intention setting

Cutting to the heart of my yoga - Samtosa

When you attend a yoga class, often you are asked to set yourself an intention. Sometimes this can be as simple as dedicating your practice to someone that needs your energy - someone you love, or even someone that you are not getting along with. Other times you can dedicate your practice to yourself, with an intention. 

To be honest, most of the time when I hit the mat I bring the intention of samtosa, one of the niyamas, observances, from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Samtosa can be translated as contentment. 

Contentment, something quite intangible to many these days. As we're pushed to achieve, to strive, to be better, sometimes we forget what we have, where we are, who we are and what is truly important to us. For me samtosa, contentment, has had the most positive effect on me and my yoga practice. 

If you boil down to why I practice yoga, and perhaps why I usually dedicate my practice to myself, it's because I take the time to be thankful for and remember what I already have. To be kinder, more loving, more generous and understanding with those around me. To put it bluntly, I try to be a nicer person for those who share my life.

If I could teach only one thing in yoga, it is for us all to be a little kinder to ourselves. Combining ahimsa, non-violence (to ourselves) with samtosa, contentment really cuts to the heart of yoga. Don't hurt your body or your mind, be mindful of what you already have, and be happy to be exactly where you are. Start each day, each task, each pose exactly where you are now, not trying to be something you're not and not wishing for something else. Be a little kinder to yourself. 

Ahimsa - Non-violence

I realise the irony of writing this blog post with my very sore and destroyed hamstrings. I got too caught up in pulling on my hamstrings in the vain and frankly egotisitcal notion that they will, all of a sudden, get longer. For years they have released only a little and why a couple of hours of tugging on them would make any difference, I don't know. Well, I do know. They never get longer. 

But not doing violence to yourself is what we're thinking about this month in my yoga classes with Ahimsa - one of the five yamas in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ahimsa - non-violence, non-harming, non-injury - to others, but also to yourself. 

In this competitive life it is easy to see others and to try and be better than them. In our yoga asana practice that may mean 5 minute-long headstands, hanumanasana (the splits) or a kick-ass upward bow.  Even if you can do all or none of these it really doesn't matter. Your maximum in a pose is the same feeling that another person will have at their maximum, no matter what the physical ability, flexibility or strength. 

It's important to remember why we practice yoga - to align body, mind and breathe, to focus our efforts and unite our different elements so that we can sit quietly at the end of all our exertions. Essentially we're trying to tire ourselves out enough that we can surrender. 

And so it's worth keeping in mind Ahimsa throughout our practice. Not pushing or forcing. Accepting that our body today will be different to our body tomorrow. Something that we can't achieve today we might be able to tomorrow but equally, maybe we could do something yesterday that isn't accessible to us today. It's time to tune in, listen to your body and surrender to where we are. Non-violence towards ourselves in our yoga practice means a longer, more sustainable practice but also perhaps, eventually, it's a little something we can take into the rest of our lives.