Yoga Beyond the Mat: The Niyamas

yoga-mat-roll-upIn the last blog I mentioned how, closer to its origins, yoga is more a “philosophy” than the “activity” it has generally become in the Western world. Also in contrast to its Eastern origins, we may be more likely to see our yoga practice as a segmented, part of our day yet somehow separate from it, rather than an inclusive element of our lifestyle.

It is not an uncommon occurrence to see someone who lives a loaded, attention-deficit life, rushing in to their yoga class, slapping down the mat for an hour of bliss & peace, then running back out to the car and off to the next thing.

There is value to any kind of bliss and peace we do find in our lives, however and wherever it comes. But to compartmentalize it is like being a good driver on a certain road at a certain hour and not really giving a hoot the rest of the time—which is being a risk to yourself and others.

Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas, introduced in the previous blog posting, provide wise guidance for how we can “do” yoga even when we’re not on the mat. The yamas counsel our interactions with beings in the world around us, while these five niymas offer prudent inner observances:

  • Saucha, purity, counsels us to be clean and healthy both physically and mentally so there is less to cloud our path.
  • Santosha, contentment, counsels us to focus on what is rather than what ought to be and to practice gratitude.
  • Tapas, self-discipline, counsels us embrace practices that will most effectively engage our development and growth
  • Svadhyaya, self-study, counsels us to nurture a state of reflective self-awareness so that we may come to see our core essence.
  • Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to the divine, counsels us to us to relinquish the illusion of being in charge and yield to our higher purpose.

These can seem idealistic, but in much the same way a yoga pose may be thought of as an intention rather than a precise objective to attain or emulate, the yamas and niyamas mgith be considered notions which you need to find your own authentic expression of. In doing asana I sometimes say, “honour the pose while at the same time respect your body.” These practices for daily living could be interpreted in the same way. After all, it’s all yoga.

Consider that these wise nuggets of gold have been around for, hmmm, about 1600 years. There’s good reason for things that endure over time. Learn more by downloading the 10 Yamas & Niyamas card set, which offer a few of my own interpretations and applications. I designed them to be printed as cards so you can sort them, pin them, choose one as a daily focus, or use them in whatever way might be helpful to your yoga practice.

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