Many people don’t realize that yoga is a philosophy, accompanied by a set of do’s and don’ts for how to live one’s life. Asana is part of that practice, but the first step of the eight-part philosophy set forth by sage Patanjali is the yamas.
There are 10 yamas in Hinduism (like 10 commandments in Christianity), though Patanjali only mentions five in the Yoga Sutras. I’ve talked about these five before, but there’s one principle not on Patanjali’s list that has grabbed my attention as I transition from “day job” to full-time yoga “job.”
It’s dhriti, which means steadfastness. This is the principle of “overcoming non-perseverance, fear, indecision, inconstancy and changeableness” as translated by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami in Yoga’s Forgotten Foundation.
Every time you’ve procrastinated, slacked off or changed your mind after you’ve committed is, technically, in opposition of dhriti. Dhriti favors staying the course, consistently keeping your promises and persevering through difficult situations.
On the yoga mat this looks like:
- Breathing through difficult postures
- Showing up to practice when you don’t want to
- Being present in your body
Off the mat this looks like:
- Honoring promises you’ve made to others
- Working steadily through situations you’d rather avoid
- Opening your heart to speak your truth even when it wants to close
But here is one aspect of dhriti that makes me pause: the idea that one should “not let opposition or fear of failure result in changing strategies.”
On the surface, agreed. If we changed how we acted according to every fear, we wouldn’t have public speakers, astronauts and parents. I’ll bet that some of your proudest moments are now fond memories because of your willingness to be steadfast through fear.
The downside to perseverance
But there’s another side to this coin, and that’s when the fear of failure or the opposition is distinctly harmful to yourself and others.
Showing up day after day in a job or relationship that makes you miserable, but one you fear to leave because of comfort or security in money or love, is not steadfastness. It is blindness.
Blindness is doing the difficult yoga pose before your body can handle it. It’s staying in an unhealthy relationship because you don’t want to be alone.
In contrast, changing your major or your career halfway through your studies or life is not giving up on dhriti, but honoring that a changing strategy is exactly what you need to come into alignment with yourself.
What is perseverance but a staying of the course of your life in a way that honors all of your gifts — even the things that seem disjointed or the things others tell you will never make you money or bring you success.
Because you know what that is? That’s someone else’s fear talking.
Try it: Seated Twist Variation
When you feel as if you’re impossibly pulled in many different directions, realize that all of those directions start from your true center. Limber up your spine and get ready to stay the course with this variation on a traditional seated twist with added hip opener.
- Sit on your mat with your feet planted on the floor in front of you. Then, drop both of your knees over to the left. Nestle your right knee into the arch of your left foot.
- Adjust so that both your hip points are as level as possible. Keep your right foot closer to the hip for less of a hip stretch.
- Place your right hand on your left knee and your left hand behind you, inner elbow facing away from you. Inhale and lengthen your spine, lifting from your abdomen. Exhale and gently twist to the left, focusing the attention of the twist on your mid to upper spine.
- Stay for six deep breaths, then release on an exhale. Bring your knees back up to center and pause for a breath before practicing on the other side.