How to use the Yamas and Niyamas as Guides to a meaningful life.
The Yamas and Niyamas are not unlike the 10 commandments in that they shape out the rules, or rather the guides under which yogis shape out their lives and actions. Moving beyond the mat as it has become known is the notion of moving further into yogic study away from the purely physical aspects as it has become known in the west. Yoga is a complex and freeing philosophy that not only allows the practitioner to understand his meaning in the grandeur of the world but gifts him a truly rich and peaceful life the likes of which have become a rarity in our modern fast-paced lifestyles.
When one begins to ponder on the first 2 limbs in Patanjali's 8 limbed structure it must be made clear that the guides are just that – guides. Following them blindly using only the will of your mind might work for some time but will exhaust you in the long run. For their benefits to be exposed one must contemplate the whys and hows before and during the practice of the Yamas and Niyamas. One must not simply stop eating meat for the purpose of being “spiritual” but understand why it is that it makes him so.
Yoga can be called a great many things but not a mindless following of the rules, it is our duty as yogis to mindfully and fully be aware of our actions and the consequences they bring.
With that in mind let's discuss the Yamas and Niyamas and how we can cultivate them in our daily life.
The Yamas are the five social observances that govern how we interact with others and the world around us. These are:
Ahimsa: non – violence.
It has been said that many principles that follow hang on ahimsa, the practice of not harming any living beings. This Yama encompasses action, thought, or words and teaches us that age-old doctrine of being a decent human being.
Practicing ahimsa: Compassion, self-love, patience, and understanding to oneself and others. Yes, negative thoughts towards yourself can be thought of as harming oneself, which goes directly against the doctrine.
Honesty can be used as a weapon. Patanjali understood this well as he explained in his sutras that we should always strive to be both compassionate and truthful but there will be times where we can only be one or the other and it will be up to us to decide what is the best of course of action.
Practicing Satya: Honesty, loving communication, assertiveness, and giving constructive feedback.
Asteya: non – stealing
This of course goes beyond not robbing a bank or not running credit card schemes, it is not undermining your coworker for the promotion you both want but fairly competing against them.
Practicing Satya: proper time management, cultivating a sense of completeness and self-sufficiency.
Many have taken the idea at face value to mean celibacy but that is only one understanding of it. Even in its direct understanding, it can mean limiting yourself to one partner at a time or simply put not cheating. More than that however brahmacharya can mean not overindulging oneself in matters of food, sex, entertainment, etc. Remember that on our path of trying to live a healthy balanced life the key to much of it is the self-regulation of the ego wanting more and more.
Practice: Being mindful of your desires, intuitive eating, learning to listen to one's body.
Very often we acknowledge that we have a lot of “stuff” accumulating it over years upon years of feeding into the wants of the wandering minds leaving us with more clutter than we know what to do with and taking our mind away from what's truly important.
Aparigraha allows us to try and abstain from accumulating more of that stuff and focusing on what truly matters to us – people, experiences, wonders. We can and will of course still have stuff but learning to detach our sense of ourselves from the accumulation of things we have will go a long way to freeing our mind too.
Practicing aparigraha: non-attachment to possessions and relationships
The Niyamas are five personal observations that are not unlike habits, allowing us to blossom into the kind of people we want to be.
Much like the age-old advice of clean your room or make your bed, this Niyama tells us that before we come to interact with the world we must take care of ourselves first.
Practice: practice hygiene, keep your environment clean and uncluttered, be aware of your thoughts and speech.
Santosha teaches us that in order to truly be happy we have to detach ourselves from the end result. Accept things as they are and try to make the best out of everything
"Accept that which we cannot change, change what we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference."
Practicing Santosha: gratitude, writing your daily pages, remaining calm whether success or failure is upon you.
Tapas translates as heat or fire, and in meaning can be something along the lines of sacrifice or discipline. Fire brings forth transformation. A sort of phoenix look at things, where we burn off some layers and emerge as something new. Tapas is the willingness to do what's necessary to reach the place in your life for which you are striving.
Practicing tapas: determination, self0dicipline, enthusiasm.
This Niyama concerns itself with the pursuit of knowledge in whatever form it comes in. Whether that be lectures or reading or finding your guru. Expanding your knowledge through different means leads you closer to understanding the ancient wisdom and further from accepting it at face value.
Practicing Swadhyaya: meditation, reading scripture, watching lectures, making notes, the desire for the Truth.
Ishwara – Pranidhana: surrender to god
The god within scripture is not one we have grown to know from the mainstream, Ishwara – Pranidhana is about your relationship to the divine energy of the universe and the pursuit of happiness and contentment. This is at its core, self-actualization as a goal.
Practicing Ishwara – Pranidhana: patience, the combination of the previous aspects, sincerity, non0judgment, meditation on the divine.
The overall conclusion:
Having understood and learned, the Yamas and Niyamas of the yoga sutras we can become aware that these aspects make take lifetimes to develop and fully integrate into our routine. The important thing is not to force it but slowly and gradually add that which we need and further of self- actualization.
Our daily asana practice, our meditation, our work on ourselves all play into following the guides left for us, and in the end, it is clear as day that they will make us happier, healthier, and better overall.