“You should do yoga”

Living Yoga Svadhyaya

sarah jamieson yoga

Yoga is awesome. I love it. It would be hard to capture all of the positive ways that yoga has impacted my life. Come to think of it, it would be hard to find an aspect of my life that isn’t better as a result of practicing yoga. And, the benefits of my practice continue to unfold. Yoga just seems to get more awesome with time.

And there is science to back that up: I recently read a paper written by my friend and fellow yoga teacher, Lindsay Reoch, in which she mentions a study that “compared experienced yoga practitioners (5 years or more experience) with beginner practitioners (1-5 years experience). [The researchers] found that the experienced practitioners scored significantly higher on mindfulness levels and significantly lower on stress levels than the beginner practitioners, suggesting that the longer one practices yoga, the more benefits will be received.”

A life-changing practice that gets better with time. What to do I do with that?

Hmmm. How about tell everyone I know, “You should do yoga!”

Yoga and your family

It can be frustrating for devoted yoga practitioners when our loved ones are not interested in practicing yoga. We want to share the wealth of the practice; we want our loved ones to feel the ways the practice has helped us to feel. But it often doesn’t go well when we try to convince other people to do yoga. In a course I took with Judith Lasater, she counselled everyone in the room: “Avoid at all costs looking at your loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga.”

But that is not always easy to do when the lack of yoga is so obvious: the back pain, the inflexibility, the anxiety, the stress levels, the chronic pain, the self-criticism, the muscular imbalance, the patterns of compensation, the shallow chest breathing, the catastrophic thinking, the insomnia, and the low levels of body awareness.

How can I see the people I love struggling in these ways without trying to share with them the tools that have helped me?

Be the change

The wisdom of Gandhi does not need rephrasing: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

There is no evangelical component to the practice of yoga. Nowhere in the teachings (that I am aware of, at least) does it say, “Encourage other people to do yoga.” Yoga is about your relationship with yourself, and about how you conduct yourself in the world around you. Classically, yoga was only taught to people who sought to learn it.

I experienced this style of teaching when I was in India studying with Yogi Vishvketu. There were times where he would only speak if people asked him questions. He would not prepare what to teach us in advance or proceed to lecture for a predefined amount of time. He simply spoke about things when people asked about them. If no one asked any questions – if no one asked to learn – he would not teach.

If your loved ones don’t want to do yoga, it is an opportunity for you to do yoga. Ask yourself: what is going on for you when you want other people to do yoga? For me, it is often a combination of love, fear, and frustration.

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I think it would also be fair to say that most of us spend a fair bit of time thinking about how other people should change and less time exploring the possibility of changing ourselves. Instead of pushing someone else to do yoga, my yoga practice is about honouring and attending to the emotions that are inspiring me to push.

I should do yoga

I get excited about yoga. I believe the practice has the ability to bring profound levels of peace and well-being to the world. But I also recognize that there is an absence of yoga in needing other people to do yoga.

So, instead of trying to sell people on the benefits of yoga, I turn to the words of Gandhi. I turn inward, and I do my own work. I try not to ramble with excitement when people ask me about yoga. I try to listen, to ask them questions, and to understand what they are seeking. I remind myself that everyone needs to find their own way, and that by practicing yoga myself, I learn to give them the space to do so.

In addition to this work, I do one more important thing for myself: I make sure I have some good friends who love yoga, because every so often I need to gush about how wonderful it is.

Sarah Jamieson

Photo Credit: Chris Yakimov


A Yogis’ Guide to Giving

Compassion Living Yoga

Sarah Jamieson Yoga

Yoga is a practice of awareness. It is about noticing, observing, and exploring. It is a commitment to being curious about yourself and the people and world around you. And, then using the awareness you cultivate to make intentional choices about how you move through this world.

Yoga is not about things being wrong or right, good or bad or doing things because someone told to do them. Yoga is about learning to act in the service of well-being – our own well-being and the well-being of other people and our planet.

