5 Tangible Ways to Practice Yogic Philosophy

The roots of yoga go back thousands of years and yogic philosophy has emerged from so many different texts over the years that the number of teachings is overwhelmingly big. It can be easy to get lost in philosophising and not be sure on how to apply them to our lives and actually take action to truly embody them. Here is a little summary of some of these teachings and a practice to go along with each one. 

 

Please keep in mind that each of these teachings could be blog posts in and of themselves so these are really summaries to give you a taste. The reality is that they take a lifetime (if not lifetimes) of practice to learn. But you have to start somewhere so without further a due….

1. Know your dharma

It is really common in Western thinking to connect ‘dharma’ to ‘purpose’. And while there is definitely some alignment there, ‘dharma’ is more accurately translated as ‘role’ and ‘duty’. Dharma is basically telling us that we don’t need to go out there and search for our purpose and have it be a big deal. We already have certains roles and all we have to do is follow the duties that come with those roles. If you are a mother, your dharma is to be the best mother you’re able to be. If you’re a student, you must study hard. A friend, you must be loyal and supportive. Our dharma is not what we want to become but what we already are. Start where you are and life will lead you to your purpose effortlessly. Ironically when we’re confused about our purpose we can abandon those roles and duties in order to go out searching for purpose when all along it was right under our nose. 

Where does this teaching come from?

The Bhagavad Gita – Krishna tells Arjuna that although he doesn’t want to go to battle, to fight in a war and kill, he must. He was born a warrior and it is his Dharma to go to war to defend the good.

How to put it into practice?

Look at your life as it is. What area can you be doing better? What roles could you be more dedicated to? 

2. Understand your suffering

As the Buddha pointed out, suffering is inevitable in life. In fact he went as far to say that life IS suffering. Because not only do we suffer from pain but when we feel pleasure we know that it will end and that too brings suffering. In order to get the most out of life, we have to see suffering for what it is: a part of human life. And not get bogged down with it. To do this, and to put a little distance between your sense of Self and “the one that is suffering” it is helpful to understand your suffering to better see through it. In yogic philosophy there are five Kleshas or “afflictions” that cause suffering:

  • Avidya – ignorance
  • Raga – attachment
  • Dvesha – repulsion
  • Asmita – identification with ego
  • Abhinivesha – the fear of death

 

Where does this teaching come from?

Patanjali’s yoga sutras

How to put it into practice?

The next time you feel a wave of negative emotion take a moment to step back and look at it. What is the feeling exactly? What are the thoughts associated with it? Which of the above kleshas does it fall under? As you understand it better, you will begin to feel the knots loosen and though it may not dissipate altogether (though it might!) it will certainly be less overwhelming and perhaps it will even show you an invaluable lesson.

 

3. Practice ahimsa 

Ahimsa means non-violence. It asks us to look at all the ways we create violence in our lives; through our food choices, our fashion choices, our career choices, the ways we interact with others and ultimately the ways we treat ourselves. The practice of ahimsa requires us to remember that we are not only connected to all of life, but in fact we ARE all of life. That to harm another is to harm ourselves. For example if we buy non-organic foods, we are supporting the decline of the environment, we are killing bees which will inevitably come back to hurt ourselves because no bees = no food in the future. It is one great system. Practicing ahimsa to its very core is not easy. The modern system we live in today makes it difficult to be 100% ahimsa because to buy all organic food, be vegan, buy all natural fiber and dye fairtrade clothes, no plastic, be kind to everyone (even under the grip of an overly caffeinated moment of road rage), think only postive thoughts about yourself…requires you to be superhuman and also quite rich. So go easy on yourself. But it’s definitely a good opportunity to reflect on these things and see if we can do better than we currently are.

 

Where does this teaching come from?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – ahimsa is one of the five Yamas. 

How to put it into practice?

Do a quick life scan. Can you apply the practice of non-violence by stopping (or at least reducing) your intake of animal products? Can you, at least sometimes, by clothes from ethical sustainable fashion brands? Can you find a way to bring more kindness into a relationship with someone you find challenging? What is your inner-talk like? Can you be nicer to yourself?

 

4. Eat sattvic – think sattvic

If your goal is spiritual liberation then obviously the quality of your mind is ultra-important. You need a mind that is calm, steady and not easily disturbed. Well, our food choices greatly affect our state of mind. This is why yoga and ayurveda are sister sciences, so closely related that you can’t pull them apart. Ayurveda holds many of the keys that help reach yoga’s goals. (Goal is not an accurate word when discussing spirituality, but unfortunately language doesn’t do well to talk about things that can’t be talked about – so take it with a pinch of salt). Sattva means purity. So the idea here is that if we eat clean, we will have a clean mind.

 

Where does this teaching come from?

Yoga and Ayurveda’s 3 Gunas: Sattva (purity), Rajas (passion), Tamas (ignorance).

How to put it into practice?

Avoid tamasic foods such as meat, highly processed and refined foods, left over foods. Avoid rajasic foods such as stimulants (coffee, sugar, chocolate) and very rich foods. Instead try to eat simple, clean fruit, vegetables, nuts and grains. Eat organic whenever possible and eat in a calm and clean place.

 

5. Practice moderation

In the age of information and, we would say, gratification, moderation is definitely a practice. Today we can basically get whatever we want, whenever we want it. Which ain’t good because that means the only thing that stops us from overindulging is our own discipline. In yoga there’s the concept of Brahmacarya – which although often translated to mean celibacy it isn’t only talking about sex. Rather it is relating to the moderation of all the senses. This means to not overindulge in sex, food, entertainment, shopping…and all the things we love to get a good dopamine kick from. This is a really important idea because in ayurveda they say that one of the biggest causes of disease is the misuse of the senses. So if we enjoy eating cake we won’t just have a tiny slice now and then, but a big slice at the end of every dinner. A lifetime of such choices is sure to lead to bad health and unhappiness.

 

Where does this teaching come from?

Patanjali’s Yoga Sturas – Brahmacarya is one of the five yamas.

How to put it into practice?

If moderation sounds to you like deprivation, and really no fun at all, then we hope this will change your understanding. The body is sensitive and adaptive. So if the brain is flooded with happy hormones very often it learns to desensitize to these hormones. Meaning more cake, sex and shopping will be required each time to get the same level of happiness. Just like drugs. Through living moderately we actually enjoy those things more! We’re afraid there’s no life-hack to this one though. All that’s required is a bit of discipline.

 

Did you know that our students have access to weekly Satsang, which is a space to discuss yoga philosophy, to hone in our understanding and learn to practice. Check out our full Course Catalogue and think of joining us!

Career in Yoga Therapy

Career in Yoga Therapy

Author: Jacky Rae The Sister Sciences {reunited as skilled practitioners of Yoga and Ayurveda} find that by combining these practices on a professional level holds an incredibly powerful, therapeutic tool.   The Ayurvedic Yoga Therapist (AYT) holds an...