Month: February 2015

Yamas, Niyamas, and the 12 Steps

For yoga teacher training we had to write a research paper. I really wanted my paper to be a reflection of what myself and where I want to take yoga. I want to take yoga in the theraupetic route, helping those with ED’s, mental illness, and other addictions overcome their mountain. As we studied two of the eight limbs of yoga: yamas and niyamas, I realized how similar they are to the 12 Steps. I use the 12 Steps as much as I can and I was starting to incorporate the yamas and niyamas in my life, I realized that they can be a great tool for those in recovery. This is how I got the idea for my research paper. My paper is a brief overview of a bigger topic and hopefully one day I can dive deeper and expand on this topic.

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“To the pure of heart comes also a quiet spirit, one-pointed thought, the victory over sensuality, and fitness to behold the soul.” Yoga Sutras II.41

 

Patanjali encompassed the essence of self-realization, self discovery, and the journey of a recovered life in this sutra. That particular sutra can be about embarking on the yoga journey or a journey of a recovered life from codependency, eating disorders, addictions, or unhealthy behaviors. Yoga can be used in combination with the 12 Steps to help a person who is recovery to become the best version of themselves. Though some people may think that the 12 Steps are unrelated to yoga, they would think otherwise after reviewing the two limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali: the Yamas (moral disciplines) and Niyamas (moral guidelines). Even after review, the similarities between the yamas and niyamas and the 12 steps are apparent. The two limbs and the 12 Steps can help complement each other and together help an individual on their recovery journey.

The 12 Steps were written by Bill Wilson, a prominent businessman and alcoholic, who also founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. In 1938, his teachings and the 12 Steps were published in what is known as the Big Book (www.12step.com). The steps are faith based, meaning that they use spiritual concepts and the surrender of the participant to a power. Each step is a continuation of the next, they must be completed in order to be effective. When one begins they start with the first step, admitting they are powerless over their addiction or affliction. From there they go on through the following:

2)a power great than us can restore us, 3)we made a decision to turn our will and lives over to God as we understand him, 4) we made a fearless moral inventory, 5)we admitted to God and another our wrongdoings, 6)we’re entirely ready to have God remove these defects, 7)we asked God to remove them, 8)we made a list of all persons harmed, 9)we made direct amends with those we hurt, unless it would cause direct harm, 10) we continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong we admit it, 11)through prayer and meditation we come closer to God, 12)having been enlightened by these steps we are to carry this out to others. (Anonymous)

The yamas and niyamas are two parts of the eight limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. When one is on the yogic path these are observances and guidelines that yogi’s or yogini’s abide by. The yamas are known as moral disciplines. They are: ahimsa-non harming, satya-truth, asteya-non-stealing, brahmacharya-purity, and aparigraha-non covetedness/non hoarding/detachment. After that there are the niyamas, moral guidelines. They are: saucha-cleanliness, santosa-contentment, tapas-zeal/passion, svadhyaya-self study, and Isvara Pranidhana-dedication to the Lord through actions (Gates, 2002) (Iyengar, 1976).

As a person delves deeper into the meanings of both the 12 Steps and the first two limbs of yoga begin to notice the similarities. According to Kyczy Hwk, the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas provide ways to help with recovery from a variety of addictions with the 12 Steps being a more spiritual practice while the yamas and niyamas and yoga are more of a physical practice (Hawk).When a person on a recovery journey practice the yamas and niyamas they can better understand the Steps because they all have “a spiritual union with ones higher power” (Hawk). Some of the 12 Steps have more than one yama or niyama to go with it while some only have one. There are also some aspects of the first two limbs of yoga that are overarching concepts in the 12 Steps.

