I am reading “The Path of the Yoga Sutras” by Nicolai Bachman and I am on the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Astanga). The Yamas and Niyamas in the eight limbs are like the yogi’s equivalent of the ten commandments, the ethical practices and personal self-care to have a more pure and happy life.
The yamas: 1. nonviolence, truthfulness. 2. not taking from others. 3. conservation of vital energy. 4. nonpossessiveness
The niyamas: 1. cleanliness of body, heart-mind, and surroundings. 2. contentment 3. practice causing positive change. 3. study by and of oneself. 4. humility and faith.
The yamas were pretty clear to me, having been raised in a Christian household. The niyamas were a little different. I had really never learned about self-care growing up. I knew that certain unhealthy foods that I ate would make me gain weight and that smoking was bad for you, but delving deeper into my psyche and my inner goodness was somewhat foreign. This was no fault of my parents. They had given me a good moral backbone and kept me on a virtuous path the best they could.
My journey of learning more about yoga has been fast tracked by my work with self-care, thanks to my teacher Lisa Ware and her teacher training. At first I didn’t understand why I had to do all these self-care assignments about affirmations and taking time for myself. I was there to learn the poses (asanas) and teach it to others, that’s it! But I didn’t realize that most of yoga IS that self reflection and meditation. The physical asanas are grand, but all they are intended for is getting the body ready for deep meditation. I was blown away by this.
I had a lot of years of self-loathing under my belt and at first this process did not seem like something I could do. How could I look in the mirror and say ‘I love you’ while looking myself dead in the eyes? The thought almost made me sick to my stomach. I wasn’t even in one of my depression spells and this seemed impossible to achieve. I had put myself down for so long that lifting myself back up out of the blackness seemed like a herculean feat that I couldn’t do on my own. But with some guidance from the sutras, my teachers, my wife, my friends and my yogi tribe I have come a long way to crawling out of my negative headspace to a place of hope.
I think the first step was agreeing that everyone is made of goodness, and if that was true, I was too. No matter how many dark patterns (samskaras) I found myself in over and over again, I could break the cycle and start fresh. I was never a lost cause and I was worth finding. Once I truly believed that, so many of my samskaras were glaringly obvious to me and I was able to counteract them and breathe through my normal patterns to make a better choice. It felt like I had control for the first time in a long time, but looking deeper at the feeling, it was surrender.
There is so much in this world we cannot control. The more we try, the more helpless we feel. The real way to contentment (santosa) is to discern what we can do ourselves and what we need to let go. Just like the serenity prayer ” God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” It makes perfect sense that it is the prayer used for people who are plagued by addiction. We are addicted to our patterns, they make scars from their constant use and it is hard to get out of those ruts. We have to take the time to search inward to see that we are magnificent and deserve happiness.
The universe (god) will send us what is needed on our path to grow and learn so that we can give our love and gifts to others. We also bring into our lives what we attract. If we are clouded by hate and negativity, we will bring more of that into our lives. We need to start with a strong foundation, and that is fed by loving-kindness to ourselves. A quote I love and try to live by is from Rupaul “If you don’t love yourself, how the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an Amen?” Truer words have never been spoken!
Please try and take some time for yourself, especially in this hectic holiday season. Feed your soul first, so you can be present and give to others in your life. You are the jewel in the lotus, growing from the muck and shining from within. You are worthy and you deserve it!
Love & Light!