While my main focus on this website so far has been on the breath, it is not enough to simply learn to control the breath if you want to be happier and live with less stress.
We create our experience of the world through our thoughts, words and actions. The way we see others, and the way we see ourselves has a profound impact on how happy and at peace we can be.
The world we live in seems to actively promote judgement, comparison and negative thinking. You only have to look at your social media feed, or turn to the news, to see division, judgement and ‘us and them’ness abound. Advertising relies on you not feeling good about yourself as you are to get you to consume stuff you don’t need. I could list endless ways the world wants us to look negatively at ourselves and others. I am sure you can too.
Yoga offers us powerful tools to change the way we view the world and our place in it. When we can do this, we can find greater peace and contentment in ourselves. This leads to greater happiness and less stress in life
The Three ‘Rules’ of Yoga
In the first session of the Yoga teacher training that changed my life so very much, we were given three “rules” of Yoga. These rules were to be the foundation of my self study and growth over the next year and beyond. Kalavathi, my teacher, told us that Swami Gitananda had laid out three foundational rules for his students. These rules are
Don’t Beat Yourself Up’
Eight words. Eight of the most powerful words I ever heard in my entire life.
I have pondered these words many times over the years since. I have no doubt that I will do so many more times before my last breath. How powerful an idea are these ‘rules’?
Imagine if we lived in accordance with these rules? Imagine if our society was run in accordance with these rules? How different would our media be? What sort of leadership would we see in the world? How much more compassionate would our justice system be? How much kinder would we be to ourselves and others?
As a thought experiment, try to notice how much of your thoughts and conversations are about judging others, comparing yourself to others (either thinking you are better or worse than them), and to beating yourself up.
Do it without judgment, comparison and self recrimination. This is not an invitation to make you think you are a terrible person. I promise you that you are not. This is, I have come to believe, perfectly normal behaviour.
We are conditioned into this comparison and judgment by the world around us. Media and governments pit ‘us’ against ‘them’, while we forget that we are all ‘us’, and the only real ‘them’ are the ones trying to divide us. Celebrity culture depends on our need to compare our lives with others, as does the world of advertising and the never-ending stream of products we are urged to buy. Even as children we are encouraged to see ourselves in relation to our status in the world, with league tables and achievement being seen as how we achieve our self worth in the world.
So, my invitation to you for the next few days is this.
With great compassion for yourself, become aware of the judgment, comparison, and recrimination in your words and thoughts.
- How many of your conversations with friends depend on talking about other people?
- Notice how often do you look at other people’s choices and pass judgment on them.
- How much of your thoughts are based on thinking yourself better or worse than another?
- See if you can spot how much time you spend beating yourself up for mistakes made?
I did this frequently during my training year, and was dismayed by what I discovered about myself. I think at least 80% of my conversation and thoughts were dominated by judgment, comparison and self-recrimination. It was truly shocking, and jolted me awake.
I didn’t want to be that person. Who would?
I didn’t want my friendships to be based on bonds created through gossiping about others. I didn’t want to look at myself and judge whether I thought I was better or worse. I was horrified by how much mental energy I put into torturing myself over past mistakes. I realised that if anyone else spoke to me the way I did, I would remove them from my life immediately. So why on earth did I delight in doing it to myself so much?
Growing through self awareness
As my awareness of these habits grew, I began to change my behaviour.
If I noticed judgemental thoughts in my mind, I would remind myself that another person’s choices, say of clothing, were none of my business.
I began to make a conscious to stop gossiping, or at least, do less of it.
I began to show myself a little more forgiveness, accepting and learning from my mistakes rather than haranguing myself over them repeatedly.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion
The Dalai Lama
I discovered the truth of this as a result of my experiment with the ‘Three Rules of Yoga’.
As I became aware of, and lessened, my judgment and comparison of others, I became less judgemental of myself. I found myself becoming less insecure about my place in the world, and more comfortable in who I am. I was able to recognise the fierce critic in my head as just one opinion of me, and one that I didn’t always need to listen to. As I lived with these three rules as my mantra, I grew into a person I want to be. They enabled me to see my value in the world and learn to love and accept the person I am.
I want the same for you.
We all deserve to find out who we are, to be the best we can be for ourselves, to see out worth and learn to truly love and value ourselves.
Embarking on the path of personal growth is a wonderful gift to give to yourself. It is not always easy. It certainly doesn’t always feel peaceful. But if you can remember the ‘Three Rules of Yoga’, remember to breathe and show yourself kindness and compassion, your life, and the life of those you love, will be greatly enriched by the journey.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing with you the profound ways in which Yoga can help you achieve happiness and inner peace. I will be guiding you on an exploration of your life thorugh the Yamas and Niyamas, Yoga’s moral and ethical foundations. There will be journal promts so that you can embark on your own journey, so be sure to check in!