My mind was blown. During yoga class, someone asked my teacher how often she practices yoga. We were all expecting the formula, as in, “I practice for two hours three times a week and an hour on the other days,” or something to that effect. We all wanted to be like her, so we were hopeful for the recipe to the secret sauce, or that formula which would transform us into yogis. Instead of the sauce, she gave us, “Well, I try to practice 24/7.” WHAT?!? Huh?! HOW? That’s an awful lot of yoga!
It took a while, but I realized over time she meant that True Yoga goes well beyond asana practice, it’s a life philosophy. You see, the physical postures are the third limb of the 8-limbed practice. In our guiding text, The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali, we learn the first two limbs are the Yamas and Niyamas. These are Sanskrit words for social codes (Yamas) and personal ethics (Niyamasa).
Since most of us come to yoga with the familiarity of the postures and the physical part of the practice, we’ve missed a lot by skipping over these all-important limbs. Remember, yoga is not just physical. In fact, I would say the mental part of yoga gives us the most benefit. I think we all would appreciate living a more peaceful life in harmony with the people and things around us. Being able to approach even the difficult things with a sense of equanimity is easier when we understand the Yamas and Niyamas.
It is because of the adversity in our world today and the continuous bombardment of negativity that I am personally leaning into the Yamas and Niyamas again. I find when I focus on things like letting go, and contentment, I have an easier time navigating life’s circumstances. The roadmap that the Yamas and Niyamas provide will help you navigate life's most challenging times with more peace, ease, and equanimity. It may even help you change your perspective when facing difficulty (including difficult family members during the holiday season!)
The following is the basic concepts of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Nonviolence- Compassion for all living things, especially yourself!
Truthfulness- Listening to your inner voice for what’s right even when inconvenient.
Non-stealing- Finding abundance so you only take what is needed.
Non-excess, wise use of energy- Spending your time and energy on things that fill you up.
Non-grasping- Being free by letting go of things that no longer serve you.
Purity, cleanliness- Making choices about what you want (or don’t want) in your life.
Contentment- Feeling satisfied with your circumstances, accepting the present moment even as you may remain hopeful for change.
Self-discipline, burning enthusiasm- Taking action toward a meaningful life.
Self-study, inner exploration- Uncovering the things that help you know your True Self.
Surrender, celebration of the spiritual- Attuning to your life purpose.
If you have been looking for a way to add more meaning and purpose to your life while remaining minimally disturbed by the chaos around you, then I highly recommend learning more about the Yamas and Niyamas. This is a book I find particularly helpful: The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. Let me know how it goes for you!