The Yamas & the Niyamas: Continuing with Yoga Philosophy

Honey, have you been sure to be kind and honest, lately?

Ya-ma.

There’s some really cheesy yoga humor for you. This is another addition to my yoga teacher training homework. Our assignment involved reading the Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele and completing the following: “Write a short paragraph about how each yama and niyama applied in your own life would look and feel to you.”

The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. They serve as basic tenets to be followed on our path to yoga. While I was skeptical of the philosophy in the Four Agreements, I believe these guidelines to be much more applicable and attainable, no matter your personal beliefs. They are not religious commandments, just means to live more completely. I highly recommend this book to anyone at a crossroads in their life or who may be feeling a little lost. In the following essay, I describe more about why I enjoyed the book and how I found ways to immediately implement it in my life.

When Deborah Adele begins her exploration into the foundation of yogic thought with examples pulled from the Last Holiday and the Karate Kid, I’ll admit, I was a bit skeptical. However, never have I read such a refreshing book, one that forced me to look into myself, analyze my own life, and take the supplied steps to improve it. Journeying through the Yamas and the Niyamas, I noticed the effects they currently have in my life and how a deeper focus on each could improve it.

Ahimsa: Nonviolence. Nonviolence is a large foundation on which we can build the rest of our lives. We can observe ahimsa in many ways, by having courage, stopping powerlessness, and loving ourselves. The feeling of powerlessness described by the author is one I have felt in my own life. Last fall, when my college career was coming to an end, I was madly applying for any and every job I could. However, I kept receiving declines or hearing no news at all. I felt powerless in controlling my future. What would I do with my life? This powerlessness began to engulf my life, I was out of balance: unable to sleep and breaking out all over my face. I lashed out when others tried to help me. I was being violent to myself and others. But, instead of letting the violence continue, I took control of my life once more. I took the courageous approach and applied for law school, something I could care about after a lackluster undergraduate career.

Satya: Truthfulness. I recently started a new relationship. I think whenever we meet someone new, who has the potential of becoming our significant other, we try to present the best version of ourselves. We wrap ourselves as a presentable little gift, like the author mentions. Although this version may be digestible, it’s not always real. However, I felt very comfortable with my new significant other, rather quickly. The real came out a little sooner than typical. The poor guy didn’t get to enjoy my cute little package for long. I didn’t hide honest opnions, and the sweat pants and glasses made an early appearance. However, there is still one area where I fail to completely reveal my truth: political views. Our views aren’t that different, but he has clearly put a lot of thought and study into his standings. I believe this intimidates me, and makes me feel like I shouldn’t voice my opinions as much. I tell him things like, “I’m not sure what I think about that,” or “I need more information before I make a full opinion.” In reality, I am hiding my own truth, this forces me to do some backtracking, when I decide to man up and share my opinion. I hide my opinions as a protection mechanism, so that I can continue to belong in this relationship. Although, if I were to be truthful and honest about my viewpoints, I think it would actually richen our conversation and deepen our connection.

Asteya: Nonstealing. Growing up, clothes shopping was one of my favorite pastimes. I would stalk the stores for finds, head to the fitting room with a mountain of items, and hit the register with what worked out.  I didn’t; need any of these clothes, but I wanted them. I wanted stuff. Recently, I haven’t received the same pleasure from shopping that I used to. I no longer have daddy’s credit card readily available and I just don’t want piles of crap, clothes dangling for months with the tags still attached. This new mindset is probably beneficial for all. I’m no longer stealing from myself. My future self won’t be bogged down with the obligation of sorting or moving all the extra stuff. My future children may be helped, because I’m not throwing my money away. The future of the world may even benefit, because “fast fashion” has been linked to waste and environmental catastrophes. I no longer feel the need to have what others have, I am content. All of that old stuff? I didn’t toss it out, but instead donated it, a bit of reciprocity.

Brahmacharya: Nonexcess. This yama would benefit me the most from in putting in to practice. My friends and family know me as being attentive to what I eat and typically showing high self control. However, I have a bad habit of letting overindulgence get the best of me. Especially when I am either bored or intoxicated (another fault of overindulgence). Eating in excess leaves me feeling guilty, which usually leads me to working out excessively. The stimulation I receive from the overindulgence is short lived, it will not solve my boredom or any other feeling. If I could practice being more mindful of what my body is telling me and the actions I make in response, I could avoid a great deal of excess and live a much more content life.

