Lessons learned in Sri Lanka–Living the yamas and niyamas

Travelling always opens you up for immense learning, not just during the actual journey, but also before and after. The lessons come in small or large doses, as pleasant confirmation of what you already know or unpleasant surprises of what you have tried to ignore for a long time. Usually the lessons we learn are just reminders of what deep inside of us we have always known, but just chosen (or not chosen) to forget.

Anyone who knows me personally or as a teacher knows that I am in love with the teachings of the Sutras, written by Patanjali during the 1st century BC. Here I have used the Yamas and the Niyamas from the Sutras, (the foundation that Patanjali claims we need to be firmly grounded in, in order to have our practice develop long lasting results), in order to sort and structure my lessons learned. After all, my strong Pitta constitution loves anything that brings forward a list to follow.

The Yamas and Niymas usually come in a specific order, but since my lessons where all over the place, the sutras will be in that shape and form as well. But they are all there. My dear blueprint that helps me stay on track when the mind wants to draw elsewhere.

 –Isvarapranidahana. (To surrender to a higher force). To actually believe that the Universe knows what will benefit you, no matter how hard you doubt each situation coming your way. This is a big one, and I learned it even without leaving Malaga airport. You would think having left my phone at home on the kitchen counter, and making hubby drive to hand it over in a roundabout, would be enough for presence to kick in. So my surprise was BIG when having cleared security and prepping for boarding that no phone was to be found AGAIN. Well, it was safe in the back seat of the car that took me safely to the airport, and by now the phone was back in Marbella. The sensation of relief was as big as the sensation of stress and loss. The weeks prior to the journey my personal goal was to unleash myself from this great tool that is with me usually 16 hours a day (and nearby 24 hours/day). The Universe was definitely on my side, making it happen. By the Universe stepping in, it allowed me to work on my attachment to staying falsely connected to work, family and the world. It also allowed me to stay present in each moment and memorize the beauty of nature, people and food in my mind and not my phone/camera.

–Asteya. (Not stealing). Since I deepened my practice of Yoga off the mat, as well as on the mat, it has become a personal challenge to not ever take anything that is not given to me freely. In my past I always found little excuses to justify me not living this way. “Oh, I work so hard so I can bring some pencils and materials to my house, they will not know”. “I will not pay this parking ticket, since it is just ridiculous that there is not enough legal parking spaces available”. And not to mention time and energy that I would “hog” of people that did not make it clear that it was all for me.
It is so freeing to pay speeding tickets, to pay taxes, to only have what has been given freely to me. The sensation of not owing anything to anyone. And letting go of the fear that people will then steal from you. When we travelled for the five days, with everything we owned in the car, it was with a bit of a bellyache that I listened to our driver explaining that NO ONE ever touches a car parked anywhere and takes your stuff!! So in cities, parks, temples, markets, beaches, mountains, we left everything in the car, and the sensation of attachment and fear slowly died and I trusted the universe completely that nothing will be taken that I am not freely offering to them.

-Apirigraha (non-greed). I am a foodie. No, I am serious, I absolutely ADORE food. Once when I was on a cruise I almost ate myself to death. Not so much the amounts, but the mix of all different kinds of foods and deserts. This time I wanted a change since the food is actually there to heal me. The first few days I struggled. The buffet was incredible. The colors, the aromas, the textures, the creations played tricks with my mind and my plate looked more like Mount Everest.
But then the magic kicked in. I dropped down to “base camp”. As a result of the yoga, the breathing, absence of outer stimulations, I suddenly started “seeing” (read feeling) what I should have and what I should not have. That I actually did not have to taste it, chew it and swallow it in order to completely and fully enjoy it.

–Saucha (cleanliness). My hubbby always says “Well, you are not born with a broom in your hand, that is for sure”. I am not saying I am a slob, I certainly do what is necessary, but not very much more than that. And necessary could definitely be negotiated and defined in a light that would justify procrastination. But every morning in Sri Lanka I would see people outside the hotel, the homes, their businesses in a ritual where they honor the ground they walk on by keeping it clean from dirt, leaves and nature that has taken place during the night. They looked peaceful, not that it was an awful chore that they were “stuck” with. I arrived to my home in Spain, with such desire to get the broom out, show the same respect but to MY ground and my nature surrounding me. Every morning I have my five minutes on the front porch, and then 5 minutes on the back terrace, noticing the dust, the leaves, the life that has fallen into my hands in a way. These moments have been the most precious moments of the whole day.

