The Yamas and Niyamas have always been one of my favorite concepts in yoga. I could geek out reading about them and think about them all day. Yet, when asked to explain them I tend to get wordy and verbose and the message gets lost. Then, it hit me, for every Yama and Niyama there is at least one contemporary reference point (a movie, book, or public figure) that makes it all a little easier to understand; especially when talking to those outside the yogic land who want to know more.
“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” Thumper from Bambi.
Sure he is a cartoon rabbit but he’s got the idea. Don’t be hurtful, don’t be harmful. Speak kindly, act kindly, think kindly. It’s not limited to your actions towards others but also toward yourself.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.” – Oscar Wilde
Sometimes the belief in Satya is so strong that we lose sight. Do we insist on being honest to the point of hurting someone, thus violating Ahimsa? Don’t lie, don’t betray, but recognize as Oscar Wilde said, it isn’t always simple to be truthful. Practice kind honesty.
“If you have to lie, cheat, and steal, you just aren’t doing it right” – Donald Trump
Donald Trump, one of the wealthiest men in the world, who has seen fortune come and go and come back again, doesn’t believe in stealing. If you have to take what is not yours then you’re doing it wrong. Do not take what is not yours, whether it is a material item or credit for someone’s thoughts and ideas.
“It means something to me. You can’t just go off shagging anybody anymore. And if you could, I wouldn’t because I’m not like that.” – Vanessa, Austin Powers
Often interpreted as “celibacy”, Brahmacharya is more about keeping your connections sacred. Guard your body, heart, and mind. Don’t share your essence until you know the person you’re sharing it with is someone you treasure.
“If you’re not greedy you will go far, you will live in happiness too… like the oompa…. loompa…. doompity do.” – Oompa Loompa, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Greed is consuming, greed has consequences. Whether you’re hording money, power, or the spotlight it will come back to harm you. Don’t do it. Be like the Oompa Loompa. Be blissful by living with moderation and balance.
“Tonight’s lecture: What’s wrong with celebrating sobriety by getting drunk?” Betty, 28 Days
Cleanliness and purity….yes this is Sauca. However, it also goes further for me. Be introspective about what you’re doing to your body and mind. Are you working against yourself? Do you make it through a gorgeous and detoxifying session of yoga to then go out for martinis, bar food, and gossip? If you work hard to keep yourself clean, then keep it clean.
“The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.” – The White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass
Sometimes everything in the past looks great. If only you could be back there you would be happy. Or you know that once you get that raise, lose those 10 pounds, and have a beautiful house, your life will be wonderful. Sure, maybe. However, Santosa isn’t about finding perfection. Santosa is knowing that life will never be what it was, it will never be what it is. However, knowing you’re doing what you can and on the right path and being content there.
“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tom Robbins
Dedication, commitment, igniting the fire within and keeping it lit. This is Tapas. However, recognize that in our austerity we sometimes have to evolve and change in order to maintain the commitment.
“To acquire knowledge, one must study. To acquire wisdom one must observe.” – Marilyn vos Savant
The quest for knowledge is not limited to books and classes. Observe the world, observe yourself. Learn by looking out, learn by looking in.
“At fifteen, life had taught me undeniably, that surrender, in its place, was as honorable as resistance, especially if one had no choice.” – Maya Angelou
Sometimes all we can do is let go. Often people recognize this in our darkest hours, surrender to your higher power and you will find the path. This is true of the brightest times in our life as well, when you’ve reached that peak, surrender to find the next path.
Once I learned that the Yamas and Niyamas were all around me, my outlook changed. Text and ideas that seemed ancient and not applicable to modern life were suddenly very pertinent. Not only were they relevant, but they were all around me tying centuries’ old concepts to my present and my future. It brought me a little bliss. After all, there is something rather comforting about finding these messages in ‘Bambi’ and ‘Austin Powers’.
Tali Koziol is a Colorado Native, wrapping up her 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training with Om Time in Boulder. She’s been writing at Cupcake Mafia since 2009, encouraging people that it’s never too late to try new things or examine how and why we do what we do. She’s a cyclist, yogini, climber, and urban adventure who loves social media and networking as much as her chai.