Yoga is so much more than the physical practice (asana). Yoga is a lifestyle, a practice on and off the mat, and carries with it thousands of years of wisdom.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an infamous text that is known as the foundation of classical Yoga Philosophy, and goes over the Eight Limbs of Yoga, among other things. The Asana - the physical practice on your mat - is just one of the limbs.
The first two limbs are the Yamas and the Niyamas. The Yamas can be translated as the ethical and moral imperatives, and are interpreted as self-restraints that aid in personal growth and development.
The Niyamas are the subtleties that continue your growth as an individual. There are the virtuous habits, behaviors, and observances.
I first came across The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in my yoga teacher training in early 2015. It was a beautiful introduction into the world of yoga and I felt my mind and heart expand to a whole new level of appreciation of yoga and life in general. I grew up in a religious home and always struggled with the rules, the instilled guilt, the boundaries based on fear and accepting something based on blind-faith - a lot of which did not intuitively make sense to me. Because of my experience growing up, I was repulsed by organized religion and swung to the opposite extreme of Atheism. I found my way slowly to an Agnostic position within a couple years of leaving Mormonism, and was quite content with not thinking about religion whatsoever.
It was my experience in Yoga Teacher Training, and reading the sacred texts, that I tapped back into a spiritual side of myself that was intuitive and was ready to be explored. I discovered a deep connection to a supreme consciousness that we all share. I found a way to live with faith in each moment, an expansive spirituality, and a moral code to align with, and it all comes from within me. I do not feel guilt based on other people's ideas of what is right and wrong. I do not preach and hold myself in high esteem because of my choices or a belief that my way is the one true way. I choose to live with my mind and heart open, and I practice my ability to let go of what makes me feel small while practicing my ability to embrace thoughts, words, and actions, that makes me feel whole, alive, and a catalyst for good in my 'hood. I love the imperfections I carry and I find beauty and intense-acceptance of death. I do not act brave and faithful to earn a spot in an uncertain afterlife. I act brave and faithful to my own core values to earn self-love and acceptance in each moment, because that is all that exists.
"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive" - Howard Thurman
As an attempt to understand these concepts more and continue my passionate process of leading by example and sharing knowledge, here are the Yamas and Niyamas, along with practices of integration into your own life.
All of the quotes come from the book The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele, a beautifully written synopsis of the 10 ethical principles and how she has practiced them in her own life. Enjoy ;)
1. AHIMSA - Non-Violence, Non-Harming, Kindness, Compassion
"The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world"
As you will see with all of these principles, there is the obvious interpretation and then there is the more subtle and introspective layer. The practice of non-violence pertains to acting in ways towards others that does not produce harm or hinder their own self-development. This also speaks to how we act towards ourselves. When we are out of balance, we bring "dis-ease" into our life. When we talk negatively to ourselves, we are harming our perception of our self-worth.
"We learn compassion as we dissolve our personal version of the world, and grow gentle eyes that are not afraid to see reality as it is. When we stop living in our heads, where we can neatly arrange things, and ground ourselves in our bodies, trying to change ourselves and others and choose instead to soften the boundaries that keep us separated from what we don't understand. When we do simple acts of kindness and allow others' lives to be as important as our own"
When we try to "fix" ourselves or others, when we judge, belittle, shame, regret, or focus on negativity, we are are not showing compassion and slowly build a harmful energy that is carried around everywhere we go.
"If we are not on purpose with creating balance for ourselves, we can easily fall victim to false promises and fill every breathable space with appointments and activities and all the responsibilities that go with a full agenda...Spreading ourselves thin looks impressive, but in the end, we are the first to lose"
It is Fear that makes us violent. Fear of the unknown, fear of the 'other', fear of being left behind, fear of not understanding, and fear of danger. Part of practicing this principle is building our ability to recognize what is legitimate fear and what is habitual fear that is keeping us small. Secondly, we must build our ability to stand tall in the face of fear and decide logically whether we need to muster up courage and continue forward or listen to our instincts and take a step back.
"To create a life and world free of violence is first and foremost to find our own courage. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the ability to be afraid without being paralyzed"
Ways to practice AHIMSA:
- Take time at the end of each day to write 3 things you are proud of
- Create a challenge for yourself that embodies stepping outside your comfort zone and dancing with the fears that have kept you stagnant in the past. Choose Courage over Comfort
- Commit to 15-30 minutes of non-negotiable "me-time" daily.
