A few months ago, a big Hollywood name who was one of the men accused of sexual assault following the Harvey Weinstein revelations announced he was checking into a rehab centre where Yoga was offered in the hope that Yoga would make him a better person.
This was greeted with probably well deserved cynicism in the press, given the nature of the case. I am not going to name the man concerned as this post isn’t about him or what he has done, but is about the question of whether Yoga can make you a better person.
If the reason you are embarking on the Yoga path is so that your PR agent can tell the world’s media that you are trying to become a better person, as reports I have read about this man definitely suggest, then it is unlikely to produce much of an impact.
However, if you are looking to make significant changes in your life, and grow as a person, then Yoga can make you a better person. Indeed, it is this, and not giving you a “better body”, that Yoga was created for.
This post forms one of the series of ‘lessons at 45‘ series I am writing inspired by reaching the grand old age of 45 as a sober living, yoga loving, spiritually inclined and ever learning woman. Throughout these posts I will be sharing some of the things that I have learned in the last 4 years since falling apart, training deeply in Yoga and becoming sober
Yoga is not an exercise system, but a framework for evolution of the soul. The ancient Yogis were operating from a firm conviction that the purpose of life was to get closer to ‘Enlightenment’, to Oneness with the Divine.
It is not possible to do this if you are a selfish, cruel, dishonest, lustful, violent person, so improving the behaviour is a vital step towards this.
You may not be seeking Enlightenment, or you may have your own religious beliefs, but Yoga can still help you to become a better person, and this is no slur on the person you currently are, we can all, always become better.
Yamas and Niyamas – the foundations of a better you
The Yamas and Niyamas, the first 2 of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, are the foundation on which traditional Yoga rests. These guide us to rise above the base, animal instincts of the primitive brain, curbing the behaviour that have existed in us since primitive times and which remind us that we are animal in nature, and to evolve into the best that our human brain can offer.
The Yamas are
- Ahimsa – non violence
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya – non stealing
- Brahmacharya – control of desires (often translated as celibacy)
- Aparigraha – non covetousness, non grasping
The Yamas guide how we show up in the world to others, but also how we treat ourselves. How often do we harm ourselves with our thoughts and actions, how much do we delude ourselves, how often do we steal from ourselves, listen to our desires rather than what we know we need, and how much do we yearn and cling onto things that we don’t need? The Yamas
The Niyamas are
- Saucha – cleanliness
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – discipline
- Swadhyaya – self study
- Ishwara Pranidhana – surrender to the Divine
The Niyamas speak to the human side of ourselves, encouraging us to clean not just our bodies and our environment but also out thoughts, the information we allow into our minds and the words we put out into the world. Contentment with what we have in life doesn’t mean that we don’t want to improve life, but starting from a position of gratitude improves outlook on life. Discipline is vital if we are to make any changes in life and to rise above the domination of habit, and self study can help us to understand why we are the way we are, and how we can move forward from where we are. Surrender can be taken however your spiritual beliefs lead you, from the simple ‘what will be will be’ to ‘it is in god’s hands’. Swami Gitananda used the wonderful phrase ‘do your best and leave the rest’…we must do what we can, but we cannot control the outcome once we have done our bit.
Until I began Yoga teacher training I had never heard of the Yamas and Niyamas despite 6 years of attending Yoga classes. They have been, to a large extent, stripped out of Western Yoga, as they are not really compatible with the capitalist machine that Yoga has been absorbed into. But they are still there, and they are still as valid today as they were to the ancient Yogis thousands of years ago. Maybe more relevant, as we face challenges in our times that they didn’t face.
Yoga absolutely CAN make you a better person. The Yamas and the Niyamas provide a powerful foundation on which to base personal growth.
I will be talking more about these in a webinar I am giving as part of a series of webinars in the week beginning January 8 2018. The series is focusing on how Yoga can help you to ‘Recovering You’, as a tool for self discovery, personal growth, freedom from stress and recovery from the many addictions that could affect your life.
The webinars are
- Monday Jan 8 – Stop and notice – developing awareness of your body, your thoughts and emotions
- Tuesday Jan 9 – Becoming a better you – working with the Yamas and Niyamas to improve your life
- Wednesday Jan 10 – Grateful for gratitude – how living with gratiutude can give you more to be grateful for
- Thursday Jan 11 – Relax and recover – some powerful and simple ways to tackle stressful moments
- Friday Jan 12 – Getting to know you – the importance of self study and really getting to understand yourself
The webinars will all take place at 8.30pm GMT, and replays will be available so if you are unable to attend live, you can catch up. There will also be a pop up Facebook group where you can ask questions, share your experiences and learning, and where I will be sharing more information and articles.
The Recovering You week will be perfect for you if you
- Are in recovery from addiction and are looking for ways to beat the stress of recovery, and deepen your experience of recovery
- Are experiencing stress that you don’t know what to do with, for example, at work, or in your personal life
- Are interested in learning more about Yoga philosophy and how it can be applied to your life
- Want to grow as a person and are confused by all the personal growth paths out there
You can secure your place on the webinar by signing up below. Please look out for emails from me and make sure that they go into your inbox, and be sure to confirm or you won’t be able to hear any more from me, and you will miss out on the webinars