Yoga Philosophy 101: How Yoga Philosophy Can Revolutionize Your Approach to Self-Care

There's a lot we can learn from the classic yogic texts about nourishing and honoring ourselves in our everyday lives.
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There's a lot we can learn from the classic yogic texts about nourishing and honoring ourselves in our everyday lives.
Self-Care, Photoshoot, Laster

Yoga Journal co-founder Judith Hanson Lasater, PhD, and her daughter, Lizzie Lasater, have partnered with YJ to bring you a six-week interactive online course on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Through study of this fundamental text, the Lasaters, with more than 50 years of combined teaching experience, will support you in deepening your practice and broadening your understanding of yoga. Sign up now for a transformative journey to learn, practice, and live the sutra.

In our always-busy lives, it’s easy to prioritize everything else before ourselves. Even for the most devoted yogis, the flurry of work deadlines, social commitments and family obligations can make it difficult to find a moment of stillness to simply rest and nourish ourselves.

When it comes to self-care, yoga philosophy offers an unlikely source of inspiration. Although self-care is a term that’s only recently become popular, the early yogis explore these ideas in the language of “preventing suffering.” And according to international yoga teacher Lizzie Lasater, there’s a lot we can learn from the classic yogic texts about nourishing and honoring ourselves in our everyday lives.

Here, Lasater explains how the wisdom of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra can help you practice better self-care.

Yoga Journal:What does Patanjali have to teach us about the idea of self-care?
Lizzie Lasater: In chapter 2, verse 16 of the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes, heyam dukham anagatam. The translation is, “the suffering that is to come can be avoided.”

For me, self-care is preventative medicine. It’s this idea that living a long and healthy life is a proactive process, not just taking care of ourselves when we’re sick. This sutra speaks to the idea that suffering in all senses -- physical, emotional and psychological -- can actively be prevented by the choices we make today. So the suffering we experience now is to some extent made up of the choices we’ve made in the past.

This is really the most hopeful of all the 196 verses in Patanjali’s yoga sutra because it’s saying that there is a way out.

YJ:This sutra seems to center around the idea of karma. Is Patanjali saying that even the smallest actions play a role in determining our future?
LL: Exactly, and the sutra is asking us to become more and more aware of the choices we’re making in every moment.

The hopefulness of this sutra is the very pointed idea that it’s about choices. Suffering can be avoided by the choices I make today, but that doesn’t mean that things are hopeless if I made bad choices yesterday. It has a clean slate feeling to it. It’s one breath at a time. It’s not about the fact that I didn’t practice yoga yesterday or that I ate too much pizza, it’s about the choices I make right now.

For example, I sometimes feel hopeless about our collective future -- the planet, politics, global warming, terrorism, to name a few dark examples. But the this sutra inspires me to think about what I can do as an individual, such as voting with my dollar. This sutra reminds me that I am actively co-creating the future I want for the planet through the small choices I make today -- the things I buy, the businesses I support, and the choices I make about things like energy consumption.

YJ: What’s your own personal idea of self-care?
LL: That’s really what Restorative yoga is for me. Self-care is a little bit of an abstract concept, and in my opinion, it doesn’t mean not eating gluten or getting a massage. In my own life, self-care is as concrete and simple as taking 20 minutes to lie on the floor and do Supta Baddha Konasana in the afternoon.

YJ:What can we do at the moment that we recognize that we’ve gotten caught up in stress or have gotten off track in some way?
LL: With self-care, it’s not the “doing” that’s hard, it’s the remembering. Going for a walk, doing a Restorative pose, taking a bath -- these things aren’t hard in and of themselves. What can be difficult is the shift in our state of consciousness away from the high-strung distraction of our daily lives.

What meditation teaches us is what I like to call the “boomerang moment.” In my own practice, I’m really celebrating that moment when the boomerang turns around and comes back. It goes out and out as I get distracted, and then boom, I remember that I’m sitting here and I come back to the breath. The victory is that turn. The amount of time I spend consciously breathing isn’t really the skill I’m building in meditation; I’m working on the skill of coming back to awareness when I lose track. It’s that awareness of: What am I choosing right now? What’s important right now? What suffering am I preventing in the future?

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity