First things first let’s start with introductions; I’m Yoga teacher, a wellbeing coach and one of life’s optimists, embarrassingly so at times some might say, but it feels like 2019 has waged war with every single optimistic cell in my body. It’s becoming hard to be hopeful and staying positive feels a little passive in a society that seems to make the rich richer & ever more powerful and the vulnerable at even graver risk.
Technology is making us so over connected we’re all struggling to keep up with the endless notifications, to do lists and demands… the cost of living is spiraling out of control and on top of all that, hello climate change! Something needs to shift, drastically… attitudes, focus, morality and how we treat each other and the planet.
People often ask me why Yoga has exploded into the west with no indication of slowing down. Human beings I never thought would step foot on a yoga mat are suddenly eagerly signing up for their 200-hour trainings and it seems to me to have gone hand in hand with increased levels of stress, poor mental health affecting so many of us & technology making us feel out of control. My simple answer to why Yoga is becoming big business is this; we need more Yoga, we want something to believe in and I believe that we could learn a great deal from Yogic Philosophy. We all want to feel more connected and less isolated, we all need to carve out more time for being quiet & getting back in touch with our internal selves. There’s a reason we practice yoga together – because people need community, human beings crave connection, real authentic connection (rather than the type you get on social media) and we, now more than ever, need to feel more united. The word Yoga in Sanskrit translates to the word Union, ‘Yug’ meaning to yoke; to unite with the body, the breath, the mind and spirit.
So, what can we learn from Yogic Philosophy and how can some of these ancient teachings help with the state of the world today?
Well, allow me to elaborate, but firstly let’s agree that while yoga may have its roots in hinduism, Yoga is not a religion in itself, it’s not a cult and if you choose not to follow the yogic principles you’re unlikely to end up in a perpetual state of inflexibility or yogic purgatory… I understand the Yoga Sutras, a collection of 196 sutras or teachings on the theory and practice of yoga (written at least 1,700 years ago by Patanjali) to be more of a guide for how to lead a meaningful life, how to be your best self and ultimately to reach enlightenment, bliss or a higher consciousness, and let’s be honest who doesn’t want that?!
“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science, science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
― Amit Ray, Yoga and Vipassana: An Integrated Life Style
The first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the five Yamas – the moral disciplines associated with living a Yogic lifestyle. Patanjali teaches that these guidelines for life are to be practised on all levels – through the way we behave, the way we think and the way we speak.
I believe that the Yamas are just as relevant now than they were back then and if we all followed these simple teachings, perhaps we could really save the world!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were less violence in the world? Imagine how different the planet would be if violence was not in our nature? Sadly, violence is part of our history; human being have used it to concur continents, to tame wild animals and to control one another but let’s not forget that there was a time it was believed the world was flat, let’s remember that we are capable of change, we just need to believe that it is really possible. Acting with Ahimsa can be understood as not acting out violently towards each other physically, not harming animals or the planet through the choices we make daily and even the way we think. Sometimes the way we speak to ourselves can be incredibly harmful and if we all became more conscious of practising nonviolence the world may well become a far more peaceful place.
This is a particularly interesting Yama applied to the modern day… How often do you bend the truth? On social media, to excuse yourself from something you didn’t want to do to or even when turning the mirror on ourselves. Being authentic and truthful is becoming more and more challenging, especially when we can’t necessarily trust what we read, watch or hear is actually true. The media is a monster to navigate and this has spilled into our personal online lives too, it’s easy to make life look fantastic when we can edit out the grey areas, the darkness and even make the light a little brighter right? If we were all a little more honest, a little more authentic and if this trend caught on and spread like wild fire I think we would live in a much more joyful world.