Aparigraha: Nonpossesiveness. As I mentioned above, I recently started a new relationship. My boyfriend is a med student. I heard rumors that med students spend vast amounts of time in their books, but I really had no idea. From when he wakes up in the morning, until late at night, he is studying books, watching online aids, and making flash cards. The constant studying doesn’t leave much time for me in his schedule, which is totally fine. I am not going to stand in the way of him fulfilling something he has worked so long and hard to accomplish. However, sometimes I begin to feel some expectations of him to spend more time with me and disappointment when it is not possible. Instead, I should practice nonpossesvieness. I do not own him or his time, he is not obligated to give it to me.I need to let go of the idea of possession and enjoy the intimacy that is available to me.

Saucha:Purity. The idea of being pure in the relational sense and allowing things to “be” rather than altering them reminds me of something you see all too often today. In society, whenever we catch a glimpse of a pure and amazing moment, we quickly reach for a phone to snap a picture. Whether it be a sunset or a concert, we aren’t content to enjoy it in the purity of the moment, but instead must try to capture it. However, that moment will never be as pure as it is in that instance. What is an Instagram filter other than an illusion? An alteration of purity? Even if I admonish this practice, I know I still fall victim to it. To truly practice Saucha, I should leave the camera phone behind, recognize the moment for what it is, and enjoy it in its most pure sense.

Santosha: Contentment. I don’t pick favorites. If someone asks me my favorite movie, song, or restaurant, I don’t have an answer. I enjoy several movies, but the one I enjoy the most completely depends on my mood, the time of day, even the season. Maybe I’m afraid of commitment, or maybe I’m really good at Santosha. I am neutral in my choices, so then I don’t default to my favorite. It opens up the opportunity to try things outside of my immediate “likes”, which leads to contentment.

Tapas: Self Discipline. I was a little upset that Tapas has nothing to do with small plates of meats and cheeses, but intrigued by the power the tenet posses. It made me think of the difficult journey I am about to embark on, Law School. Everyone knows that surviving Law School is no easy tasks. There will be hours of studying and preparation, but that is something law students choose to endure in order to come out better people. It is, hopefully, worth the suffering. If I approach it with this mindset of self improvement and discipline, I will certainly make it out alive.

Svadhaya: Self Study. Looking out into the current state of the world, I would say we’re screwed. I see governments, everywhere, in chaos, a planet suffering at the hands of an apathetic persecutor, and millions of innocent people being displaced or killed. If I see the world is screwed, does that make me screwed? Am I projecting a personal turmoil upon all of civilization. No, I don’t think my psyche is in that much distress, but I can still apply Svadhaya to ensure that the self I do project in the world does not add to the chaos.

Ishvara Pranidhara: Surrender. I finished my undergraduate degree in December and am waiting to start Law School in August. I asked several law professors, what I should do from now until the start of school. Should I work in a law firm, study, prepare? Their response: sleep and party. Seems easy enough, to take this time to relax and rest up for the stresses on the horizon. However, I am having a difficult time letting go and allowing myself relaxation. I want to be active and productive, but really the most productive thing to do is surrender, the time for work and study will come soon enough.

Like I said in my introduction, I was skeptical of Deborah and her use of movies and anecdotes in describing such powerful teachings. But, she addresses this in the final “Resource” of the book.

Silly movies, autobiographies of great people, scriptures and teachings of all religions, and encounters of an ordinary day all have something to say to us.

When we open our eyes and see everything as an opportunity to explore and to learn, nothing becomes insignificant in its ability to teach us and to grow us.

The Yamas and the Niyamas has certainly opened my eyes and forced me to think and ponder and grow in order to live the most content life.

As I mentioned, the Yamas and Niyamas are only the first two steps to yoga. Patanjali continues the path to yoga with six other practical limbs: Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Pratyahara (sense withdrawal), Dharana (cocnetration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (contemplation). However, with these first two, we build a strong foundation for our yoga practice.

What do you think of the Yamas and Niyamas? Can you find ways to implement them in your own life? Let me know, below.

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