Yamas and Niyamas!

I’m still working on my yoga bingo card. If I understand this right, I think I’ll be getting myself a t-shirt. HOW EXCITING! (I’m currently being a Bhakti yogi and listening to MC Yogi. Yeah, there’s a guy who raps for yoga. Right now I’m listening to a song about Gandhi.)

One of the prompts on the card is to learn about the Yamas and Niyamas. It’s part of the eightfold yoga path of Patanjali. It’s actually the first step to enlightenment via yoga. It’s the spiritual side of yoga that doesn’t always get discussed in yoga class.

This is my opinion. I’m sure they avoid discussing the spiritual path of yoga because (1) they don’t want to scare religious people away from a way to exercise their bodies and relieve stress and (2) staying on the straight and narrow yogic path is HARD, yo! I personally think the spiritual side of yoga is fantastic. In fact, many of the Yamas and Niyamas are ideas shared by many of the world religions and also by non-religious, morally upstanding people.

The Yamas

The yamas are about self-restraint. They ask you to refrain from: violence/killing, untruthfulness, theft, promiscuity and greed.

Ahimsa is non-violence or harmlessness. It asks you to abstain from even the tiniest, littlest bit of harm to any living creature. Get this, you can’t harm any living being through action, verbally or EVEN WITH YOUR MIND!

Um, so all those fantasies where I get back at my exes by being smoking hot and marrying the world’s most perfect man so they feel terrible about dumping me — I guess those have to go. I guess I should also drop all the sarcasm too. I’m not sure this particular yama is for me. I’m not a mean person by any means, but… woah. I am NOT a saint.

You can cultivate this yama, though! You can practice forgiveness, patience, and compassion! That’s the good news!

Satya is truthfulness. Your thoughts should match your words should match your actions. Of course, you’ll probably want to practice wording your truth in a way that’s not hurtful whenever possible, but you should always speak your truth and live your truth. Seems simple, right? But it’s so difficult to always tell the truth!

Asteya is honesty and non-stealing. Desire can lead to theft or dishonesty, so this yama is pretty directly tied to aparigraha, or freedom from greed. According to asteya, one should not steal or cheat or lie to obtain what they want. Aparigraha asks us to abstain from coveting things that are not ours. It asks us also to practice detachment from material things or anything that is not necessary for daily living.

There’s a part of me that screams, “BUT MY BOOKS! I NEED MY BOOKS! WHAT WOULD I DO WITHOUT THEM, THEY’RE MY CHILDREN!”

But, you know, I don’t steal. I don’t lie to obtain things. I’ve been driving the same car since, like, 2005. And it’s a 2000 Toyota Echo. The car is 13 years old. I don’t think I’m a very greedy person… except when it comes to cheese. I like to eat all the cheese.

And finally, there’s brahmacharya, the control of sensual pleasure. This is a tricky one because you are to obtain freedom from lust. You aren’t to think lustfully, talk lustfully or act lustfully. I’m pretty full of lust sometimes. I’m not a slutty McSlutface, I usually enter into relationships carefully and once I’m in them, I tend to move relatively slowly, but this girl likes to get a little action every now and again!

My very humble opinion on these yamas is that they are all about balance. Obviously lying is always a bad idea. I’d even go so far as to say that yes, you should tell your friend when her ass looks big in those jeans — but you should also do it kindly. For example, “I just don’t think that particular cut is doing you any favors. You should try these boot cut jeans instead. They’re super cute!

And perhaps you should not jump straight into bed with that guy who you’ve just met tonight because, well, he might be a serial killer, ok? Haven’t you watched any horror movies, people? Sex = death.

I kid. Just be careful who you let see your intimate self. Be intimate only with people who respect you. (And always use protection!)

As for that detachment from material things — my yoga classes aren’t a material good, but they are optional. My books are material, but they bring me a certain amount of joy. I’d lend you a book if you needed it (and you swore on your first born’s life that you will return the book too me). I’m not THAT attached to them. I regularly purge my wardrobe and donate the clothes to others. You can have things and not be materialistic.