–Svadyaya (self study/study of scriptures). I am usually really good at reading and studying the subjects that come easy to me, where I can relate and where my interest already is. My struggle is learning something when I am simply not interested or when it takes too much time to “get to the point”. It was such treat to have yoga, Thai Chi and meditation offered by the hotel instructors and I attended all classes as much as the body and mind was able to. I was once again reminded of that I do not have to like something to actually really benefit from it. Thai Chi is way to slow for my character, but it makes me feel really, really good. Afterwards! When I am done! But during it drives me absolutely crazy! When yoga is offering the same sequence every class, every day my mind has a tendency to escape instead of going still. But when I do repeat the same thing over and over again, I once again feel the same BLISS as if I would do variations in my Vinyasa practice at home. With studying everything, all we try to do is becoming an expert in ourselves, not trying to figure out the world.

Tapas (to burn. Purification) Not like the Spanish tapas to be enjoyed with a cold beer. More like heaps of obstacles coming your way, in order for you to be able to “graduate” and rise to the next level spiritually. So my mantra became “Oh, it is probably good for me”. Green soup for breakfast. Rising 05.00 for meditation. Warm butter on my eyes. Thai Chi. No phone. And then through the magic of time and stillness suddenly what was a “burning tapa”, transforms into another lesson where you can refine your own being.

–Satya (telling the truth) I have become quiet the master in telling the truth. With years training, I have also developed a nicer way to tell the truth, without bombarding someone with a truth that is leading to pain and a tarnished relationship. But I still have a long way to go. When we checked into our hotel (read homestay) in Nurawaelia, I knew it would be a tough one. On websites many hotels look completely different! I could actually live with that the room was cold and damp but that we were sharing the floor with families with 900 children (Ok, as you can see I struggle with the truth) it was too much for me. Ruth, my soul sister from another mister, is a very experienced traveller and I did not want to seem like a princess, who likes her little orchids on the bathroom towels. She asked me kindly, that maybe we need to look for another place? Our driver knew of someone who had a room to rent not too far away, so we went there to check it out. Still cold and damp, but very quiet and that determined it for us. We went back to the original guest house and I just could not go in and explain that I wanted to leave. I really tried to snap out of this complete child version of myself, and when Ruth kindly offered to tell them I jumped on her offer and said PLEASE!!!!!!! Of course there were not any problems, but it shows clearly how much I have left to work on telling the truth. I have a feeling that I can not always lean on Ruths warm shoulder.

–Ahimsa (non violence). To not hurt, kill any living being including yourself sounds like a good and easy plan. But it requires quiet a bit of awareness (seeing where you are stepping) and patience (hunting down small flies and mosquitos). When we stayed in Kandy the hotel was comfy and practical. Bringing my own pillow is part of Ahimsa, so I am not causing pain to my neck. But three flies, very lively and with no respect for my own space, slowly but surely started to remove me from my peace. So I went for the glass instead of the magazine. I set my intention of catching each of the three flies (not at the same time, since I am not that crazy) to then release them to freedom on the balcony. I sat still, gave it time and one after the other got closer and closer until I was able to move the glass on top of them and helping them out. The last one, actually even crawled into the glass, I could not believe it. I do not even know how may flies I have killed in my life, and I am sure that there will be more. But it felt like a great accomplishment to actually have succeeded in NOT killing them at the same time keeping my peace.

Brahamcharya (moderation) I am a firm believer that we can still indulge even in moderate intake of anything that our senses are craving. BUT…at least in my world, there is this fine line with what is moderation and what is too much. I have a very special relationship with coffee and knowing that I had to put that relationship on hold for a few weeks caused me a bit of distress. Not just mentally but also physically where my head was aching just thinking of being without it. The first cup in the morning is part of my ritual of welcoming the day, setting my pace and the direction of where I am headed. It took a few days, even though the caffeine was out of my system; I was still missing it as part of my morning ritual. Two weeks of teas and hot water I noticed that it is not the coffee in itself that make me centered and happy. It is the ritual together with intention and cleaning the body and mind before the day actually start. Back in Spain, I have had my few cups of coffee here and there, but all for the right reason (to connect with another person) and not because I actually think it will make me happy!

-Samtosha (contentment). In other words: To love what life has to offer you right now! When each moment is presenting itself with different options and outcomes, if we are able to welcome that without judging, clinging or pushing that away, then we have gotten a step closer to Samtosha. Contentment can be described by some as “settling”, something just average. But for a yogi, contentment is a state where the mind is free and peace can be explored on more levels than one.