2. SATYA - Truthfulness
What is true and serves you well today, is not necessarily what will be true and serve you well in the future. Of course there are universal truths that stay steady and allow consistency within a lifetime, but it is important to continue questioning and stay open to change.
"The guideline of truthfulness asks us to update our beliefs and values and views in order to stay current with ourselves and our surroundings"
When we show up each day aligned with our core values, speaking from our heart, failing gracefully and being vulnerable and open-minded, we are acting from our truth. It is not easy and definitely not always comfortable, but like any other behavior or habit, with time and repetition it becomes the new normal.
We are all hypocrites in one way or another. Robert E. Quinn reminds us that "it is our hypocrisy and self-focus that drains us". This is not easy or comfortable, but when you allow yourself to pay attention to your own hypocrisy, this is where you begin to truly find transformation in your life.
"When we run from life, try to manage life, or leave our energy scattered here and there, we feel differently than when our whole self shows up with our thoughts, words, and actions congruent and unified. When we are centered in the moment, we can fully meet the ordinariness of life as well as the challenges of life"
The first two principles are best woven together, within the bigger tapestry of all ten principles. Our aim is to speak our truth, but also remain non-violent and compassionate in our approach.
Ways to practice SATYA:
- Write out your Core Values and choose one daily to focus on in your thoughts, words, and actions
- Notice a habit that does not serve you well, and take actions towards replacing it with a new habit that does serve who you are
- Reflect and write when you feel small, stuck, deflated, unworthy, or any other negative emotion that stops you from creating momentum forward. What are you saying to yourself? What 'limiting belief' can you uncover. Do some research on limiting beliefs and the Belief Cycle to realize that you get to choose your beliefs, so why not re-train yourself to focus on beliefs that inspire and elevate you. (Reach out to me for more support in this area)
3. ASTEYA - Non-Stealing
Again, there is the obvious allure to this principle...don't take what isn't yours. But on a deeper level, how are you stealing from yourself? How are you treating others that might be stealing from their worth? What are you stealing from the present moment? What are you robbing from the world?
The act of comparing ourselves to others, using others' ideas without giving recognition, or undermining others' accomplishment are a few ways we steal from others. When we stay naive in regards to proper nutrition for our body, when we focus on the past or the future versus being present in the moment, when we fail to acknowledge and celebrate our own successes or milestones, or when we choose to be attached to expectations versus open to the dance and flow of expecting the unexpected, we are stealing from the potential beauty and depth of life. And when we refuse to recycle, lack care in our ability to take steps towards reducing our carbon footprint, or turn a blind-eye to pain or calls for support in our world, we are robbing our greater community and generations to come.
"When we don't know what we want or we don't have the courage to pursue it, everything that everyone else is doing looks tempting to us. When we begin to lust after others' accomplishments and others' possessions, we get sidetracked from our own dreams and our own realness"
Ways to practice ASTEYA:
- Educate yourself on one Reduce-Reuse-Recycle action per month, and play with integrating these as habits into your life
- Learn about your natural Happy Chemicals and different thoughts, actions, and foods you can implement into your routine daily to support building your fuel reserve
- When you feel the urge to take what isn't yours, reverse the habit and choose instead to give, give, give. Journal about your experience
- Reach out to someone in your life who has recently accomplished something big. Express your gratitude and congratulate them.
- Give without expectation of anything in return
4. BRAHMACHARYA - Non-Excess, Moderation, Self-Restraint
A close-knit partner with ASTEYA, this fourth principle brings into view the importance of balance. We can't be all effort. It is not healthy to dissect your every move and reflect on what you notice all day long. Too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. This principle asks us to know when enough is enough. When we eat more food than we need, when we exercise past the point of what is healthy, when we watch tv all day or sleep more hours than our body needs, our precious energy is used up on counter-balance overindulgence, versus being open and light in mind, body, and soul.
"Overindulgence snuffs out the life force like too many logs on a fire overpowers the fire. Practicing non-excess preserves and honors this life force within us, so that we can live with clarity and sacredness"
One of my childhood friend's father used to say "Everything in moderation...including moderation". It is important to overstep occasionally to remind ourselves to step back and too be clear on where boundaries lie, but it also keeps us ready for the extremes of life. A little bit of stress on your system occasionally is a good thing. So yes, practice balance and moderation in your diet, your self-study, your movement, etc. but also be compassionate and open to experiences that push you to the extremes.