Balance.

The Niyamas

The Niyamas are the religious observances of yoga. They’re what you do to control your senses.

The first is Shaucha or cleanliness. Yoga wants you to bathe! It wants you to keep your skin nice and moisturized! And it would definitely prefer you wear clean clothes — made of natural fibers. (Well, there goes that one — I own a lot of rayon/polyester/modal/spandex blends.)

Shaucha also asks practitioners to eat clean, healthy, nutrious foods. There’s a whole yogic diet — something I will likely never adhere to because I love a lot of relatively unhealthy foods — but I’m not going to bother going into that. You can google it if you’d like.

Right now I’m impressed with myself for eating salad three days in a row and not feeling like I might go insane. (Put chili and oven baked sweet potatoes on your damn salads, guys. It’s freaking awesome.)

The second Niyama is santosha or contentment. This is a hard thing to do. Detachment from the material world definitely helps here, but also simply being happy with who you are and where you are can nurture a feeling of contentment. It’s ok if you’re up a size, it’s okay if you have a zit, it’s okay if you’re living with your parents because you can’t find work. Take a deep breath and appreciate that you’re alive and able to smile at someone (anyone!).

Then there’s tapas which takes you to a whole higher level of awesomeness. It requires you to practice spiritual discipline. In tapas, you want to cleanse your mind, body and soul. You’ll practice karma-yoga by serving others, You’ll eat well, be pure of mind and exude goodness at this level. You’ll actively practice being pure and wholesome and good!

Swadhyaya is self- and spiritual study. I can only assume this means you dive in and learn about spiritual leaders, masters and devotees while also examining where your own personal beliefs spring from. I feel like I’ve been on a swadhyaya-lite journey since I turned 13. questioning things, learning about other beliefs, piecing together my belief-set, which in it’s ideal form has turned out to resemble this eightfold path in some ways!

Atmanivedana is a devotion or offering of one’s life to god. This is essentially what monks and nuns do, though I suppose you don’t HAVE to be a monk or nun to do such a thing. (Or maybe that’s just my protestant background speaking.)

Tapas, swadhyaya and atmanivedana, according to the eightfold path, cannot occur without shaucha and santosha being obtained. One must be clean and pure and content before one can maintain a spiritual discipline, advance their spiritual study and offer up one’s life to god. (Though I would argue that spiritual discipline and spiritual study go hand in hand with purifying one’s body, mind and soul.)

 

Of all the yamas and niyamas, I’d say the one I need to work on most is: all of them? Is that a good answer? If I had to pick absolutely one from each list, I’d have to say my weakest yama is asteya. I have a pinterest board FULL of things I want. (Does it matter that there are a few yoga related wants? No? Fine.) I’d never steal or lie or cheat to get them, but they’re still wants and not needs. I buy (big chain store) coffee a lot and I don’t NEED that and it’s probably not even in line with yogic diets.

My weakest niyama is probably santosha. I’m doing much better than I was even a year ago, but I’m bored to death at work sometimes and that is NOT contentment. Sometimes I think I should be somewhere else in my life — further ahead in a career, IN a career, dating the man I’ll marry, sharing my apartment with a significant other, making more money, etc — but I’m learning to be okay with my journey.

In the words of The Beatles, there’s “nowhere you can be that’s not where you’re meant to be.”

Now, did any of that make sense to you? I hope so. I feel like I went all rambly, so if that’s how I read — SORRY! (And namaste!)

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2 thoughts on “Yamas and Niyamas!

    • I’ve got to be honest. Being a 27 year old virgin, I feel like I’ve got the list thing under control, lol.

      The food thing is definitely something I don’t think I could ever do long term. I’m surrounded by way too many sweet things made with butter by old Dutch grandmas and the Amish.

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