In the midst of the commercialism and extravagance of the coming holiday season, it might be tempting for us yogis to judge some of the things others are doing to celebrate the holiday season as wrong or bad – or even “un-yogic”.

Imagine, for example, that you have an Aunt who loves the Christmas holidays and seems to get an incredible amount of joy from having lavishly wrapped presents under her Christmas tree and from engaging in an extravagant gift exchange with her family and close friends.

In your infinite spiritual wisdom, you may find yourself judging this Aunt for using wrapping paper without concern for the environment and for buying into the “mindless trap of consumerism” during the holiday season. Maybe you even make the judgement that the sense of joy she seems to find in fancy gifts is superficial and based in disillusionment.

Maybe there is some truth to your judgements. But, maybe cultivating a deeper understanding of your own tendency to judge is in greater service of your well-being than endeavouring to change the behaviour of your Aunt. My teacher Judith Lasater once told us to avoid, at all costs, looking at our loved ones and seeing a lack of yoga. She put it simply: “When we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”

As we look out into the world around us, it is easy to focus on how things could be better if other people changed. If everyone else refused to eat factory farmed meat, the impact on the well-being of animals would be incredible. If everyone was more mindful about their consumption of plastics, the impact on the health of our planet and the people and animals living on it would be staggering. If everyone practiced yoga and meditation, the world would be a more peaceful place. And, if no one used wrapping paper, a significant number of trees would not have to be cut down.

Practicing yoga is a source of profound joy for many people. And, it makes sense that as yogis we look at the amount of suffering in the world and we want everyone to do yoga. We want everyone to deepen their level of self-awareness and begin intentionally making choices that support our collective well-being. But again, because it is worth repeating, “when we have the belief that someone else should do something, we are lost.”

Gandhi famously said: “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” This teaching is an important one to reconnect with when you find yourself judging others for unnecessary (and perhaps harmful) extravagance, and when you feel like you so clearly see that absence of yoga in another person. Remind yourself that Gandhi does not ask us to change other people; he asks us to be the change.

At the heart of the practice of yoga – and Gandhi’s quote, is the wisdom that change comes from within. I don’t change the world by pushing out into it. I change the world by changing what other people see when they look at it.

This holiday season let your greatest gift be your spirit. Remember that you are what other people see when they look at the world, and choose to radiate love, acceptance and an empathetic understanding of being human.

Best wishes this holiday season.



Fierceness, Courage and Faith

Ahimsa Living Yoga Love Yoga


Photo Credit: Jump for Love

I love exploring and analyzing words, but love is a word with such depth and complexity that it seems beyond the grasp of other words; such a vast range of experiences, actions, and feelings are captured by the word love.

Love is a common theme in yoga classes around Valentine’s Day, but I had no plans to bring it into my classes until I went to a class with Marita Wieser at Sol Yoga and she offered:

What the Hallmark cards don’t often tell us is that deep love requires much fierceness, courage and faith.

And, with those words a passion for speaking about the practice of love was stirred.

Valentine’s Day tends to be associated with what I describe as drunk love. An experience of love that is largely about feeling loved, feeling fabulous, and finding it hard not to smile; usually a deep, consuming, romantic love characterized by a sometimes-reckless indulgence in passion and impulsivity. In a nutshell, the love of fairy tales and Hollywood films.

But, Marita’s words shifted my Valentine’s Day focus to the love of action. The kind of love that isn’t necessarily a reflection of my immediate feelings, but rather a reflection of my deep commitment to cultivate love in my heart, in my relationships, and in the world around me.

Mahatma Gandhi’s famous quote, “You must be the change you want to see in the world,” strikes at the heart of this practice of love. We won’t find more love, compassion or peace in this world unless we first cultivate these qualities within our self. And then, move forward with the courage and determination to act accordingly towards others.

In learning to practice love, to move with love, consider this question: Are my thoughts, words and actions fostering love, compassion and acceptance for myself and for those around me?