The experience of suffering and pain arises when the body, mind/nervous system or spirit are in a state of imbalance or disharmony. Suffering can be described as the experience of distress, dissatisfaction, discomfort, difficulty and pain.
You can think of yourself like a garden (to borrow a metaphor from Traditional Chinese Medicine) In order to understand how best to tend your garden you must learn the best methods for supporting and sustaining your garden and the environment around you.
Our thought's, emotions, and behaviours can either support our sense of harmony or create imbalance and suffering.
The following 5 concepts are known as the Yamas from Patanjali Yoga Sutras, thought to have been created around 4th century CE.
How can we use these ancient concepts in the context of today's world to help us find harmony and explore yoga as a tool for supporting mental health.
Ahimsa-On a practical level we might think about not pushing ourselves to the point of injury. And it can be just as valuable to apply this on an emotional level.
How often do you notice yourself pushing your body to go further, to keep going to the point of exhaustion?
Do you notice when you are making comparisons or criticism of yourself?
What impact do you think this might have on your energy?
How might this effect the parts of your body where you already feel pain?
Ahimsa invites us to go gently and to kindly encourage ourselves.
Allowing space for more self-compassion within your practice is a sign that you are honouring the spirit of yoga and that you are allowing yourself to grow and move past old negative and harmful beliefs.
Satya is the concept of not lying, i.e. honesty
Satya invites us to act and speak with integrity. This is not always easy given that what we know to be the truth today can change tomorrow as we are constantly acquiring new bits of information about ourselves and about the world.
Our thoughts, experiences, beliefs and past experiences shape what we see and how we perceive the world and therefore effect what we experience to be truthfulness.
For me personally one of my greatest challenges with this concept has been a tendency in my younger years to omit information and with hold my feelings in order to not ‘hurt’ or ‘disappoint’ family or partners.
This I came to learn was a form of lying or withholding parts of myself and ultimately it was harmful to me and prevented me from having a sense of connection with the people I love the most.
Of course there are instances in which being completely honest could be harmful…in such a case we place Ahimsa before Satya. Read the last post to learn more about Ahimsa.
We can integrate this concept with our own internal dialogue as well, when you hear yourself using words that are harsh or critical to yourself, pause and ask these four questions of the sages.
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
Is it useful?
Is it kind?
Asteya - the concept of non-stealing.
Quite rightly we learn from a very young age that stealing is not good.
But how can we think of this concept in a broader sense.
Think about those times you worked over time/ or did work for free or were perhaps under paid for your work.
This can be draining/energy sapping- you might even say you allowed energy and time to be stolen from you.
You might also think about time spent comparing yourself to others. How might this impact your energy? Does it leave you feeling depleted?
Becoming aware of your personal boundaries can help to navigate how to speak up when you feel your limits are being pushed. To take back your time and energy to support the things you prioritise.
⭐️Trusting and listening when others assert their own personal boundaries is equally important to support not just you but your environment and the people you care for.
Brahmacharya-the concept of moderation.
An interesting way to think about this concept is the idea of finding the 'middle path' in other words learning to find a balance between not too much and not too little.
As we walk along the path of healing it is important to find the right balance of effort and ease.
For example too much 'efforting' can cause resistance and rigidity in the body and too little effort might not create the stability and support required to regain confidence and strength.
It is important also to not let constant 'self-improvement' or 'working on yourself' become your personality. If we think about the analogy of each of us being like a garden, think about if the soil is constantly being worked, it will never have enough time to settle long enough to allow things to grow.
Aparigraha- the concept of non-attachment
Non-attachment to ideas, beliefs or things. This concept invites us to stay open to expanding the options available to us.
The approach we take towards our self-care may change over time as new information is available to us, and as we change. One of my favourite stories to depict this concept is... when we encounter a river and we manage to find a raft that helps us to cross that river, once we get to the other side we don't need to continue to carry that raft with us.
Another way to think about aparigraha...If you are in pain or struggling with your mental health it can sometimes cause you to compare yourself to a time when you were feeling 'better' or more 'productive. Hanging on to these ideas can lead you to feel that you may be 'broken' or that you are not 'enough' and this might prevents you from moving forward on a path towards change and new possibility.
These ancient concepts provide us with a framework from which to consider and examine the questions and struggles we encounter as human beings. I have considered them here in the context of mental health to support those who may be struggling or in pain.
Exploring yoga practice beyond the physical asana can offer a rich and helpful process for self-enquiry and learning helping support your mental health.
Working alongside a trusted teacher or therapeutic practitioner can help support you along your journey.