The Yamas Part 2
I am continuing on my journey through yoga philosophy’s yamas (if you missed part one, be sure to check it out!). This post covers the third, fourth, and fifth yamas which are Asteya (Non-stealing), Bramacharya (Non-excess), and Aparigraha (Non-attachment). As with the first two yamas, there is a lot to unpack in each of these principles and my hope is to provide an introduction to some of the ways the ideas presented within them can help us as singers and artists.
The third yama, Asteya, is often translated to non-stealing and or not taking what is not freely given. This principle can refer to the stealing of physical objects, money, time, or even energy and happiness, from others and also from ourselves. In order to abide by this yama we must examine where the urge to take what is not ours comes from. Like most negative impulses, the urge to steal comes from a place of dissatisfaction, a feeling that there is a scarcity of that which we want and need in order to be happy. In order to dissolve this urge we must cultivate a state of gratitude and an attitude of abundance. If we are happy with what we have we will no longer feel the need to steal that which we do not have.
By exploring Asteya further through the lens of the life of a singer, some deeper implications begin to arise. Gratitude seems to be a big buzzword at this moment in our society, and rightly so! I’ve been reading a book by author and researcher Brené Brown in which she emphasizes that practicing gratitude regularly is critical for cultivating fulfillment in life. The feeling we get from practicing gratitude is essentially the opposite of that of scarcity. Scarcity evokes anxiety, greed, and jealousy while gratitude begets calm, peace, and that feeling that can only be described as the warm-and-fuzzies.
I don’t know about you but many of my good friends are singers and instrumentalists, many of who are accomplishing awesome things in the musical world! I love having this diverse group of performers in my life and it is inspiring to keep up with their careers and support them by attending their performances. Truthfully however, it can also be hard at times as it is almost impossible not to compare the accomplishments of friends and colleagues with my own. This is a touchy subject for most of us, and one that can be hard to confront, even to ourselves, because who wants to be the jealous friend who is not happy for others’ successes? However, the truth is that when we get too focused on comparing our success to the achievements of others we are actually stealing time and energy from ourselves. It’s an interesting idea, right? That late-night facebook stalking and those awful feelings of jealousy are taking up valuable energy that we could be spending going after our own goals! This has become a big problem in the age of social media, and one I believe we need to be aware of.
I learned a wonderful tool for cultivating gratitude during my yoga teacher training. Each day of our 30 day training we wrote down three things (people, places, pets, experiences, etc.) that we were grateful for. I found that doing this every day for 30 days was a lovely way to reflect on all the beauty in my life and helped me cultivate an attitude of abundance. I return to this exercise as often as I can, especially on days when I notice I am stealing energy from myself by getting caught up in the comparison game.
Perfectionism is another way that artists steal energy from themselves. The fear that comes along with being a perfectionist can be immobilizing. Perfectionists get it into their heads that they can’t share their work with the world until it is “perfect”. Unfortunately, “perfect” is not achievable! Luckily though, “good enough” is, and once we get over the hurtle of accepting that perfect is not a real thing, we are able to get out of our own way and begin expressing ourselves.
The fourth yama, Bramacharya, translates to non-excess. To put this yama into action we must learn to avoid overindulgence and be ok with having just enough. This sounds simple enough but as with the previous yama, to really achieve this we must examine what causes us to over-indulge in the first place.
Food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work-so many things to over-do it with and so little time! Joking aside, we live in a world that often celebrates overindulgence and excess. Just look at Hollywood or reality TV (or the White House for that matter)-it’s hard to find a good example of someone living a life of balance. Rather, there is a plethora of celebrities getting caught drinking excessively, doing too many drugs, and having sordid affairs. I think we can all identify moments in our lives where we have gotten stuck in patterns overindulgence. These patterns crop up when life gets difficult as coping mechanisms and acts of self-medication. These actions numb our senses so we do not have to face the hard emotions we are feeling. Unfortunately, our problems are still there when we wake up the next morning hungover, groggy, and still stuffed from that pint of Ben and Jerry’s. Caught in the haze of exhaustion caused by living the life of excess we find it impossible to overcome our problems and thus the cycle continues.
Bramacharya suggests an alternative to this lifestyle. When we are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, sad, overworked, depressed and/or ________(insert other undesirable emotion here) instead of self-medicating with excess we can choose to read our emotions as a sign that we are out of balance in some way. Maybe for you it is never saying no to anything to the point of running yourself ragged to please other people (I definitely relate to this one). Maybe it is binging on Netflix night after night until you are getting only a few hours of sleep (guilty of this too!). Or maybe you struggle with addiction of some other form. Overindulging looks different for each of us and the first step to finding balance is to identify what it is for you. Once we have done so we can start making healthy choices that will help us recharge and regain balance. The key is to turn off your autopilot mode and check in with yourself frequently to take stock of how you are feeling. Warning: this is often NOT easy or pleasant. I find that meditation and quiet alone time are the best ways to do this. It can be hard not to run away from our emotions but it is always better to face them than to bury them under excess.
The final yama is Aparigraha, or non-attachment. The idea of non-attachment shows up a lot in yoga philosophy and for good reason. As I have written before, change is the only constant in life and I believe the saying “Let go or be dragged” is pretty accurate! As much as we would love to control all the little details in our lives, a lot of what happens we have zero control over. This is why learning to let go is so important.
I have been thinking recently about how Aparigraha can help us as performers. In some sense I think performing well is a great example of letting go. We do all of our preparation and practice ahead of time and then on stage we have to be present and surrender to the moment in order to do our best. Performers often talk about “getting out of their heads” while performing and I think this is essentially what they are talking about. The practice and prep are what we have control of and then at a certain point we have to put the performance on its feet in front of an audience. At this point we are no longer in control but that is the exciting part! We can’t control how the audience will react, if our colleagues will sing the right lines, or whether the conductor will give us the cue we are hoping for. Letting go and being in the moment allows us to react to whatever unexpected things come up and that’s what really matters.
This concludes my exploration of the Yamas (for now, atleast!). Next up: the Niyamas, so stay tuned!