Yamas and Niyamas
Or how can Yoga contribute to the shaping of your lifestyle
I started practicing Yoga because I had to stop kick boxing.
I thought of Yoga as a softer practice that could improve my recovery after an injury, quiet my mind and allow me to get back to boxing quicker. It was well before the rise of Instagram in France and the changes it led to in terms of how people imagine Yoga.
My first Yoga class was hard... I could not touch my toes or bend my back in any way - nor could I shut down my ego from telling how bad I was compared to the others in the class.
Yet, I came out of the studio feeling lighter. And I kept coming.
I had no revelation and turned back more because of the challenge than because of the sensation I was experiencing. Simply because I was not able to take the time to listen.
Over the years my practice became more fluid, nicer to watch, but did not evolve much : I had never read anything about Yoga and kept considering it as a sport.
I had never chanted a single OM in class and would have laughed had a teacher ask me to do so.
When we bought our flat, we decided to cut down some extra expenses and I had to let go of my Yoga membership. That’s when I started unrolling my mat at home, practicing for me, without a mirror in front and no one to compare to on the side, looking for content on the internet, starting following teachers not because they were on the schedule but because I liked their style and their vibes. In few weeks, my practice plummeted and that’s when my revelation happened.
This is my personal practice that took me to teacher training and it is still today one of my favorite reasons to wake up in the morning.
But why such a personal and subjective introduction?
Well, because that is what is Yoga to me : a self-discipline that you are the only one to shape. You have the freedom of drawing the framework of your yogic lifestyle, assembling pieces of a puzzle that will often take you to another level of practice but also allow you to find balance in many other levels of your life.
The first pieces of this puzzle are the Yamas (values ruling our social behaviors) and Niyamas (values ruling our personal behaviors) as I learned later. Pieces that I discovered without knowing it by developing my personal practice, as in my case mental insecurities were blocking me much more than physical abilities to master Asanas.
The Yamas and Niyamas are the two first limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, the eight limbs leading to self-realization, functioning as a ladder to climb as we advance in our practice.
- Yama (moral and social discipline)
- Niyama (self discipline)
- Asana (physical postures)
- Pranayama (breathing techniques)
- Pratyahara (senses withdrawal)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation or concentration)
- Samadhi (bliss)
It is rather interesting to realize that Asanas, the physical practice, is only the third limb, meaning that before practicing you’ll need to clean up your social and personal behaviors to reach a state of balance and relative quietness allowing physical practice. Of course, Asanas practiced without the other limbs remain valuable and definitely improve your lifestyle. Yet, by defining and following the Yamas and Niyamas, your Yoga practice will expand way beyond your mat with changes in your mental and physical skills that will surprise you.
- Ahimsa (non-violence in thought, word and deed)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (moderation or ‘right use of energy’)
- Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding)
- Saucha (cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (discipline)
- Svadhyaya (study - of the self and the texts)
- Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher being or power)
As already stated the most wonderful thing about Yoga is that you have the freedom to interpret these values based on your experience and lifestyle. If you set the rules, can’t they be any more legitimate? And if you happen to break the rules, aren’t you the one able to understand why and make sure that it is aligned with your true values?
For instance, Ahimsa can be interpreted as veganism but also as pure kindness towards your body and mind. With no hostility and harm coming from you, why would others be aggressive and disrespectful?
Asteya refers to non-stealing but isn’t being late stealing people’s time? If you speak the truth, why would others lie to you.
Aparagriha encourages you to lower your desire for other’s goods or skills but it can also be understood as just being genuinely happy for other’s who are doing better in some areas. Imagine the peacefulness in you if greed and jealousy were significantly lowered!
Tapas defines the framework of your discipline based on your goals and self and Isvara Pranidhana does not imply any religious beliefs but true gratitude for what we have and have accomplished.
These are just quick examples that would need many more pages and even more hours of thinking... And I encourage you to think about what all of these values mean for you, whether you are a yogi or not!
Defining your vision of the world and your relationship to it does magic : all Yamas and Niyamas have the common power of reinjecting positive thinking to life and creating balance leading to a mental strength that can only improve the athlete in you. Why would you skip on such an opportunity?!