Exploring Yamas and Niyamas to Discover Life Balance, part 2

Exploring Yamas and Niyamas to Discover Life Balance, part 2

Last week I wrote about the 5 Yamas (Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha). These are all principles related to interacting with other people, although these principles can also be applied to ourselves. Part 2 is about the 5 Niyamas, principles related to our internal work and self-exploration more directly.

There are ways to see these practices in a more traditional sense, as well as ways to apply them to modern life. While I think there is value in learning about how these principles were originally intended, we are not ascetic monks leading a solitary life (at least I am not). I find applying them to life today to be far more useful and relatable.


5 Niyamas

1. Saucha/Purification

This type of purification relates more to cleanliness than “pure” in the Christian sense of the word. Having a clean space, without clutter is the nature of Saucha, as well as Feng Shui, a Chinese practice. When your space is orderly, you feel better, mentally and physically. My dad used to have a sign over his desk that read “a neat desk is a sign of a sick mind” however I would disagree. I can always think more clearly when my work space is clean. I sleep better when I don’t have piles of laundry on my bed. My yoga practice feels more grounded when my yoga space has nothing but my mat (and sometimes my dog).

Saucha also relates to our physical and spiritual purification and cleanliness. Bathing regularly and washing your hands keep your body clean. Spiritual cleanliness is about shifting our thoughts toward being kind and generous. “Negative” thoughts (anger, resentment, fear, etc), while part of our human experience, can lead to suffering if we stay in them too long. Working with lovingkindness (Metta) and compassion (Karuna) help us live with an open heart, whether sending Metta and Karuna to others, or directing them toward ourselves.

Feeling your feelings, all feelings, is important, and I am not suggesting “good vibes only.” I find this type of positivity to be more toxic than helpful. This idea of Saucha is to practice letting go of these types of feelings so that they don’t plague you. Feel them and then release them, so that they just pass through and don’t get stuck. Feeling stuck in resentment, anxiety, blame, and shame, all impair your ability to lead a full, embodied life. When you can give these feelings space to exist and let them go, their power over you goes with them.

The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for your soul to reside in. ~B.K.S. Iyengar

2. Santosha/Contentment

I see this Niyama as related to Brahmacharya/Non-Greed. When you let go of greed, you find enough. Santosha is finding contentment, which is where enough lives. As a type A recovering perfectionist, this used to be a huge challenge for me. “Good enough” was never an option, only perfection. When I couldn’t attain perfection (because it doesn’t actually exist), I felt deep shame and self-loathing. It wasn’t until I set down my perfectionism and embraced “good enough” that I found self-acceptance and self-love.

Contentment doesn’t impair my drive. I am no less type A, but I take things at a slower pace. I create space during my day so that I am not scheduled from waking to sleeping (like I was in my 20s). My internal drive to create, teach, and serve others also doesn’t come at the expense of myself. Self-care is essential for me to do what I do without burning out. Contentment is feeling the internal balance of output equalling input.

Contentment and discontentment both tell us our truth. If we are content with something, it feels right once we get it. If we aren’t, we feel conflicted instead. ~Sara Adams

3. Tapas/Discipline

Discipline can mean different things to different people. When it comes to yoga, I see Tapas as consistency. Having the discipline to be consistent with your practice, whatever that may be, will lead to feeling the benefits. If you only practice yoga (or meditation, or weight training, or running, etc) once in a while, you won’t feel as good as if you practice regularly. What “regularly” means might vary from person to person, but making your practice a priority leads to better self-care.

Tapas also means “heat,” having the internal fire to keep going, even when you don’t feel like it, because it will benefit you in the end. For me, I use the principle of Tapas to make sure I go to bed on time. Poor sleep means everything else falls apart. When I don’t sleep enough I lack the motivation to practice yoga, to eat well, and my ability to cope with stress plummets. Having the discipline to go to sleep on time has taken practice and assistance from reminders in my phone. But when I follow the reminders that it’s time to “turn it off, shut it down” I feel better in the long run.

Having a regular yoga practice keeps my mood even and sets the tone for the day. On days when I don’t practice I feel a difference. Everything else just feels harder. Having the discipline to step on the mat, even for just 15 minutes, can completely change the course of my day.

A disciplined mind leads to happiness. An undisciplined mind leads to suffering. ~Dalai Lama

4. Svadhyaya/Self-Study

Studying yourself leads to understanding why you do what you do, and why you are who you are. When you understand yourself, you feel comfortable in your skin. You can own your “you-ness” and offer yourself self-compassion and self-love. Self-study can be done through practicing yoga, meditation, journaling, therapy, there are lots of ways to study yourself.

Having curiosity about yourself and your habits can lead to finding out the beliefs that are holding you back. In childhood, we take on other people’s beliefs as truths about who we are. Our beliefs about being too much, not enough, too fat, too thin, too smart, too dumb, too whatever… never originate with us. These beliefs are bestowed upon us by adults who are struggling with their own beliefs about themselves. We then take on these beliefs as true, which then drives all of our choices and behaviors.

When you study yourself, you can understand these beliefs that drive you and let them go, replacing them with what is actually true. I am enough. My body and mind are as they should be. I can always learn something new. I am capable. Humans are allowed to have emotions. And so on. When you let go of other people’s beliefs, you also let go of their (and your) suffering.

Whether we’re eating or working or meditating or listening or talking, the reason that we’re here in this world at all is to study ourselves. In fact, it has been said that studying ourselves provides all the books we need.~Pema Chodron

5. Isvara Pranidhana/Surrender

Traditionally, Isvara Pranidhana means surrender to God, or the divine, but many people, including me, are uncomfortable with the concept of “God.” Surrender doesn’t mean giving up, it means giving in, or finding acceptance. Surrendering to God, or the Divine, or the Universe, or to yourself means letting go of trying to control things, and instead accepting what is.

Many people with anxiety try to control things in their life as a way to cope. Unfortunately, there is very little over which we have control and this tactic leads to suffering (yours and other people’s). When you can allow things to unfold as they will, you feel an internal shift away from anxiety and toward feeling calm and actually more in control, over yourself. Knowing that you can’t control anything but yourself, gives you something to control, and that leads to peace.

Of course the challenge is finding that surrender. In yoga we practice physical surrender by letting go of struggle or strain. Surrendering to your breath allows you to feel what’s happening in your body and adjust your actions accordingly. Surrendering to the moment allows you to let go of thoughts of the past (shame, regret) and the future (anxiety) and just be in the present, where there is peace.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. ~Serenity Prayer

Join Me!

Join me on Tuesday, August 29 at 11am EDT for “Embrace, Express, Empower: Exploring Your Emotions and What is Holding You Back!” The replay of this free webinar will be available on August 30 to anyone who signs up. Click here to register!

Coming in September: 30 Days to Reconnect to Yourself! This 30 day online program helps you feel your feelings and release them through daily guided journaling, yoga, mediation, and breathwork. Join this community for support and guidance to feel more at ease in your body and mind. Click here for more information or to sign up!

Coming in October: Diving Deeper into Your Yoga Practice. This 8 month course covers all 8 Limbs of Yoga in a slow, methodical way to help you integrate the information into your life. You will learn to treat yourself with kindness and gentleness, and live with more peace in your heart. You will learn skills, techniques, and wisdom to live a life grounded in honesty, non-judgment, and compassion toward yourself and others. Click here for more information or to join the waitlist! Waitlist members get $400 off the course price!

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