Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Set your foundations now
As you continue your journey through Patanjalis 8 Limb Path I’d like to remind you to keep coming back to the first element of the Yamas; Ahimsa (Kindness and Compassion). After speaking to a few of you throughout the previous month I found that some of you were faced with feelings of shame, guilt and general negativity when faced with tough questions like “Where do you over-indulge in life?”
If you missed last months blog on the Yamas, you can read it here.
Firstly, it’s natural to have these feelings surface and perhaps the reason why the negativity has surfaced is due your natural tendency to avoid negative emotions. So when these negative emotions arise, instead of distracting yourself or getting stuck in a negative thought loop, perhaps try to come back to showing yourself kindness and compassion. Speak to yourself the way that you would speak to a loved one, and then take the time to observe how this makes you feel.
Now is a great time to formulate the foundations of structure and self-discipline that you might need before you start your new year. Take time to plan, set patterns in motion, and create structures that might help you to start your year off feeling clear, productive and confident about your intended direction.
What are the Niyamas?
This brings me to the second limb of Patanjali’s 8 Limb path; Niyamas, which could also be seen as self-observances or the things that you do when nobody is watching.
Niyamas help you to focus on your internal environment by:
harmonizing your inner feelings
refining your spiritual path
learning self-discipline and inner strength
This limb is here to help you to build character by observing your inner self. So what do I mean by inner self? This refers to characteristics such as self-discipline, inner strength, and contemplation or introspection. Just like the Yamas, the Niyamas are also broken down into 5 elements.
5 ways to cultivate self-discipline
1. SAUCHA | purity, cleanliness of body and mind
Keeping your body clean on the outside through bathing and teeth brushing, as well as keeping your body and mind clean on the inside through pure thoughts, speech and actions. Saucha also refers to keeping your body and mind clean through yogic practices such as pranayama, asana and meditation.
How to put Saucha into practice now?
Clear your space. Your environment tends to reflect your state of mind, you can probably relate to the idea that when your room is messy, your mind might feel messy and cluttered too. When you clear your space you create a sense of having space to breathe, and you might feel better and clearer in your mind too.
Clean your physical body. This goes without saying, cleanliness is a sign of self-respect and it’s always great to consider your cleanliness before you attend a yoga class as a consideration for your fellow yogis.
Catch yourself in negative thought loops. Check in with how you speak to yourself, how you judge others and when you catch yourself doing this, try to switch the narrative to a positive one. