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Asteya is one of Patanjali’s yamas or codes of ethics.  Asteya’s literal translation is non-stealing.  Since most of us have that part down by now, I hope, (and because like any philosophical or religious text, it’s important to delve deeper), how can this be investigated more deeply, how can it provide more meaning?

For me, it’s taking what I need, but no more.  One can “steal” a pose in yoga by pushing into it physically, without a sense of peacefulness and/or proper alignment.  This is often a self-limiting practice because you get hurt pretty quickly this way.  So, yes, finding asteya in our poses is about finding the balance between challenging yourself and not losing track of what you need to support yourself.  For some of us, that means the dreaded “backing off a bit”.  Three months ago, I went to an equinox celebration with a slight twinge in my back from overdoing it in a heated yoga class the day before.  The practice was to perform 108 surya namaskars, a wonderful challenge for even seasoned yogis.  But did I stop when the twinge became pain?  No.  I was with a friend an hour away, we’d driven together, and I distracted myself with these as excuses from the truth, which is that I just didn’t want to “quit”.  I wanted to do 108 sun salutations and to be able to say I did it.  It took me about 3 weeks to really recover; it was a small muscle pull deep in my middle back muscles.  A decade or two older and who knows what kind of damage I’d have done.  Hopefully this time the lesson sticks with me.

Beyond the risk of injury though, stealing a yoga pose is stealing from yourself the mental and emotional benefits of your yoga practice, which for many of us becomes more and more the purpose of the practice, and the reason we return to our mats each time.  Losing the mental balance and sense of ease of a balanced yoga practice is a very steep price for satisfying our egos, for being able to say we did something.

How do we find this balance of challenging ourselves the right amount in asana practice?  I think it has to do with really connecting with the feeling within your body as you practice, and being able to separate the mind’s view and the body’s feeling from one another.  And then, to have the fortitude and respect for yourself to make a judicious choice.  Possibly, we can find balance when making other life choices; balancing trying new things and taking on challenges while maintaining practices that support us on an even keel.

Asana focus: balance stability (hugging into the midline) with extension and expansion.

Backbends including salambasana, ustrasana and urdhva dhanurasana coming from stable legs for foundation and extension through the sternum, curling from a place of lengthening out first, and being sensitive to how the lower back and shoulders feel in the poses.

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About a year ago, I went from teaching yoga just to my beloved in our tiny kitchen to teaching a public class.  The first week no one came, it was a new class on the schedule, and at an odd time.  The next weeks I’d have a student or two or three, often my friends coming to support me.  I went on a two month business trip and canceled the class.  A few months later, at the well-placed encouragement and urging of my beloved, I started teaching again, creating a Saturday late morning class, free to all, at the Hacker Dojo in Mountain View.  The Dojo is a techie community center, an open space for folks to learn and create, to work on startups and connect with others in the tech community (and it had never had yoga or anything like it).  It’s an open, airy space though very much not a traditional studio: we move furniture, sweep and mop the floor before we start, and then move it all back after we finish.  Several months in, we have a very steady core group (and brand new yoga straps and blocks for all).  My original purpose in creating Yoga Hacks was to gain experience teaching, and to get comfortable teaching.  It has been awesome to offer yoga to the Hacker Dojo community, a group of techies and engineers like me, and who are my local community.

Now, as I see my teaching improving and my confidence and comfort teaching increasing, it’s time to expand: I’m transforming the class to be donation-based, and I’m giving the proceeds to charity.  I’m committing to continuing the class into October, which will be a year.  I’m excited about this next chapter and have picked our first charity: http://www.worldreader.org/, which is a non-profit bringing digital books and e-readers to remote villages in developing countries, including some in sub-Saharan Africa.  I can’t wait to see what we can do for this group; it’s so rewarding to do something I love to raise money that helps a worthy cause.

I choose to teach yoga because I want to share what has brought me so much joy and fulfillment.  I almost feel as if having been given this gift, that I have an obligation to others to share the gift.  Here’s just a bit of what I’ve gained from my yoga practice:

being more comfortable in my own skin
a sense of accomplishment
patience and steadiness
strong reminder of the benefits of discipline
physically feeling better; literally feeling healthier
connectedness with others
refined my philosophy: start from love
set of tools for tough times

If I can open the door for one person’s life to change as mine has, then I’ve achieved my goal. I have learned more about yoga through learning to teach it, and more about myself through the practice of teaching. My eventual goal is to teach regularly to an under-served community, and to teach a more advanced weekly studio class to stay connected with the yoga community and keep my teaching at the highest levels.

today, the online portion of my yoga journey begins.  thanks for coming with me.

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