June 20, 2021

Yamas & Niyamas: 10 Ways to Honor International Yoga Day.

The yamas and niyamas are the first two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga, which is kind of like an ancient spiritual how-to manual about how to live your best life.

And in honor of International Yoga Day on June 21st, I thought I’d write about how we could put the yamas and niyamas into practice in our daily lives.

The Yamas:

1. Ahimsa (nonviolence)

Or you can see it as kindness—to other living beings and also to yourself (as in your own thoughts).

How to practice it:

Most of us can be quite harsh and self-critical. Practicing ahimsa doesn’t necessarily mean you need to become a vegan (though more power to you if you do!); it just means being as kind as you can to other beings. That spider in your house? Don’t kill it—put it outside. That’s ahimsa too.

2. Satya (truthfulness)

There’s no need to really describe this one. Everyone knows what truth is all about. But there are probably areas in our lives where we aren’t exactly truthful, right?

How to practice it:

This is pretty straightforward—be more truthful. Not just to others but to yourself. A way to do this is to set boundaries. When people ask you to do something and you really don’t want to, but you say yes anyway because you don’t want to let them down? That’s not being truthful to yourself (or to them!), so instead, stick to your guns and honor yourself and your truth in your actions.

3. Asteya (nonstealing)

This one might also seem fairly straightforward. No stealing? Great, that’s easy. I’m not a thief. But wait, there are other ways you can look at this.

How to practice it:

There are other things that you can steal—you can steal other people’s time and also other people’s energy (and your own time and energy!). Again, this goes back to boundaries and really knowing yourself and how much time and energy you want to devote to some things and not to others. What other ways can you practice nonstealing in your life?

4. Brahmacharya (moderation)

This is one of the four Stoic virtues (the others are wisdom, justice, and courage)

How to practice it:

Again, this one is straightforward. Maybe it’s practicing moderation in your diet—in the amount you eat or drink. Or maybe moderating specific things in your diet (cutting back on carbs or sugar?). Or it could be moderation with the amount of things you overextend yourself with.

Are you crazy busy with work and then activities every night of the week? Maybe practice moderation there and see if there are places you can cut back a bit to give yourself some much-needed space to rest and breathe

5. Aparigraha (non-grasping or non-possessiveness)

This can also be seen as generosity.

How to practice it:

Find ways to release your tight grip on life and on the outcomes or results of anything you may be anxiously awaiting. Let life unfold. Whatever will be, will be (cue that Doris Day song). Or as Elsa in “Frozen” sings: let it go, let it go!

In what other ways might you be grasping or trying to be possessive of things in your life? Take a moment to think about it and see what comes up for you.

Like the yamas, the niyamas are a kind of spiritual lighthouse—a guiding light helping us to find a way to live better and more authentically. They are positive things that you can do and put into practice in many different ways in order to live your best life.

They are tools to help cultivate happiness and self-confidence and an overall better outlook. You can find ways to incorporate them into your everyday life and put these spiritual tools into action.

Find what works for you, but here are some suggestions.

The Niyamas:

1. Saucha (cleanliness or purification)

This is the first step to wholeness—cleanliness (of the body and mind).

How to practice it:

Well, besides the obvious daily ritual of cleaning your body with a shower or bath, you can also choose to live cleanly via healthy eating and also purity or cleanliness of mind—which means watching what you think, trying to minimize the negative, self-critical talk, and thinking more positively about yourself.

This then also feeds into your emotions, as thoughts, feelings, and behavior are all closely linked. If you do something good for one, a chain reaction follows and it affects the other two. So cleanliness is the first step!

2. Santosha (contentment)

Though the first definition is contentment, it also means delight, happiness, and joy.  It comes from learning to accept ourselves and our lives. Acceptance doesn’t mean that we have to like what is happening to us, but it means that we don’t try to push it away. It is what it is.

Contentment also yields happiness. When we are content, we are happy, so cultivating santosha really means cultivating a state of happiness and ease as much as possible.

How do you do this in practice?

How to practice it:

1. Be gentle with yourself. Let go of expectations.

2. Create contentment even when things may not be all rainbows and unicorns for you right now. How are you doing right this moment, right this breath? Remind yourself that the present moment is enough, and whatever happens in the future is happening then, not right now. In this way, you can find contentment. Take a moment to sit comfortably and take a few slow, deep breaths and find santosha for even just a few seconds.

3. Tapas (it means “heat,” but in this case, translates to “self-discipline”)

It means effort—applying yourself with determination. It is willpower to stick with something you want to do to change something in your life. Maybe you want to be healthier, create a new habit, or something else. If you do it with purpose and dedication, you’re doing it with tapas.

How to practice it:

You can do anything with tapas! If you put your mind to it, if you focus on something, you’re performing the task with tapas. You can do the dishes with tapas if you really focus all your attention on the activity of doing the dishes. If you’re just doing the dishes and not planning your kid’s summer holiday activities, you’re using tapas. The key is to focus on just one thing at a time and take small steps to reach your goals, so you aren’t overwhelmed by your intimidating laundry list of “to-dos.”

4. Svadhyaya (self-study)

Svadhyaya means “to recollect (remember/contemplate/meditate on) the self.”

In today’s modern world, our selves are the last thing we often think about. We think about everyone else in our lives all the time. How is our family doing? Our friends? Are they okay? Happy? Safe? Thriving? Do they need help?

But ourselves? We’re an afterthought.

Getting to know ourselves and our needs (what we require to thrive, live our best, and be our best) has become more prominent in recent years. It’s almost the “in thing” to be in touch with our deepest inner workings.

How to practice it:

An example could be journaling. By writing down your thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams, you can learn to recognize when you are in alignment with your goals and when you are acting against them.

5. Ishvarapranidhana (self-surrender—to something bigger than you)

Ishvara refers to all-pervading consciousness (which could be God, the Universe, or other higher power); pranidhana means “to surrender.” But that doesn’t mean mindlessly saying nothing’s in our control, so who cares. Instead, it’s giving ourselves over to a higher purpose.

How to practice it:

Meditation is a great way to surrender to what is. While resting your attention on your breath (or a point in your body or on sounds), you may sense that ineffable something that pervades everything.

In what ways will you celebrate and honor International Yoga Day on June 21st?

If actual yoga asana (poses) isn’t your thing, maybe you can try to incorporate the yamas and niyamas into your daily life and see where it takes you!


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