The first step has multiple niyamas that are related. Rolf Gates in his book, Meditations from the Mat, says it best, “We can count on the new and the unfamiliar to be awkward. But the awkwardness of that first step is no reason for us to deny ourselves the opportunity to have balance in a given area of our lives. We will have the degree of grace in our lives that we permit ourselves to have”   (Gates, 59). With that grace and the help of their higher power, the participant can then work on certain aspects of aparigraha and saucha. Aparigraha is “about the end of all attachment: letting go of our fears, letting go of our desires, becoming free” (Gates,67), which is an essence of Step 1. Saucha has similarities to Step 1 because of the crazy talk, insanity that is in his or her lives before that first step. Step 2 and 3 could also have some similarities with aparigraha and saucha as well because he or she is letting go of what doesn’t serve them, their addiction of dysfunction, to become free.

Step Four, making a fearless moral inventory, has similarities to asteya and the whole aspect of yoga. When the person on the recovery journey sits down to take their inventory they cover all wrongdoings and “defects of character” (Anonymous). This is something that is constantly done time and time again in the recovered life. Without taking regular inventory the recovered cannot stay recovered and progress in their life and spiritual walk with their higher power. When a yogi or yogini practices asteya they are paying “closer attention to what [they] do, and to put [their] faith in [their] ability to heal” (Gates,46) which is their version of making their own personal inventory.

Step 5 is all about admitting. He or she admits to God, themselves, and someone else (usually in AA it is a sponsor) all their wrongdoings and insight collected from their Step 4 inventory. Satya is the yama that has similarities to Step 5. As Rolf Gates puts clearly in Meditations from the Mat satya is “letting go of pretense and telling the truth about ourselves to another human being” (pg 31); Step 5 and satya is all about speaking truthfully and living that truth.

The next steps that are similar with one or two of the first limbs of yoga are Step 8 and 9. They are about making contact with people the individual has harmed and make direct amends with them. Here is another aspect of aparigraha at work because the individual is making a list of resentments and letting them go. Satya also makes another appearance here because satya is all about truth and the individual is speaking truth to those they have hurt.

After that comes Step 11 where the individual seeks conscious contact with God/higher power to help with their daily life and to better understand God through prayer and meditation. This has similarities to brahmacharya and self study. On the yogic path one practices brahmacharya or purity as a way to keep themselves close to God. In the 12 Steps the individual practices the same and keeps themselves pure by repentance, praying, and working to get their disease under control. As it is stated in Meditations from the Mat, “prayer enables us to tap into the healing power of the universe” (Gates, pg 52).

Lastly is Step 12, where he or she takes what she learns and shares it. In some 12 Step groups they will use the term spiritual awakening to showcase the life changing they undergo. Tapas and santosha are the two niyamas that work with Step 12. Tapas, or burning passion, relates to Step 12 because it is an “enthusiasm for health” (Gates) and it is all about inquiry. Being passionate to inquire about themselves which is the overarching idea of the 12 Steps; to be constantly evaluating your life, what the individual is doing in order to be the best person they can be in keeping the addiction or disease under control. As Gates states,

“Tapas is the spirit of inquiry; it is about having the heart of an explorer. It is the willingness to work hard in practice, the desire to know oneself, the will to be honest. But all of these virtues are predicted on a genuine desire for spiritual health. This desire will give us consistency. We will have good days and bad days, days when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and days when the opposite is the case. Years of consistent practice are not built on rigid self-discipline; they are built on the desire to know more.” (Gates, 103)

Santosa is similar to Step 12 because santosa is an alternate way of approaching life, it is a different way to view life. The 12 Steps, just like the yamas and niyamas are about ways to approach different aspects of life, be it a recovered life or not.

In conclusion, there are many similarities between the 12 Steps and the yamas and niyamas of yoga. All three help individuals live a better life and give each individual a moral guidebook and road map to navigate life. With an understanding of the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas can help the individual on the road to recovery to better stay on that road and have a greater success rate and a lower chance of relapse.