A simple rule to live by, don’t steal, but the practice of Asteya is much more than avoiding petty theft. Asteya can be understood as not stealing someone else’s peace, not taking what is not rightfully yours and becoming aware energetically of what you are taking, and indeed, receiving. Non-stealing could mean not dominating a conversation or wasting someone’s time or, on a deeper scale it could mean not robbing people of their dignity in refugee camps or in situations in society where the cost of living exceeds the means. To not steal could very well be interpreted as giving when you are able…something to think about in a world that wastes so readily but gives so sparingly.
Brahmacharya: Non-excess or non-lust
This Yama can be a little trickier to apply to modern living but for me, I understand it as not living a life of excess – be that food, drinking, drugs, sex, rock and roll… whatever it means for you. Brahmacharya can be understood as not letting lust, addiction or excess rule your life, by taking control of cravings and urges to lead a life that is purer and more meaningful.
Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness, non-greed & non-attachment
I think this principle is the most applicable to the modern age we now live in and possibly the most important to take heed of. The world has become so bogged down in consumerism and we are relentlessly being told by the media, by advertising and by social platforms that what we have defines who we are. Aparigraha, non-greed would be very bad for business…but who is paying the real cost? If we were to really put this Yama into practise what would it look like? If we stopped attaching to how many followers we have on Instagram, if we stopped thinking our possessions portray our successes and if we stopped over-consuming… Not only could we benefit from this particular Yama but so would the planet and the huge percentage of the world still living in poverty on the edges of society while the people telling us to buy more cash in the cheques.
What we need more now than ever to help save the world is more community, more consciousness and to feel more connected. You don’t have to be a Yogi to realise that something needs to shift for us to survive, let alone to thrive! What these Yogic principles taught me wasn’t to completely change my life but to be more conscious of the choices I make every day, down to the way I speak to myself. We all have a choice of how we conduct ourselves while we are on this planet, becoming more mindful of how we treat others, how we treat ourselves and how we treat the planet is Yoga, it is Union.
So, what can you do to make a difference? We don’t need a handful of society doing things perfectly, what we need is a lot more people willing to try and make small changes to create a big impact. Here’s some simple ways to put these Yogic Principles into practice:
1. Align with Ahimsa:
Climate change is happening and we need to find a solution – I’m not suggesting everyone immediately become plant based (though that would be great!) but I am suggesting we think more, learn more and take more accountability for what we do and do not eat, buy and use. Start researching who or what is harmed in the making of the products you use, the things you eat and what you wear. If the demands change so will the production, it is possible to make real impact and we all have a choice, we need to start stepping up and all taking more social responsibility for our actions and choices.
2. Consider how you communicate:
Think about how you speak to others, how you speak to yourself and what you put out to the world. Remember that every word, internally and externally, in all forms is your energetic currency, consider what you want this frequency to be. Can you express yourself more truthfully, more authentically and be the change you want to see in the world? Remember that every great wave started with a ripple.
3. Think consciously about how you consume, buy less & give more:
Christmas is the perfect opportunity to rethink how you shop and what your consumer habits are. Our charity of the year Choose Love is doing incredible work all over the world helping refugees, providing emergency aid and long term solutions where they are most needed. If you still need Xmas presents, head to their pop up shop on 46 Neal Street, London TODAY and buy something that is going to make a difference. We’ve also installed tap machines at our studios across London, whatever you can give we can guarantee it’s all going to an incredible cause
We can save the world, we just need to start working together and start thinking differently – Yoga is a transformative practice on and off the mat, and by taking these principles out into the world we can make it a better place too.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead
About Liz Joy Oakley
Liz Joy Oakley is Head of Vibes at MoreYoga and teaches Yoga & Meditation specializing in Yoga for Anxiety. Liz came to Yoga after being diagnosed with Malignant Hypertension and Generalized Anxiety and left the Fashion Industry to work in Wellness and help others to lead healthier lives holistically.
Liz is passionate about helping people achieve a healthier, happier lifestyle and aims to cultivate joy through her work. She now works in London facilitating workshops and events based around yoga, meditation, improving mental health, happiness, nutrition and wellbeing.
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