“Yama,” the first limb of the eightfold path of yoga, is sometimes translated as “restraint.” (8 Limbs Owner/Director Anne Phyfe Palmer wrote about her relationship with Yama in her May and June blogs.) This first limb essentially shares what skillful restraint looks like in practice. And by practice in this context, I mean life – the eightfold path of yoga is ultimately a way of life.

Something I’ve learned in life’s practice is that showing restraint (this might look like unhooking limiting patterns, foregoing instant gratification, etc.) is easier when we’re not simply moving away from something, but when we also move towards that which is uplifting (such as inspiring habits, enduring benefits that come with delayed gratification, etc.)

Part of my learning comes from direct experience – I’ve had enough human-humbling moments to understand that embodying restraint is not as easy as conceptualizing it. However, thanks to advances in neuroscience* I’ve also learned how deliberating balancing negatives with positives does make it easier to skillfully embody restraint.

Below is a brain-friendly way to support bringing Yama to life enlisting one of my favorite resources, kind attention. Kindness and compassion have also been shown to be effective tools in moving towards healthful habits.**

Invoking a Field of Kind Attention

This can be done as a meditation and/or reflective journaling exercise.

  • Settle into a relaxed posture. Deepen or slow breath as is helpful. Perhaps place a hand or hands over heart, feeling into sensations of gentle warmth.
  • Bring to mind an experience of receiving kind attention, big or small (someone showed up for you in a difficult time, someone smiled at you when you walked into a room, etc.) What does your body feel like when you hold the experience in awareness? Take a moment to bathe in the generosity offered, tuning into sensations and micro-sensations.
  • Now bring to mind a way in which you offered someone kind attention, again big or small. Linger in the experience of offering kindness. What do you notice in body? How do you feel?
  • Expand awareness to include knowing the person who offered you kind attention has been offered kind attention themselves, and that this may have helped them be generous with you. Include in awareness how when you share kind attention you may help people skillfully show up. Feel into the ripple effect. Savor your presence in this expansive and interconnected field of kind attention. What do you notice?
  • Finally, reflect on the ways being a part of such a field helps you (or could help you) demonstrate beneficial restraint, to show up in both challenging and joyful moments with grace.
  • Take a few cleansing breaths to kindly transition out of this practice. If you had engaged warm touch take a moment to reconnect with sensations of gentle pressure.

What are some ways you move towards what you do want? How has kind attention helped you show up? I always love to hear from folks, you can reach me at ashley@8limbsyoga.com.

Posted by: Ashley Dahl, MSW, 8 Limbs Leadership Coach


* If you’d like to learn more about the underlying neuroscience and other brain-friendly practices, check out Hardwiring Happiness by Dr. Rick Hanson.

** Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Dr. Kristin Neff highlights, among other things, research-backed benefits of kind attention.

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