Let's take a look at the rules of a yogic lifestyle.
1. Intent to Refrain from Negative Behaviors (Yamas)
Yamas are your social responsibilities to others and are practiced by setting an intention to refrain from negative behaviors. Yamasyamas reinforces the yogini way of life. To achieve bliss, you must be mindful of these behaviors in your daily life.
The idea is that once you refrain from one of these behaviors, the rest will fall into place as a result. As you read the following yamas, recognize if one resonates with you more than another. I have asked you a series of questions after each one that will help you think deeper into the meaning of the intention. Jot your thoughts down on paper to help you decide which intentions will work for you.
Be mindful of your actions and ensure that you do not engage in harmful behavior. Refrain from violence that can be caused physically, emotionally, and mentally, not only toward society but toward yourself as well. Being mindful of ahimsa teaches you to manage aggression and anger. When you are upset or feel challenged, aggression might be your innate reaction as a coping strategy. Acting out with aggression leads to a domino effect of negativity and can make simple things worse. Rarely do problems get solved with anger or violence. When you experience emotions that prevent you from being mindful of ahimsa, take a moment to recognize how your emotions directly affect your outcomes. Removing aggression from your life can help you achieve positive experiences.
Be aware of your words and how you portray your emotions. You might say harmful things to others and show no regard for their feelings. Other times you may say things to please others but end up hurting yourself. Truthfulness means to be honest and sincere when speaking about your feelings while being mindful of your behavior and of your true intention behind your words. The energy of your words creates the environment you live in. If you constantly speak in a negative tone, then negative energy will become your best friend. You will attract negative things into your life and you will have more negativity to talk about. Practicing truthfulness is to be aware of the verbal energy that you put into your life. When you speak in a positive tone and speak with honesty, you allow good to come into your life and embrace an abundance of positive experiences that come from that.
This does not specifically mean to refrain from stealing material possessions from others. It represents the idea of emotional energy that you might steal from others. When you put yourself in a position of needing too much attention or desiring what others have, you engage in the act of stealing energy. Practicing non-stealing is about managing your personality, finding a balance between extrovert and introvert. You have a responsibility to care for the people around you without greedily fulfilling your own needs. When you have good relationships surrounding you, those people will naturally give you what you need without you having to force it out of them. At the same time, you have to give back to those relationships and make the balance of give and take equal.
By practicing moderation, you recognize that all things have limits. You cannot let one situation take over your entire life, and you cannot spend all your energy on one thought or desire. Everything in life has balance, and to achieve balance you must act with discipline. When you feel the need to control outcomes and micromanage details to a fault, you engage in self-destructive behavior. This leads to regret and disappointment when things don't go your way. When you want more than you have or you want to control more than you can handle, you set yourself up for failure. Practicing moderation as a yogini means to accept what is and then work toward what could be with patience and gratitude.
By letting yourself be open to experiencing and accepting love and care from others, you practice nonpossessiveness. Let go of attachments to situations, possessions, and people. When you cling to something, you establish a sense of ownership. That attachment can lead to suffering and negative behavior. Things do not belong to you. They are meant to be enjoyed and shared. When you die, there is nothing that you can possess or control. Nonpossessiveness is the practice of letting go of control, obsessions, and jealousy.
2. Intent to Practice Positive Behaviors (Niyamas)
Niyamas are your personal responsibilities to your well-being. They are behaviors that reflect your attitude toward yourself. They are your observances in your daily actions that help you to value your worth and teach you to respect yourself. There are five important observances, and by being mindful of at least one, you naturally begin to follow the rest. As you read these niyamas, recognize if one resonates with you more, and jot it down. Again, it will help you choose the best intention when you get ready to start your pathway to labor.
This represents not only how you take care of yourself but how you think and feel. You need to practice cleanliness in your thoughts and in your environment. Purity means to take care of your health and feed your mind with positive energy. Purity teaches you to be mindful of toxicity in your life, whether it be negative relationships, situations, or your lifestyle in general. Purity teaches you respect for your body, mind, and spirit. You are a channel of energy, and everything you do reflects the energy you put out and receive. Being mindful of purity gives you the ability to keep your flow of energy positive and vibrant.
Being aware of what you have and where you are in your life and appreciating it is living with contentment. Be in the moment and acknowledge everything as it is, without change. Respect your life and accept everything that you are going through as a means to understand your journey. Contentment teaches you to be in the here and now and to accept circumstances as they are. When you are present, you are better able to manage your life in a direction that is rewarding. You are better able to handle difficult situations and face challenges from a calm, mindful perspective.
To practice discipline, show a commitment to something. Be aware of what you want in your life, and do what it takes to achieve it with good effort. Discipline teaches you to value what you desire so that you can make an honest effort in seeing it through as a commitment to yourself. If you are faced with an obstacle or a roadblock, it is easy to give up or set limitations to your beliefs in what you think you deserve. Difficulties and challenges are part of life. They are meant to teach you to value your efforts and appreciate what you achieve. If everything was easy, there would be no joy or appreciation in life. When you are working toward a goal—no matter how simple, small, big, or overzealous—it is up to you to commit to it and to keep reminding yourself to value what you want to achieve. When things get in the way, make disciplined decisions that keep you committed.
