When I took my first yoga class, I thought “holy cow this is hard!” I struggled with touching my heels to the mat in downward-facing-dog, and I couldn’t even attempt a headstand if I were paid. But I kept going to class because, like so many other people, I wanted to be more flexible. Several classes later, I started to realize that there is so much more to yoga than I ever thought could be possible. I found that there is something deep within me that I was able to touch through this practice. So I wanted to start practicing every day.
Most people don’t have time to go to yoga class every day. Luckily, there are ten ways to practice being a yogi without practicing the asanas. These are called the Ten Living Principles of Yoga.
1. Ahisma: Compassion for All Living Things
Ahimsa typically translates as nonviolence, but this principle has a deeper meaning than simply not hurting others. First and most importantly, we must learn how to be nonviolent toward ourselves. Consider the daily hurtful and unkind thoughts we have towards ourselves, and how truly violent they can be. This can be as simple as a negative thought that pops up as we see our body in a passing mirror. We wouldn’t dare share these types of thoughts towards another person because we know how hurtful they can be. If we know how destructive these comments are towards others, why do we constantly think them of ourselves?
How you can apply ahisma to your life: It can be hard to stop ourselves from this bad habit, but a helpful question to ask yourself is, “are my thoughts and actions promoting the well-being of others and myself?”
2. Satya: Commitment to the Truth
Be honest with yourself and others. Honesty is the strongest foundation for any type of relationship. Little lies of convenience are not permissible unless it is to save the life of another.
How you can apply satya to your life: Try to only speak the truth, rather than speaking of things in which you “think” you know something about. Stay away from gossip. A yogi is silent in doubt.
3. Asteya: Not Stealing
Rather than stating the obvious, not stealing also means not taking advantage of others, or not taking more than is offered. This can be as subtle as asking someone if they have time to talk before going into a gossip rampage. Without considering them, you may have stolen their time.
Another way to look at asteya is not stealing opportunities from yourself. Often times we are fearful of trying new ventures or taking a different path in life. We let that fear hold us back from possibly changing our lives, and in turn we become too complacent.
How you can apply asteya to your life: Do not steal from others or yourself. Do not cheat.
4. Brahmacharya: Non-Excess, or Moderation
This principle can be interpreted in several different ways. My favorite is how brahmacharya considers the “right use of energy.” For example, we should put our energy towards the inner self and life’s true joys, rather than outwardly belongings and money, which are ultimately fleeting.
How you can apply brahmacharya to your life: Enjoy life’s pleasures rather than putting energy towards acquiring more.
5. Aparigraha: Non Attachment
Holding onto things and being free are mutually exclusive. A yogi does not define herself by material possessions. Be moderate outwardly, and inwardly rich. Aparigraha teaches us that we do not need all those shirts in the closet, or that we didn’t actually have to buy that new pillow to match the curtains. The more we can free ourselves of our materialistic belongings, the easier we can move towards less cluttered lives and minds.
How you can apply aparigraha to your life: Throw out excess clothes from your closet or unnecessary decor in your home. Let go of attachment towards sentimental things.
6. Saucha: Cleanliness
Saucha means cleanliness in the mind, body, and environment so that we can experience ourselves in our best form. A messy home often reflects a cluttered state of mind. It’s important to create an atmosphere where we are not constantly distracted by yesterday’s activities. A clean palate can enjoy the sweetness of a mango, while a clean mind can better appreciate the beauty of a well-written story.
How you can apply saucha to your life: Clean your home. Clean your workspace. Clean your car. Clean your mind through meditation, writing, reading, etc.
7. Santosha: Contentment
This is about being content with what you have at this exact moment. Sometimes life’s circumstances can be unfortunate, but through santosha we learn to see things as they are without the pull of expectation. It’s not to be confused with complacency, which would imply stagnating growth. Rather, santosha means finding peace with whatever stage of growth or situation we are in regardless of the circumstances.
How you can apply santosha to your life: A helpful tool to practice this is to write out everything you are grateful for when you wake up in the morning. It’s also good to express gratitude in times of struggle because it helps you see what you do have instead of focusing only on what you don’t.
8. Tapas: Self Discipline
This is my favorite principle because I’ve written about discipline recently. Tapas means embracing life’s struggles that help you grow, and pressing through to stay on your path. Off the mat, this principle is about having the courage to not listen to the doubtful voices in our heads telling us that we “aren’t skilled enough,” or “strong enough.” It’s about having a clear and defined path or goal, and having the discipline to stay on that path regardless of the struggles that come up.
How you can apply tapas to your life: Besides eating at a Spanish restaurant (joke!), make a list of goals, and write out an action plan for exactly how you will accomplish each goal. Be descriptive and detailed. Be committed to the course of action, not the end result.
9. Swadhyaya: Self Study
This means one’s own study… the study of yourself. It’s important to reflect on your daily moods and actions, and really ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” Swadhyaya is about “checking yourself,” and continuously seeking opportunities to learn about who you are.
How you can apply swadhyaya to your life: Observe the way to speak to your family, or how you carry yourself when walking with peers, or even the way you get ready for work in the morning… You could also reflect on how your week was, or how you feel the year has passed. Then try to grow upon these observations. These are important pieces that tell you who you are.
10. Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender
This one can be tricky off the mat, but essentially it means surrendering to what is. Some can interpret in a religious manner, as in surrendering to the divine. And that is not wrong. I personally interpret this principle as surrendering to what is, like the beauty of a mountain range, or the complexity of nature. Rather than trying to unravel the mysteries of what is, we start to embody the mystery of life. Eventually, the goal is to look at the purpose of our lives with a new eye, and ask ourselves: how can my life be useful to others?
How you can apply Ishvara Pranidhana to your life: remind yourself of life’s beauties, attend a church ceremony, speak a mantra. Meditate.