 

Sources:

Light on Yoga, Iyengar

Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates

EDA 12 Steps

12steps.com

Yoga and the 12 Step Path, Hawk

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Another TBT, poetry style

Not so long ago I celebrated my first ever TBT with some poetry from my younger days. Don’t believe me? See for yourself: https://imageoftheheart.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/throwback-thursday-poetry-style/. As mentioned before, I love poetry. I keep telling myself that one day I will pick up a pen and write again. I guess for right now blogging and journaling will suffice. Today, I picked some poems out of my “True Notebook” from my AP English Class circa 2007. The previous TBT poetry entry had poems from that same notebook and my college notebooks.

Here ya go….

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*First Encounter After Many Years

Singing every song on the radio, even if you don’t know the words.

It’s cool because you’re singing them with me; off key and all.

We don’t care.

Music speaks for us.

The Eagles, Journey, Elton John, The Beatles. Favorites of ours to name a few.

When we didn’t know what to say,

We sang to the song on the radio.

*Confessions of an Angsty Teen

My heart doesn’t belong here. It belongs somewhere else. I am not made for living here. There is something better for me beyond the rainbow. Past these gates of this hell town. I am made to fly, soar with the eagles. walk the streets with the elite of society. This place only offers so much and not enough to fill my soul, the void. You know when you are made for something else; you can feel it in your bones. Well, I came out of the womb knowing I am to make a difference. Make something of myself. To do this I know I have to get out. Break down these walls that hold me back, and live for the moment. My life on a string. Waiting for my break then I can leave this town.

There is nothing worth caring about; life is a waste of time. Everyday doing the same thing. I long for thrill and excitement. Someone I can call my own. A place where I can go and nothing bad happens. Where I can go and be understood. People let you down and material possessions can only get you so far. It always seems like a constant battle between life and death. Overdramatatics and not reacting. Why care about everything when no one cares for you? Friends trample over you, being left you in the cold. You get abandoned and feel gloom, what a horrible existence. But I long for the day when something will change, maybe somebody will lift me up, maybe the disappointment will go away. One can only hope for the well fare of their being. Till that day it is up to us to make ourselves happy. Even if we fail trying.

You can only put so much into people before they let you down. It’s important not to give your hopes up, it’s important not to love. Giving yourself to someone is a big step, because you give a part you can never fully give back. Crying to yourself and justifying reasons on why people do things to make it  better only makes it worse. Believe it or not. the more you lie to yourself, the easier it is to hurt. Your heart will cry and your brain will ache. Not some ordinary pain. Emotions in a tizzy, continuous turmoil. All just to justify, to love the person who loves us so. A never ending cycle of regret and let downs.

*Forshadowing

Awkward glances, hearts beat fast.

Sitting beside each other with hands inches apart.

It’s all the beginning of a teenage romance, the best and worst kind of romances.

They are fast and passionate.

With lots of kisses at the beginning but cheating hearts at the very end.

These romances end in tears, broken.

Precisely why one should stay away. But they are so exciting!

They can make one feel on top of the world, so we don’t think about the hurt.

We long for the fast pace, wild make out sessions, the sex;

That by the time all that has ran its course, we don’t know what hit us.

It’s heaven and it’s hell all wrapped up in one.

*Dance after Dark

We are together for the first time in a while,

Standing beside my car in a deserted parking lot,

Dancing….

Dancing in the moonlight.

Dancing to our song…

We sway to the rhythm,

Gazing at more than the stars.

*March Winds

The March winds blow over the countryside. Daffodils and tulips sway to and fro. Dancing a springtime waltz. Sunrises breath life into morning glories and butterflies. Sweetness of honey adds aroma to the fresh air. Making the senses buzz.

The March winds flow over my face causing my mind to ease. My heartbeat to slow. My hair goes in the direction of the wind.

*Mash Up Poem (Symphony in Yellow by Wilde, The Beautiful Changes by Wilbur, To Paint a Water Lilly by Hughes, Two Songs by rich, Sie Vita by King, The Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Bourdillon)

Like to the falling of a star

Or as flights of eagles are,

We lie fainting together at waters edge.

The mind has a thousand eyes;

The heart but one.