Ways to practice BRAHMACHARYA:
- For one week (or start with one day), challenge yourself to engage in Mindful Eating. Prepare your food for each meal with positive intentions and visualize the nourishment you are about to ingest. Sit with your food in front of you, and take 10 deep mindful breaths. Then say 5 things you are grateful for in your life (out loud or in your head), and then take one deep inhale of the food you are preparing to eat. Allow yourself 15 chews before you swallow each bite. Journal about your experience
- Listen to what your body is telling you. Practice slowing down to speed up. If you are someone who rushes around and looks for efficiency and productivity in everything you do, for one day, move slow and intentional. If you are more of a sloth-like person in general, for one day, pick up your pace and stay mindful to what you notice and the signals you receive.
- Sit in meditation with one piece of delicious dark chocolate in your mouth. One piece! Put the chocolate on your tongue and let it melt. Savor the treat and breathe deeply through your experience. Notice how when you truly enjoy and savor the treat, there isn't an urge to overindulge.
5. APARIGRAHA - Non-Attachment, Non-Possessiveness, Non-Greed
This principle has been one of the most life-changing concepts to bring into my repertoire. It is so easy for many of us to get attached to the ideas and the people around us. We create expectations - often unconsciously - and are disappointed when they aren't met. We get attached to a beautiful moment and sit in negative comparisons from then on as we wish every moment could be so beautiful. We become possessive with what we have and spend energy on trying to keep what we believe is our property. We cling to relationships that once felt good but no longer serves who we are and who we are 'un-becoming'.
"It is the nature of things to change and by failing to let them change or move on, they begin to disappoint us and our attempts to hold on begin to make us stale and discontent"
A quote that summarizes this perfectly for me is, "if you love something/someone, set them free". The concept that has helped me understand this further is the idea of Intimacy without Possession. We still want to strive boldly, love deeply, connect intimately, and reach for the stars in our goals and aspirations. But it is balanced with the constant reminder that we have goals but our goals do not have us. As soon as you feel constrained, restricted, or imprisoned by the things that once brought you joy, it is time to dig in and let go.
"Our expectations keep us captive and often disgruntled. What we hold, begins to hold us"
It is our fear of losing something or someone that actually robs us of being present, vulnerable, and authentic with that person or moment. It is our insecurity that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we are struck by the need to control, shackle, or restrain the people, the moments, or the objects in our life, we lose sight of what is truly important.
"There is nourishment until we get attached to these things, often unconsciously, and then disturb ourselves with expectations, opinions, criticisms, disappointments all because we forget to trust life, exhale, and let go. Like the breath when it is held too long, the things that nourish us can become toxic"
All of the principles within this model work to support each other. To practice non-attachment we must remind ourselves to not claim power over what isn't ours in the first place. We can only control - and have a right to - our own effort. That's it. So why spend energy trying to manipulate the flow of life or waste energy on shoulds, regrets, comparisons, judgment, or expectations?
"Subtle attachments come in the form of our images and beliefs about ourselves, about how life should be, about how others should be. These images keep us in bondage to our own learning and growth. Clutter in our physical space blocks our ability to physically move, while clutter in our minds blocks our freedom to expand and have space for the next thing life wants to bring us"
We are reminded to detach when we feel ourselves getting out of balance. As we talked about earlier, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. And when we practice truthfulness and non-violence, we are asked to detach from past moments, use compassion and self-love, and allow ourselves to be fully present and engaged with what is right now.
"The fewer attachments we carry with us, the more we are free to enjoy and engage and live every moment before us to the fullest. The more breath we let go of, the more room there is in our body for the fullness of the next inhalation. The more we generously share and give away, the more expansive and light we become. A bird cannot hold its perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free"
Ways to practice APARIGRAHA:
- What is something you are physically attached to? Something that when you don't get it, you are upset and "thrown off" for your day. Your phone, a certain food, a certain tv show, an activity? For one day (build up to one week), cut this out of your life and allow yourself to stay curious and open with the feelings that arise.
- Give yourself the gift of one full day with no expectations. Stay in the moment and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised and content with absolutely everything that happens.
- Create a Non-Attachment mantra and set a reminder in your phone to go off once a day. Use it as a signal to sit back, slow your breath, and notice if you are holding on to anything from earlier or projecting yourself into the near future.
