Aparigraha: Freedom!

When I dig into the yamas it's always quite humbling. I've been studying for years, but the breadth and depth of yoga is such that sometimes some areas slip until you bring them back into focus. This is the case for aparigraha.

When I'm planning yoga classes I brainstorm for a while. This process includes sprawling diagrams of ideas and quotes that are eventually rounded up together in ways that can be woven into our physical practice. Interestingly, a couple of things happened when I dug into aparigraha. Firstly, before I even started to organise the ideas, I was inspired to have a good old closet clean out. Secondly, I couldn't help but write in capital letters in the center of my plan 'FREEDOM'.

I believe that the most wonderful part of practicing aparigraha (whether you want to translate it as non hoarding, non attachment, non greed or non coveting) is the feeling of freedom it can give you.

Over the next few weeks, I'd like to invite you to focus on the practice of aparigraha. I'll be sharing some words and ideas through articles and also in the studio. Whether you feel joy, lightness and freedom, or experience resistance and doubt there is always something to be learned from aparigraha.

Aparigraha

Aparigraha: A Real Life Lesson

One of the best things about being a yoga teacher is that I will forever be a student of yoga. I'm always learning, and I'm not immune to the many ways that we can resist the physical and/or internal practices! Today I thought I'd share somewhere that I got stuck;

As we traveled through the yamas together over the last few months I came to a sudden stop with aparigraha. I understand many of the meanings and applications of this yama and I do my best to practice it on and off the mat, but unsure of how to perfectly share the meaning and application of aparigraha I became paralyzed by indecision and perfectionism. I told myself that I couldn't cover all that there is to cover in this subject in the time I had allotted myself, and my impossibly high expectations made me stop rather than making any attempt.

Aparigraha can be translated as non hoarding, non grasping, non attachment or non clinging.
But what was I subconsciously doing? I was attached to what people might think of my personal interpretation of this yama. I was attached to the results of my efforts, and grasping for perfectionism. Don't think I haven't noticed the irony in that situation!

So let's have another go. What we do on the mat is a preparation for what we do off the mat; we practice - imperfections and all. Let's dig into the practice of aparigraha and prepare to let go…

An Introduction to Aparigraha

This month (albeit beginning a little belatedly!) we’re focusing on the next yama - aparigraha. Firstly, let’s explore the translation:

Aparigraha

A - as a prefix in sanskrit negates the word(s) following it i.e ‘non’

Pari - translates as ‘on all sides’ 

Graha - means ‘to take’, ‘to seize’ or ‘to grab’

For the practice of yoga, this yama is translated in many different ways; some of the interpretations include non hoarding, non grasping, non attachment, non greed and non coveting.

When we explore these different translations it’s interesting to note that they have very different connotations - non greed and non coveting relate to wanting and taking more than we need, whereas non attachment and non hoarding may refer to things that we already have and need to let go of.

For that reason we’ll be exploring this yama from two different perspectives. We’ll share some journaling questions and affirmations to help explore this yogic practice both on and off the mat.

Bramacharya: Stress, Fear and Fight or Flight

The fourth yama 'Bramacharya' in yoga refers to the right use of energy, both on the mat and in our daily lives. While it traditionally referred to the sexual energy of young men on the spiritual path, in the modern day householder yoga tradition it is important to look at 'right use of energy' as a broader concept.

This week we're looking at how much energy we spend on stress, and the physical response to stress and fear.

Fight or Flight

Our ancient programming was built around very different lifestyles to the ones we lead today. If the good lookin' fella in the photo was looking at someone in a 'mmm dinner' kind of way, the sympathetic nervous system, aka the 'fight or flight' response may save their life. Without even thinking, their body would release hormones to increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and blood sugar (among other things) and activate all the systems needed to give the body the strength/speed required to increase their chance of survival.

In terms of our daily lives (perhaps with the exception of law enforcement/ armed services/ firemen/ bear wranglers etc) this response is meant to be triggered only occasionally when we're in danger.

Unfortunately our stress response mechanisms have not been able to keep up with the exponential multiplication of stressors that we now face every single day.
Our bodies cannot tell the difference between life-threatening stress like being on a tiger's lunch menu, and the every day stress we feel about money, traffic, work/life/family balance, success, the economy, relationships, the environment, politics, family conflicts, parenting, illness and disease.
In addition, the body's automatic systems can not differentiate between a real and imagined threat and therefore responds the same to both. As a result many people's fight or flight response is being triggered throughout the day by anything from being cut off in traffic to an insensitive comment or insult from someone, and is then continued into the night by fear and anxiety caused by ruminative thinking and anticipation.

While there will be times in life where we need the strength or action of the sympathetic nervous system in a dangerous situation, it's important for our mental and physical health that we do not constantly live in this fight or flight. Living in this agitated and stressed state for the majority of our waking hours can be linked to heart disease, insomnia, depression, chronic fatigue, anxiety and chronic pain (to name just some of the issues).
We must acknowledge that stress is inevitable, that the unexpected will happen, and that things won't always go how we'd like them to. However we do not have to resort to the extreme of fight or flight for every notification on our phone. We have the ability to control and manage our response to these events and, as a result, relieve our stress.

In a yoga practice we learn to be mindful of our body and internal chatter. Over time we learn to identify the times where we overreact to every day events in the sympathetic nervous system, and can apply methods to calm the body and mind, reducing stress and anxiety. Over time we learn to pause before reacting to events, and this moment of pause will often give us enough time to reframe our view of whatever situation we are faced. We learn to respond rather than to react.

There are many techniques that we learn through a regular yoga, meditation and pranayama (breathing) practice that help to reverse the well-established habit of overreacting to daily stress. We learn methods to release the built up tension in our bodies that years of stress has created.

The methods and techniques we learn on our mats, make their way off our mats and into our daily lives, and can have a long lasting, positive effect on our overall health and happiness.