Re-setting my Practice with the Yamas & Niyamas

Vicky graduated from our 2021-22 Yoga Teacher Training Program, and wrote this blog post as one assignment. Vicky was inspired by learning about the yamas and niyamas, two of the eight limbs that come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

For many years, even pre-covid, I have been feeling like the world needs a reset.  While I am not a cynic, we seem to be living in a selfish, over-indulgent, ignorant, unhappy world.  I am not lumping EVERYONE into this mix but unfortunately, the few cloud it for the many.  And I am guilty of participating in a few of these on an occasion or two.  While discouraging, I am very much an optimist which is why I think there is hope.  I have always been drawn to the concept of a ‘moral code’ to live by.  I no longer practice religion but I still remember church and Sunday School and learning about the 10 commandments.  While most of those commandments should be common sense, it was always good to have them there as a reminder, a reinforcement, for reference.  Now that going to church, being religious and practicing religion is starting to wane, I feel like we could all use a new compass to guide us in living a well-rounded life that serves ourselves and others.  

In comes the 8 limbs of yoga, specifically the first and second limbs, the yamas and niyamas.  I was so intrigued by the 8 limbs of yoga when I heard about them and even more so when I learned about the additional 10 elements of the yamas and niyamas.  I like that there are 2 sides – the yama’s are 5 activities to restrain from – non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess and non-possessiveness – and the niyama’s are 5 activities to participate in – purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender.  As you read the words, they seem very simple and straight-forward, almost black and white.  But when I dove deeper, reading ‘The Yamas & Niyamas – Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice’ book and taking a 6-week course with Shwetha Subramanya at The Branches, there is much more to each that can be applied to our day-to-day lives.  What I am taking away from each are as follows:

Ahimsa – Non-violence: when life is out of balance, it can trigger speaking unkind words or violent outbursts towards others

Satya – Truthfulness: being comfortable with who we truly are allows us to be real/authentic with ourselves and others

Asteya – Non-stealing: all the demands and expectations we place on ourselves robs us of experiences that bring joy and balance to our lives

Brahmacharya – Non-excess: understanding the concept of ‘enough’

Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness: having and enjoying things but not becoming attached, such that are open to all that life has to offer

Saucha – Purity: taking care of ourselves – mind, body and spirit

Santosha – Contentment: being grateful for what we have vs always looking for the next ‘high’

Tapas – Self-discipline: ‘our determined effort’ to evolve into a better version of ourselves

Svadhyaya – Self-study: previous conditioning determines how I perceive the world and our response is based on whether we love, dislike, can’t see or can’t yet accept of ourselves

Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender: recognize that there is a higher power at work in our lives and open our hearts and minds, surrendering to the mystery of that power.

In the hustle of daily life and with the last 2+ year of covid, I think we have simply forgotten how to live a well-rounded life that serves ourselves and others.  There are so many people that could benefit from a refresher, just like I did.  Obviously I and the yamas/niyamas are not going to change the world, but my hope is that by applying these learnings on a daily basis, to myself and my interactions with others, it will start a small movement where others will consider how ‘well-rounded’ their life really is and start exploring the possibilities of what it could look like.

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