**Just a reminder, all quotes - unless stated otherwise - are by Deborah Adele from her book The Yamas and Niyamas**
6. SAUCHA - Purity, Simplicity
The act of purifying connotes a process of de-cluttering, letting go of what is not needed, and releasing mental and physical distractions that steer us away from the moment. Whether you are letting go of thoughts or past-wounds to allow more purity in the present moment, releasing expectations of the future, simplifying your daily routine, de-cluttering your living space, or bringing more attention to the quality and simplicity of your diet, there are many ways to practice this principle. Without the constraints and restrictions of a cluttered mind and body, we begin to feel the space and expansiveness each breath offers.
"As we purify ourselves physically and mentally, we become less cluttered and heavy; purification brings about a brightness an clarity to our essence" - Deborah Adele
Ways to Practice SAUCHA:
- Write out your Core Values and play with ways to align your life with what matters to you most. What do you need more of? What do you need less of?
- Set a timer for 5 minutes, sit in a quiet and comfortable space, and allow yourself to meditate. Slowly build up to longer periods of meditation, but even 5 minutes will be beneficial. The goal is to not empty your mind, the goal is to notice your thoughts without attaching or following them. Stay with your breath. Be the witness behind the scenes.
- Choose a corner, room, cupboard, or closet in your home, set a timer for 30 minutes and de-clutter and organize the space. Do this once a week and your home will begin to feel more expansive and conducive to creativity and simplicity.
7. SANTOSHA - Contentment
This principle asks us to focus more on fulfillment from an Internal perspective versus assigning our future happiness or joy on the expectations of actions of others, or what is External. It is the act of seeking, avoiding, resisting, comparing, and gripping that causes us to feel lack. When we are able to embrace gratitude and appreciation for whatever the moment offers, and for the many blessings we have in our life, we find contentment and an ease-full relaxation with each breath.
"True contentment and freedom begin to find their way to us when we can see things as they are, neutral, and not spend so much energy manipulating things according to our preferences"
It is the act of welcoming each moment into your heart with open arms, because regrets, shame, disappointment, and comparisons only bring stagnant negativity. This is not to say that you will be happy and feel pleasure every moment of every day, in fact, contentment opens you up to all ranges of emotions. It is our resistance and avoidance of 'what is' that creates a lasting struggle. When you allow yourself to feel whatever is coming up for you, it will pass through you and open you back up to acceptance and whole-heartedness within a few minutes.
"Discontentment is the illusion that there can be something else in the moment. There isn't and there can't be. The moment is complete. That means if I am bored or sad, I will only be discontented if I am not content with being bored and sad. Building contentment with boredom, sadness, impatience, depression, disappointment, and loss, builds our ability to be that tall tree so rooted in the earth that great winds cannot topple it. Being content with our discontentment is itself a gateway to the calm depths within"
Ways to practice SANTOSHA:
- Create a Graititude Journal. Once daily or once a week, write 5-10 things you are grateful for
- Choose a mantra that embodies accepting what is and set a reminder in your phone to go off daily. When it pops up, close your eyes, connect with your breath, and repeat your mantra
8. TAPAS - Self-Discipline, Commitment
Tapas is translated as 'heat'. When I think of self-discipline it does create an intense heat or fire, as the practice of repetition or resisting the habits that no longer serve me requires a 'burning' sensation as old patterns are released.
Deborah Adele asks us, "Can we grow our ability to stay in the fire and let ourselves be burned until we are blessed by the very thing that is causing us the pain and suffering?"
Through the practice of self-discipline we are faced with what is uncomfortable and keeps us small or stuck. We have the choice to allow what breaks us down to also break us open. When we embrace uncertainty and remind ourselves that change takes time, attention, and trial and error, we can bring some softness and patience into the equation. Life throws curve-balls. Death and tragedy will definitely strike all around you in your lifetime. So prepare yourself to grow and gain resilience by training yourself to stay with what is unpleasant and choose to lean into what causes you struggle, this is where your transformation awaits.
Ways to practice TAPAS:
- Go to a workout class that you have been avoiding due to being intimidated or fearful that you aren't strong enough. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Embrace the sweat, the moments of disbelief that you are where you are, and bring a smile to your face as a symbol of pride and gratitude to be alive.
- Commit to a 30 day challenge that will test your strength and resilience. Journal about your experience daily.
