In 2002 I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training at the Satchidananda Ashram in Buckingham, Virginia. I lived at the ashram a total of 30 days. It was hard being away from my children and going through drastic changes in my diet and daily routine but I loved everything about my experience. Although I had practiced hatha yoga for about 16 years and had even starting teaching hatha yoga, I really hadn’t been exposed to yogic philosophy and lifestyle. One of my favorite philosophical concepts I learned while at the ashram was that of yama (abstinence) and niyama (observance). The yamas and the niyamas are outlined in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and are ten guidelines for living an ethical life. As an avowed (now recovering) rule follower this was right up my alley. If you want to learn about the yoga sutras, I recommend the translation written by my teacher, Sri Swami Satchidananda which is hyperlinked above.
Back to the Real World
In September 2002 I flew home from Virginia, a brand new certified yoga teacher, ready to see where this yoga stuff would take me. The last few days of that year I decided I would choose one of the yamas (there are five) and make it my mantra for the next full year. My sense of order wanted to start at the top with the first yama – ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming). In some yogic circles, ahimsa includes not eating meat – not harming animals. My practical side knew that I could not expect my husband and children to suddenly become vegetarian – nor was I ready to become one myself. So, I went to yama number two: satya – truthfulness, not lying. I set an intention and created a mantra. My mantra for 2003 became: “I live in satya” or “I live in truth”. I did what every anally inclined geek does – I changed all my passwords to satya2003 or some iteration thereof. I wrote the word on my planner – each day! I read about satya. I doodled satya. I prayed and chanted satya. I quickly began to experience satya in the following ways:
- I felt guilty telling white lies so stopped (mostly).
- I stopped doing things that I didn’t want to do but had been doing out of duty or fear of not belonging or not pleasing.
- As truth began to trump nice, I began to feel like a real woman instead of a good girl.
- I woke up.
I don’t want you to think I was a big liar before 2003. I wasn’t – to others (usually); but I was – to myself (most of the time). Being truthful to the world is not for the faint of heart but being truthful to yourself is down right petrifying. For brevity, I won’t go into all the “truth discoveries” I went through in 2003 but I will share the biggest, most impactful one.
The Truth Will Set You Free
A week into 2004, I asked for a divorce.
With two kids still at home, and no job outside the home except teaching a few yoga classes I wasn’t sitting pretty to strike out on my own. However, staying married out of fear wasn’t pretty either. Our marriage was void of love and full of fear on both sides- I no longer wanted to live a lie. One year of living in truth and one week into the next New Year I asked for a divorce. By February he had moved out and I began looking for a full time job. I was advised by well-meaning people to stop looking for a job until the divorce was final so I would be awarded more financial support in the settlement. I had stayed home with our children for ten years and followed him for military moves so could have gotten more support. I’ll be honest I thought about it but couldn’t do it. I landed a great job at a medical health spa also in February. I marched into single parenthood employed, fearful, and happy with satya as my side-kick.
When we begin to change behavior there is usually awkwardness to it. We have difficulty finding our balance with it. In my zest to be truthful, I’m sure there were times that I was too blunt, even unkind. Still happens occasionally. It took me a while to calibrate and find my satya sweet spot but I did. I’ve learned to be kinder in my truthfulness and I’ve learned that it’s OK if my truth is not your truth. Six years after my divorce I found love too.
With my clients, I often use the analogy of the swinging pendulum (see me waving my arm here because I talk with my hands). The swing of the pendulum represents our attempts at behavior change. We want to change. We try it. We swing wide in one direction and then the other. We try again and get closer to our target. If we don’t give up trying we eventually find and relax into the comfort of center. I love helping my clients identify what they want to change and helping them navigate the swings until they reach their center.
It’s the first month of 2017. I have a new mantra for this year – like each year since 2003. It’s been an interesting journey – but not easy. If you want to join me on this journey – set your mantra for 2017 but watch what you mantra…you just might get it! Tell me yours and I might tell you mine.
On the journey…
Denise Amick, M.S., RYT is a Registered Mental Health Counseling Intern who sees private clients at Arya Therapy Services. She also works at two inpatient addictions treatment facilities as both a therapist and a yoga teacher. She holds a masters degree in Counseling and Psychology and has sustained a thirty year yoga practice. Denise’s education, professional background, and having reached mid-life (mostly unscathed) provides her a wide range of life experiences from which to pull and connect more deeply with her clients. If you’d like to contact Denise, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.