You know how some people just rub you the wrong way, even if they’ve done nothing to warrant it? Maybe it’s the guy who works at the coffee shop you frequent every morning, the one who always says hello but looks as though he’s just smelled something bad. Maybe it’s your coworker whose friendly attempts at small talk grate before you’ve had a chance to drink the coffee you just bought from the dour barista. They haven’t done anything to offend you; there’s just something about them.
There’s a girl in my yoga class who, until recently, was like that for me. She’s never said a word to me, nor I to her, but I was just not a fan. Most of the reason is that she commits one of my biggest pet peeves–getting up and leaving during savasana (or sometimes she does other, more energetic poses in place of this all-important final resting pose)–but the fact that she always seems determined to try to stretch herself into the fullest extent of the pose, form be damned, didn’t help either. Take your cues from your body, not from Instagram, girl.
So I’m in class, in savasana, while she’s doing pigeon pose or whatever, and suddenly I realise: if she’s beng a “bad yogi” by ignoring the niyama of isvara pranidhana, surrender, then I’m being a bad yogi by letting her actions dictate my feelings in opposition to the niyama of santosha, contentment. Whatever she is doing is not half as detrimental to my own well-being as what my own thoughts and prejudices are doing to me.
I recently finished reading The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele, a book that I feel has changed my way of thinking and will hopefully change my way of feeling and acting to a more mindful lifestyle. I was first introduced to the book by one of my teachers at Blossom Yoga. She read to us from the book during opening meditation and final savasana. While I was initially resistant to adding a more spiritual element to what, for me, had been a mostly physical practice, over time I came to understand the importance of connecting the eight limbs of yoga and not simply relying on the physical asana to reap the full potential of its benefits.
Some of the yamas and niyamas were already familiar to me. The yama of ahimsa, or nonviolence, is one of the main tenets of yoga and encompasses both the need to be peaceful and kind toward others and the importance of being compassionate to ourselves. Ahimsa asks us to practice falling in love with ourselves with a forgiving love that accepts our imperfections. The self-care movement is (or should be, when it is not used as a push for consumerism) rooted in nonviolence.
Tapas, or self-discipline, was also something that I have tried to incorporate into my life and my practice as it is the niyama my teacher was focusing our study on when I joined her classes over the summer. Deborah Adele describes tapas as similar to a controlled burn, in which we seek to change ourselves at our core by ridding ourselves of the surrounding layers which do not serve us. Living mindfully helps us find what is humble and truthful at our centres.
Other concepts were new to me, or at least the ways in which they can be incorporated into our lives. Saucha means purity, which is a word that has always had a negative connotation for me due to the ways it has been used to control women and particularly our sexuality. However, the purity of saucha refers to letting our whole being live in the moment that is given to us. There’s also brahmcharya, nonexcess, which does not mean denying ourselves pleasures but instead avoiding overindulgence to the extent that we no longer recognize with gratitude the gifts that life gives us,
Paired with asana, the physical practice, the yamas and niyamas make up three of the eight limbs of yoga, and each of the five yamas and five niyamas offers us something different that helps us to practice mindfulness on and off the yoga mat. Whether you read Deborah Adele’s book, a more traditional text such as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, or even simply a blog page that provides an outline, I highly recommend learning about the yamas and niyamas and hopefully you’ll find inspiration for incorporating them into your life.
When I go to yoga class, there may be others who are not doing yoga as I do. When I go about my life there may be others who do not go about their lives as I do. I cannot control their actions, but I can control my emotions and whether or not I let their actions effect my emotions toward them or toward myself. It is a simple concept that can be so difficult to put into practice. We are human and therefore imperfect–I may still feel a twinge of annoyance the next time the girl in my yoga class gets up to leave as soon as the instructor invites us into savasana–but I can feel at peace with my efforts to live more mindfully and bring balance to my life.