who practices Aparigraha. When indulging in this Yama we come to terms of self-acceptance, self-love, and self-dedication. We love who we are and hope for others to do the same.
All of these practices are just some of the many life-changing methods of yoga. Research and dive into what beliefs resonate with you. Practices come and go, but it’s important to remember that yoga offers you many different paths beyond movement.
When someone asks you, “Did you practice yoga today?” the mind usually goes to asana, movement, and flow. But we practice yoga on so many more levels than just movement. So yes, I practice yoga every day, sometimes asana, and sometimes not. This is a gentle reminder that you practice yoga more than you think.
Austeen Freeman is a licensed massage therapist and one of the owning partners at Gidrah’s Mind Body Spirit in Adrian, where she teaches Yoga. You can reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.