I’d call it love if love didn’t take so many years.

Your hands hold roses, always in a way that says they are not only yours.

The beautiful changes.

A green level of lily leaves,

Roofs the pond’s chamber and lies like a rock of rippled jade.

A sweet flower,

The soul, that drop, that joy,

I’d call it love if love didn’t take so many years.

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More TBT pictures? O the memories…

My bestie and I after the St. Patricks Days parade in Hilton Head for our Spring Break Trip

My bestie and I after the St. Patricks Days parade in Hilton Head for our Spring Break Trip

Luke Starr came back into my life after many years of being apart.

Luke Starr came back into my life after many years of being apart.

Senior Prom with some of my favorites!

Senior Prom with some of my favorites!

My first friend I made in JC when I moved there in 5th grade, Sara, at graduation.

My first friend I made in JC when I moved there in 5th grade, Sara, at graduation.

The darling, Sarah Shell and I at my graduation party.

The darling, Sarah Shell and I at my graduation party.

the hardest amend is the one you make with yourself

Step 8: Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step 9: Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

These two steps can be the hardest, most humbling, and the ones we want to avoid like the plague.  Well actually, most of these steps we want to avoid like the plague, depending on the mood or situation at hand. For those not familiar with this concept it is plain and simple: you sit down and think of all the people that your behavior due to your disease has harmed. Then you pray or gather strength to say an apology to them in some form or fashion, unless it will put you or the other in a place of harming. Then you can just make an internal amend and send them energy.

I have been to the amend drawing board a few times, even before I started the steps. Asking for forgiveness is the most difficult thing one can do. And sometimes the hardest person to ask forgiveness from is yourself. Over many therapy sessions I have attempted to forgive myself for past mistakes (usually mistakes in relationships or self harm via starving). I remember having a therapist make me write letters to myself as a way to start the forgiveness process. Sometimes those worked, sometimes it didn’t. I believe that those of us who tend to live in the past and can’t see past our mistakes have a more difficult time letting go and forgiving than others. I may have started the self amending process but never understood it till recently.

This previous weekend of teacher training it was our silent weekend. Yes, silence. As in no talking, no music, no tv, nothing that makes a sound. I at first was not going to do it but God gave me a husband who “suggests” that I do certain things that I don’t want to do because they are “good for me” and because I love him I do those self improvement things. But, I did it my way. I easily went into the silence. Starting Friday I became more quiet. Saturday I was even more quiet, spoke more intentionally, stepped away from my phone, then at night began my silent episode.

Lately, I have been dealing with a past issue/someone from my past. I could not figure out why this was on my heart. I prayed to figure it out, seeking God’s wisdom to discern this turmoil inside. Staying at my parents house when I am at TT I have access to all my old journals. So I did some past soul searching. Upon reading some embarrassing and hilarious stories, I walked into the silence and read the words on the page. It became clear on why things have been popping up in my head. While I made amends and asked for forgiveness a long time ago, I hadn’t made amends with myself for the mistake. Tears started flowing, filling up the silence, a turmoil of pain and happiness began to fill my insides. I texted my husband because I was feeling emotions and I hate feeling. Luckily he was there for support and let me cry it out. So there in my bed, all covered up with blankets and afghans, in a fortress of solitude, I prayed and made amends. I forgave myself and counted my blessings. I cried out all my anger and emotions that have been filling up my brain since TT started. I moved everything out of my being and into space.

One thing they don’t tell you about stress is that it weighs you down and when it disappears you feel LIGHTER! I swear I felt 10 lbs lighter. Talk about the best way to lose emotional weight, just cry! Or maybe do some yoga, that happens as well.

Ever since that weekend I have been able to keep that lightness, the self-forgiveness, the happiness…and I haven’t felt this great in a long time. So if you haven’t walked into the silence or walked into the room of amending a relationship, do. Who knows what you will find or how you will feel. Don’t avoid the silence. Don’t avoid the emotions. Just go for it and see what happens.