Niyama: Awakening the Path of Observation

The last week I focused on the first limb of yoga, yama.  I’m embarrassed to admit it, but in the beginning, it was a lot more challenging than I thought.  I never realized how stuck I was in certain patterns. I did things, because I thought that they made life simpler.  But by midweek, I started to realize that some of those patterns were much better broken.

With two children under three, I often plan outings.  These outings usually involve a car trip and needless spending on things like, admission or whatever else is necessary (depending on where I decide to go).  This past week, I vowed to only take the car when necessary. This was a struggle, as two of my favorite trips, one to our provincial park and the other to our local zoo, required a car.    So I decided to make an adventure, each day we packed a picnic, took out the stroller and wandered to a new place near our area.   This was probably the most impactful part of our week, we met some new neighbours, saw some local animals including some wild rabbits and the children loved the adventure.

I realize that this may not be the exactly what Patanjali meant by  yama.  But by the end of the week, I really began to realize the impact I had in the world around me.  I also made a daily practice of showing gratitude (verbally and in actions) for my family and the incredible moments we have together.    These observances really bring me to the next limb, niyama, observances.

Quite honestly, a lot of the past week, was spent on the practice of niyama.  Which really showed how intertwined the two first limbs of ashatanga really are.  It was challenging for me to avoid an action without replacing it with a more desirable one.

There are five niyamas. are: purity (saucha); contentment (santosa); austerity (tapas); self-study (svadhyaya); and devotion to the Lord (isvara pranidhana).  I’m going to spend this week  focusing on the first three  portions of Niyama and next week I will bring in the final two.

Purity (Saucha): Cleaning out the Cobwebs

The Yoga Sutra defines Saucha “purification of your body, mind and environment.” Taking literally, this practice can seem extremely challenging: refraining from anyone or anything that is impure.

However, the simplest thing to focus on is your own personal practice.  Observe how you govern yourself on a daily basis.  What type of food are you eating? Are you nourishing your body with healthy, energy filled food or draining yourself with junk, caffeine and other sugar laden treats.   I should comment that at this very moment, I’m writing this blog while drinking a cup of coffee and eating smarties.  Yes, I definitely need a bit of Saucha in my life.

Maintaining a clean body, mind and environment is not as challenging as it sounds.  Sometimes referred to as the feng shui of yoga, Saucha helps clear out the cobwebs both literally and philosophically to prepare our mind and body for yoga.  My task this week is going to be to clean up my house.  I have so much clutter surrounding me, and I can literally feel the energy drain when I walk into these clutter filled rooms.

Contentment (Santosa): Rejoicing in the Simple Things 

Patanjali realized that the key to Santosa was not to seek contentment in others but in ourselves. This is the part of Niyama, that I found myself practicing in the past week.  I began to realize and see the beauty in the world around me, by taking the time to find gratitude for all my blessings.  Making an active decision of daily gratitude really helps you see the small blessing in our lives: from the magnificent sun set to the song of a bird.  I’m going to continue this practice this week and focus on seeing the positive in the world around me.

Austerity (Tapas)

Tapas is about becoming disciplined and committed to the task at hand.  It is not about taking on challenging tasks for the challenge alone, this would be ego driven.  Instead it is about embracing tasks and staying committed to them even in the challenging times.

Judith Lasater describes the application of tapas beautifully “

A better way to understand tapas is to think of it as consistency in striving toward your goals… it becomes a more subtle but more constant practice, a practice concerned with the quality of life and relationships rather than focused on whether you can grit your teeth through another few seconds in a difficult asana.”

I’ve been finding this aspect of the Niyamas, extremely difficult.  I’m not sure, if it’s because I’m unorganized, taking on too much or lack focus. But I’m going to do some reflections on this area in my life, and hope to see some changes in the next week.

The Niyamas are to help prepare both our mind and body for the third limb of yoga (Asanas, the postures).  These first three Niyamas, focus on making some changes to both mind and body.   I’m really looking forward to reflecting about this area and my life and seeing how involving Niyama will impact my physical yoga practice.

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