If you’ve been practicing yoga for a while, you probably already know that yoga is more than just asana (the postures), and more of a holistic philosophy and lifestyle way of being. And if this is the first time you’re hearing of this, no problem! You’re in the right place.
In the West, we tend to think of yoga only as asana (the postures). Because that’s what’s been packaged and sold to us through capitalism. Hey, I’m just as guilty as the next yoga teacher of this, considering my Instagram is mostly photos or videos of asana. So, I get it. The movements, the shapes, the body- that’s what gets the classes, retreats, and teacher trainings to sell.
While the main focus of yoga here in the West is on what we can do with our bodies, the truth is that yoga is actually a practice that is made up of 8 Limbs. And asana (the postures) are only one of those eight limbs. That means there’s a lot of other pieces to the pie that are often ignored.
This post will outline what the 8 Limbs of yoga are, and share why it’s important to practice non-judgment as a yoga teacher and yoga student. My hope is that you walk away from reading this with a better understanding of yoga beyond only the yoga poses. And that you’re able to implement non-judgment in your daily life, as well.
Why Practicing Non Judgment In Yoga Is So Important
The 8 Limbs Of Yoga
Welcome to a brief crash course on the 8 Limbs of Yoga. For more on yoga philosophy, and how you can apply it to your daily life, make sure to register for my 100 hour continued education course. Some of my favorite lectures there are rooted in yogic philosophy. And the practical applications of these 8 Limbs in the modern world.
Yama is a Sanskrit word meaning restraints or control. This first limb is also known as the moral disciples, or vows, that were encouraged to follow as yogis.
Niyama is a Sanskrit word meaning positive duties, or observances. This second limb is composed of different practices that we’re meant to adhere to to enhance our spiritual existence through a healthy lifestyle.
Asana is a Sanskrit word meaning posture. In this case, we’re specifically talking about yoga postures- or all those pretzely movements you see in a yoga class.
Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that can actually be dissected into two words: prana and yama. Prana means life force. And yama means control. In other words, pranayama as a whole means breath control, or breathing techniques.
Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word meaning the withdrawal of senses. This is thought to be vital to achieve prior to advancing to the final two limbs.
Dharana is a Sanskrit word meaning focused concentration. This is, of course, something that can be practiced on and off of the mat.
Dhyana is a Sanskrit word meaning enlightenment or bliss. Other times, this word is more loosely translated to mean “meditation,” as this seems more accessible to people in the modern world.
Why It’s Important To Practice Non Judgment in Yoga
As you can see from the outlined 8 Limbs above, yoga is made up of so much more than all the fun and funky poses that we do with our bodies.
In truth, it really doesn’t matter if you can stand on your hands. Or tickle your head with your toes if you’re not practicing social or moral codes of ethics. It doesn’t matter how many Chaturangas you can do, or if you can fold completely in half- if you’re doing so without controlled breath.
The practice of non judgment goes hand in hand with non attachment. And is something that must be practiced overtime in order to improve. Similar to your asana practice, if you stop practicing, then you might forget how to do it. Or it might not be accessible at all anymore. This is why yoga is a way of life.
Non Judgment For Yoga Teachers
First, let’s talk about how yoga teachers can be a little less judgmental in leading such an important experience for people. Look, yoga teachers are human. And we sure as hell aren’t perfect. But it is our job to practice what we preach both on and off the mat. Chances are, we can all afford to be a little better in the non-judgment department.
Non Judgment Of Student’s Bodies
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone into a yoga class with my wife (who’s very thin), and had teachers verbally make assumptions about her physical capability before seeing her actually practice at all. It’s funny, because my wife is extremely inflexible, and doesn’t have a lot of strength. She really struggles in yoga, and probably only goes to 3 – 5 classes a year.
The point is that it’s important to withhold judgment about your student’s bodies, especially before you’ve seen them move. My mom goes to classes with me, and she’s a fully gray-haired 62-year-old woman. People assume she’s all frail and weak, when the truth is she’s stronger than most people in the room.
The size or age of someone’s body doesn’t tell you what their body is capable of. Stay curious.
Non Judgment Of Student’s Abilities
Just because someone tells you they go to yoga every single day, doesn’t mean that what they’re able to do matches the assumption in your mind. Number of classes, or numbers of years practicing has such a wide variety in means when it comes to the physical ability of your students.
A skilled teacher knows how to change up an entire sequence on the spot, how to teach to the midline, and how to modify every single posture in their sequence if needed. And if you don’t, then trust me when I say you need to take my 100 hour course.
Non Judgment Of Self As A Teacher
Of course our students are our main focus when we have our teaching hat on. But it’s also really important to remember to withhold judgment of self as a teacher. I can’t tell you how many times I get questions on my weekly yoga Q&A about how to combat imposter syndrome. It’s all too common in the yoga teaching industry, I swear.
If you’re judging the heck out of yourself, then you’re not doing any favors for your self esteem. And when you lose confidence, imposter syndrome creeps right in. Work on reducing judgment of self, and even working toward self love, in order to face these feelings of being an imposter.
Non Judgment For Yoga Students
Okay, now that we’ve tackled yoga teachers, let’s talk about how we can reduce judgment as yoga students. Let us not forget that yoga teachers are also yoga students, so don’t think your job is done just yet just because we’re in the student section.
Non Judgment Of Those Around You
Trust me, I get that it can be challenging not to take in everyone around you when you’re crammed into a packed class. If you find yourself comparing yourself to those around you, or focusing more on the people next to you, or in front of you, than thinking about what your own breath and body are doing- that’s a sign you need to take your foot off the gas pedal of judgment.
Do your best to stay in your own body, and your own experience when you practice yoga. Yes, even in a crowded class. If you’re struggling to do so, try to practice the sequence with your eyes closed as much as you can, or as much as is comfortable for you.
Non Judgment Of The Space
The space where you practice sets the tone of the experience. It can be easy to judge the space you walk into, in both positive and negative ways. Non judgment is really about remaining as neutral as possible. So, notice when you shift out of neutral as you enter the yoga space, and do your best to get back to that place of stoicism in order to practice with ease.
Non Judgment Of Self When Practicing
Yoga asana teaches us so much about ourselves, doesn’t it? It shows us how we respond when we’re unforgettable, it teaches us how to breathe through difficulties, and it reveals the way we react when we fall out of balance (just to name a few of the benefits).
As we learn about ourselves, it can also be really easy to judge ourselves along the way. Do your best to notice your inner dialogue as you move and breathe on the mat. Notice how you’re speaking to yourself when you’re following the class with ease, as well as how you talk to yourself when you’re struggling in the sequence.
From this place of observation, you’re able to shift the thoughts towards neutral when you’re practicing non judgment. You’re allowing yourself to be, without comparing yourself to those around you, or even comparing yourself to YOU at another point in the class.
Non judgment is a lifelong practice, and one that is so important for our mental, physical, and spiritual well being. My hope for you is that by starting this practice first on your mat, you’ll be able to carry it with you into the rest of your day, as well.