Yamas and Niyamas : Yogic Ethical Guidelines to Life

 Yoga is a journey that may seem odd and confusing for some, for we yogis tend to revisit its aspects over and over. We will be found going through endless rounds of Sun Salutations, a never ending applications of Downward Facing Dog, practicing Nadi Shodhana or Ujjayi breathing daily to only sit and meditate once again.

For me I also revisit my studies, especially the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. I have reflected on the Yamas and Niyamas and come to the conclusion that they are ever changing in meaning, depth and applicability during different stages of life.

Yamas being defined as restraints, a mastery of control and being seen as external ethics.

Ahimsa : Non-Violence

Satya : Truthfulness

Asteya : Non-Stealing

Brahmacharya : Energy Management

Aparigraha : Non-Grasping

            In my first reading of them, in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, I found them easy “rules” to follow. I didn’t lie, intentionally harm others, was incapable of stealing, was able to manage life without complaints nor was I living in a materialistic way. However, upon further analysis I discovered their more subtle nature and more unsettling still how I violated them deeply and constantly. The ongoing narrative in my mind “You’re not good enough, you’re too old, you’re too impulsive, why do you always do that? Go ahead eat that or you do need to buy that.” was a direct violation of these codes I held so dear. To come to terms that I alone was the primary thief of my inner peace, the primary liar by telling myself things which are not true and the primary harmer by beating myself down constantly was quite unsettling. Even more upsetting was seeing that my very deeply rooted and very quiet resentment to my son’s autism was a severe violation of aparigraha  (non-possessiveness), I vehemently held on to that hurt as if it were riches beyond comparing.

            As for the Niyamas, I also found that it is within the subtle realms of my mind that I had much room for improvement.

Niyamas being defined as character building observances designed to create well-being for ourselves and others.

Saucha : Purity

Santosha : Contentment

Tapas : Heat or Austerity

Svadhyaya : Self-Study

Ishvara Pranidhana : Surrender to the Highest Power

While I practice could apply cleanliness almost to a fault in my household, how clean and pure were my thoughts? Especially the thoughts I had about myself. Contenment is something I hold dear and strive for it daily. Yet once again, while I can achieve it easily with others, trying to the best of my abilities to bring them contentment, I was again struck with the spitefulness of my inner narrative. With deeper self-analysis I found myself to practice yoga excessively, so much so that I begin to violate ahimsa. I try to push past the point of mental discomfort where I am no longer being compassionate with myself. Fortunately, the following two Niyamas I was pleased to find I am happily settled in and practice them to the best of the abilities I possess so far. The act of self study has been present in my life for years, feeling a hunger to further know spirituality and myself. Surrendering to a Higher Power has been deep within since as far back as I can remember and comes to me naturally and brings ease into my heart. Often when we begin taking the journey into the holistic life we receive push back from those who surround us, judging or reprimanding is for for engaging in the “silly practice” of meditation. However, these external commentaries do not make me falter in my faith and spirituality, 2 things that I hold very dear.

           Allowing for continuous study and application of the Yamas and Niyamas will help my yogic path both as a practitioner and as a teacher. I can openly accept there is always room for improvement, for applying them to both the obvious and the subtle aspects of life has been anything other rather than disheartening. It has lit a fire of interest, inspiration and deeper introspection so that I can not only be a better yogi, but a better human.

With Love,