9. SVADHYAYA - Self-Study
Without introspection and a loving relationship with who you are at your deepest level and outermost level, we will not make it far in practicing these ten principles. As we grow from infant to adult, and are learning the rules of life, we begin to package ourselves into boxes that define us. These boxes are categories that distinguish who we are in comparison to those around us. We are told we are tall, short, small, big, smart, funny, slow, athletic, talented, creative, beautiful, strong, weak, lean, etc. and this becomes a part of our identity. We are raised in various religions, community, and cultures, and are told what to believe, who to fear, why we are here, and how to lead a life that will bring us safety, joy, or rewards. We experience trauma, loss, failure, bullying, love, success, friendships, enemies, and family woes, and we begin to think that these also define who we are and what we are capable of. But we are so much more than that.
"We learn early to accept our family's way of doing things and to pattern ourselves after cultural norms. These early conditioning's continue to form and move deep inside us creating pieces of our identity. Add to that our reactions to our own life experiences and we become neatly wrapped in layers of packaging"
It is our ability to get curious and to question our beliefs about life, love, success, relationships, growth, etc. that allow us to uncover where we are actually holding ourselves back and being led by outdated beliefs or a deep rooted fear. This un-doing of identity can feel like the ground being ripped from under you as you realize the foundation you have been standing on for years is full of cracks and cannot sustain the new growth you desire for in your life. Surround yourself with support and growth-minded people who can help you along the way. This journey is much more fun and supportive when you recognize that you don't need to go it alone.
When we can step back and notice our thoughts, we begin to learn to detach from the emotional pendulum swing and let go of the stories we make up with assumptions and beliefs that are not connected to reality. When we change our mindset to Observe without Judgement, we begin to see where our dis-ease truly comes from.
"Our minds are like the river carrying things in it. If we identify with what the mind is carrying - thoughts, stories, beliefs - then we will think we are those things. However, if we identify with the Divine within us (the pure river) and merely watch the thoughts float by, we will know we are simply carrying the thoughts, stories and beliefs; they are not who we are"
How to practice SVADHYAYA:
- Get yourself a new notebook and allow yourself 10 minutes of free-writing daily. Notice what you are thinking about, what you are curious about, and steer clear of assumptions, judgments, or expectations.
- Choose a mantra for the day that embodies curiosity and a reminder of stepping back and witnessing your thoughts
- Send a questionnaire to 5 of your closest family members and friends, asking 5-6 questions along the lines of, "What am I great at? What are you proud of me for? What do you wish for me in my lifetime? What can you count on me for? etc." Offer to respond to the questions for your friend as well if they wish. Let the good vibes roll.
10. ISHVARA PRANIDHANA - Surrender
Surrender is not a passive quality. It is rich, deep, expansive, and full of opportunity. That art of Surrender is that acceptance and full-mind and body participation in the moment while also embracing the magnitude of the magic you are participating in. It is the idea that opportunities to learn, grow, explore, and connect are all around us, and it takes an open and present mind and heart to step into these possibilities rather than having our eyes on the rear-view mirror or fixated on the potential bumpy roads ahead.
"We do not lead, nor do we limply drag along like dead weight. As a dance partner to life, we are asked to be vulnerable and undefended, and yet so present we can follow the next move, wherever the leading step takes us, adding out own style as we go"
Surrender asks us to trust the moment, to trust our breath, and trust that the Universe will play out the way it unfolds, and no amount of control, rigidity, or worry will change what is. We play a part in the flow of the Universe, and it is only when we abide by the previous 9 principles along with Surrender to the fluidity of life, that we can have a positive impact on the world around us.
"When we release out rigidity and our need to control, when we joyfully engage life as it comes to us, and when we place our egos in devotion to that which is greater, we can begin to taste the bounty of this jewel"
As is the case with the previous nice principles, Surrender does not protect you from loss, disappointment, boredom, fear, sadness, or any other painful emotion. Surrender asks us to accept and flow with what life offers. Our perception of appreciation regardless of the situation, brings an expansive and ease-ful sensation. The energy once wasted on things we cannot control, is now available to feel through discomfort and continue growing and becoming the best version of you.
"Like white water rafting, surrender is learning to skillfully ride with what the moment gives us, all the while enjoying the process, whether we glide through safely [and gracefully] or tip over and get wet"
Ways to practice ISHVARA PRANIDHANA:
- Meditate each morning this week for 2-10 minutes. Your only job during this meditation is to breathe.
- Go to a yoga class with guided meditation
For further support or curiosities regarding these 10 principles, feel free to reach out to me. I am happy to direct you to yoga classes, other coaches, resources, communities, or engage in conversation regarding your Journey and growth. We are in this together <3