It’s back to school for the kiddos and it back to school for the yogis! This month we are taking an in-depth look at a little yoga philosophy. Know that these are not requirements to be a yogi, but just by being a yogi you’re probably already practicing most of these in your own way. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the foundation for traditional and modern yoga, we are given an eight-fold path that, as a daily practice, allows us to look beyond the daily fluctuations of the world around us and take a glimpse of the bigger picture. A more poetic way of saying it is to say that following this path sets our spirits and minds free to bloom into prosperity and contentment.
The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two of eight limbs in traditional Yoga. They act as a code of conduct with guidelines and practices to help us be the best version of ourselves. If you look closely, they share many of the same values with cultures, religions, organizations and people all around the world. This makes yoga not only appealing and applicable to so many people, but it’s almost second nature for so many of us. The Yamas are the self-controls in relation to our outer world or the “do not’s,” where the Niyamas are the self-controls for the inner world, or the “do’s.” Let’s look closer shall we?!
Ahimsa: Don’t Hurt Anyone- This one is pretty straight forward. While we know that sometimes pain and heartache are inevitable parts of this beautifully intricate life, to purposefully or mindlessly hurt someone, or yourself for that matter, zaps the love right out of you. Ahimsa is a reminder that all of our actions have an equal and opposite reaction. Even when our actions can have an emotional outcome, say you have to fire someone or end a relationship, as long as you’re moving from a place of love and honesty, the universe has your back.
Satya: Don’t Lie- Again, pretty self-explanatory. Being honest, whether it hurts your ego or someone’s feeling, is an essential part of Yoga. If our end goal is to peer through the illusion of our lives in search of reality, spewing lies and dishonesty does nothing but hinder us on our quest for the ultimate truth. This one is especially potent when we apply it to how we think about and talk to ourselves. Living in ignorance, avoiding the truth with it’s many facets, or convincing yourself of something that just isn’t real has just as much of a toxic effect on your psyche as lying to someone else. The truth can hurt, but the truth sets us free.
Asteya: Don’t Steal- Probably the most straightforward of them all. Claiming ownership of something that isn’t yours only creates illusion. Again, our goal here is to shed those layers of Maya and find the truth in it all. Give credit where credit is due.
Brahmacharya: Don’t Overindulge- Now this one gets tricky. For some yogis its strict orders to live a life of monastic celibacy, resisting the urge to indulge in any form of pleasure, physical or emotional. While that’s an incredibly dedicated endeavor, it doesn’t seem practical, much less realistic. For most yogis it’s a reminder to make your interactions, relations and indulgences meaningful and mindful. Casual sex, glutinous eating, and other forms of excessive self-indulgence all draw vital energy away from our mind and body. This is very much in the vein of “less is more” in that when we let delicacies and indulges be sporadic and special, they hold so much more meaning.
Aparigraha: Don’t Be Greedy- This is another one that has different meanings for different types of yogis. For some, it’s a call to renounce all worldly possessions living the most basic and simple of lifestyles free from attachment and desire. For the majority of us, aparigraha is a reminder that what we own, our house, our car, our exotic vacations and our clothes, don’t define us. Instead, we must rely on the quality of our character, mental fortitude and positive interactions with the world around us to define the purity and sincerity of our hearts and minds. No physical thing nor any amount of money can fill in a hole where honesty, self-esteem or genuine happiness should live.
Saucha: Be Pure- For yogis, cleanliness is absolutely a necessity. Clean homes, clean bodies, clean minds. When we skimp on self-care we potentially negate all the hard work we do on our mats and in our lives to become stronger and healthier. Taking the time to eat clean, healthy food is also fundamental to long-term success as a yogi. You don’t have to forgo every chocolate chip cookie for some sugar-free, carb-free, fun-free kale chip (in fact those ‘healthy’ substitutions can wreak havoc on your body, but that’s an entirely different blog post). But do think about this: your body is constantly working to regenerate and rebuild the many types of tissues after normal wear and tear as well as acute injuries. Some have a faster turnover rate, think skin or nails, while some take a fairly long time to regenerate, think tendons and ligaments. But both require a constant supply of nutrients, fats, proteins and water to rebuild and repair effectively. The better your building blocks, the stronger your end product. We don’t build houses out of cheap plastic, so why would you try to rebuild your body with low grade, toxic food? You are absolutely worth the time and energy to build your best body.
Santosha: Be Grateful- Contentment is the name of the game here and there’s no better way to live with a full heart than to make gratitude a daily, if not constant practice. Think about this: we are on a giant rock with a molten lava center, hurtling through space at about a million miles per hour, circling a giant ball of burning gasses, all the while having an atmosphere that miraculously supports our ability to survive. That is reason enough to be grateful as our lives really do seem like a gift. Beyond that, santosha is a deep sense of gratitude for all of life’s many facets as each success, each failure, each person that comes and goes from our lives, plays a role in shaping us into the divine creatures that we are. In order to love yourself completely, we cannot hate the experiences that have shaped us. Find gratitude in the little things and watch your life bloom into its fullest potential.
Tapas: Be Disciplined- Finding a routine and sticking to it does wonders for calming the fluctuations in our minds. Resisting the urge to hit snooze just one more time, fall prey to unhealthy cravings, or skip your practice because you’re “just not feeling it” proves your dedication to the greater good and, most importantly, yourself. K. Pattabhi Jois tells us “Do the practice and all is coming.” Even if you’re in a rut, or you’re busy, or you’re anxious, or you’re tired, there’s a yoga practice for you and on the other side of that practice is a deeper connection to the best version of yourself. I can’t say it enough, you are worth the effort to build the best you.
Svadhyaya: Be Self-Aware-This is a practice of moving beyond your comfort zone and building experiences and memories that shape us into even better, more vibrant versions of our self. Using the world around us as a mirror, we can look deeper inside to discover our habits and patterns, good and bad, and decipher whether or not they serve our highest good. When we dive deeper into the magical world inside of ourselves, we are set free from the distractions, the fear, the attachment, the suffering and the anxiety. Our natural tendency is to shy away from and hide the parts of ourselves that we like the least, but what yoga teaches us is that the only way out of a problem is to go through the work. Ignoring your problems only delays the onset of the pain. When you accept your shortcomings and monitor your self, you take the power away from other people to use you against you. If you find space for all of your pieces, you build yourself so much stronger.
Ishvara Pranidhana: Be Humble- Like most of these, this has different meaning for different yogis. For some, it’s a surrender to a higher power; to god, to the universe, to the natural rhythm of the world. For others, it’s a reminder that there will always be someone bigger, smarter, richer, and stronger than you. Surrender seems like an act of defeat but in a world with no shortage of conflicting egos and big ideas, surrendering is very often exactly what our bodies, our minds and our spirits are craving. Let go of the b.s. and soak in what’s truly important in life. To accept your place and role in this world and embody the story you were put here to tell, is to surrender to the greater good of the universe. We aren’t meant to have all the answers. We weren’t meant to have control over every aspect of our lives. The chaos, the unexplainable, the mystery of it all enrich our lives and ultimately lead us on a deeper path of self-discovery.
As you can tell, so many of these are woven into each other and because of that these become a part of your daily life. This is the part of yoga that truly changes us inside to set the foundation for personal and spiritual success.
Here’s a fabulous article and there are all kinds of books about the Yamas and Niyamas. I know it’s a lot to take in all at once so take it one at a time. See how it relates to your practice and your life and find the courage to take the steps necessary to be the best you!
Until next time,