You should be able to see all things in your life as lessons. You have the ability to learn from your mistakes and to make informed choices going forward. By self-study, you learn how to manage pain, suffering, and unhappiness by knowing how you react to things and changing your behavior as a result. Practicing self-study means to awaken to your experiences and to not let things pass you by. Everything you do has meaning, even the littlest things. Be mindful of the choices you make and how they affect who you are. Know who you are and how you got to where you are. If you learn from yourself, going forward you can take steps that change your life and will bring a greater sense of joy and fulfillment.
Divine Empowerment (Ishvara Pranidhana)
Surrender to something greater. Trust yourself and let go of energy that isolates you into a physical being. You have a higher purpose. You can open up to positive experiences just by opening up to the idea that all things are a gift from something far greater than you. There is purpose in all things through your process of life. There are many different religions to follow if religion represents divinity to you. Yoga is not a religion; it is a discipline. Divinity is different to all people. This is a personal struggle for some, and for others it is a strong value in their lives. Just recognizing that there is a divine energy that exists within you is part of your discovery on a yogic pathway. How you embrace it is your journey.
3. Postures (Asanas)
Keeping your body healthy allows you to maintain physical freedom. You should be aware of your physical challenges and limitations and work toward making yourself stronger and pain-free. Your body is your connection to the physical world. Postures teach you to understand your physical health and well-being. By being mindful of your body, you have a better chance of fighting disease, illness, and injury. Posture work keeps the muscles free from tension, toxicity, and stress. When you are free from this kind of pain, you have more energy to focus on your inner spirit. Postures in yoga are physical positions that allow the body to stretch and strengthen. They can restore the body to good health or help manage discomfort. Postures can flow to help create mobility and endurance, or they can be held to encourage flexibility and strength. Postures not only work the physical body, they also stimulate the nervous system and restore emotional well-being. By understanding the benefit to each pose, you can open and create space physically and emotionally. By being dedicated to posture work, you show respect for your body and teach yourself how to stay pain-free and in optimal shape. Postures are safe for all trimesters of pregnancy.
4. Breath Energy (Pranayama)
Breath energy is awareness of breath. In yoga practice, breath is called prana; it is considered life-force energy. Without breath, there would be no ability to live. Each inhalation and exhalation is vital to existence and can teach you how to value the present moment. Breathing is a process that rejuvenates the cardiovascular system and stimulates your central nervous system. By inviting a calm breath into the body, you are able to control stress and how you react to it. There are many different breathing techniques in the yoga system, and each breathing technique is designed to stimulate the body and mind in a different way.
The yoga system uses breath energy combined with postures to move and build presence and awareness physically and mentally. Practicing the two in union is regarded as the highest form of self-discipline.
5. Sense Withdrawal (Pratyahara)
Sense withdrawal means to surrender to your physical and emotional feelings, to try not to control them but to accept them and be present to them. When you are mindful of your senses, you learn to surrender to your experiences and not judge them. Things can happen, and you let them go. Live without attaching to outcomes.
This concept means to withdraw from sensory stimulations that form your thoughts and perceptions. You need to depend less on your sense of taste, touch, smell, touch, and sight and more on your inner ability to accept what is. When you fuel your emotions with external pleasures, you create a false sense of reality. Your ability to experience and understand things should come from within. To fully withdraw means to surrender to action without judgment and live without expectation.
6. Mindfulness (Dharana)
Mindfulness is concentrating on one thing without distraction. By practicing mindfulness, you learn to limit the fluctuations of the mind and become focused. You eliminate all other thoughts and teach the mind discipline. When you are able to concentrate on one task, you develop patience and determination. Mindfulness is used with asanas and breath energy to bring a conscious awareness to the physical body as a temple that holds who we are. Concentration techniques in yoga practice help prepare the body and mind for a deeper meditative state. Mantras—simple words or sentences that you can repeat over and over again—are a way to increase mind control. When you practice mantras, you repeat positive words or sentences that replace mind chatter. Mantras create space in your thoughts that releases negativity and distraction.
7. Meditation (Dhyana)
Meditation is the practice of complete disassociation of body and thought. It refers to taking the body into a state where you can experience an essence of complete freedom physically and emotionally. When you reach this state, you become aware of a deeper energy that releases you from pain and suffering. Meditation is practiced in different ways: lying down, sitting, or from practicing deep concentration in postures. Meditating can be difficult and requires discipline. The difficulty with meditation is that people try to jump right into it. In order to meditate effectively, there has to be a preparation for silence and stillness. Meditation can be practiced in every moment of your day. By learning how to be mindful of negative and positive behaviors, keeping the body tension-free to sit through meditation, breathing with presence, and practicing concentration, you ease into a meditative state that is natural.
8. Enlightenment (Samadhi)
Enlightenment is the ultimate goal of practicing yoga. When you follow the rules of the yoga system, you are doing so with an effort to achieve bliss. This bliss is associated with a divine power that is greater than any earthly being. When you experience enlightenment, you experience life without perception, suffering, and chaos. You eliminate the constant turmoil of your mind and see the true beauty of things. Yoga masters believe that enlightenment takes many lifetimes to achieve, and some believe you experience it through death. For the purpose of childbirth, enlightenment comes from meeting your child for the first time. It is the discipline of using the Yoga Birth Method and following the eight-step pathway. Enlightenment will be how you describe your labor experience.
Excerpted from The Yoga Birth Method, by Dorothy Guerra.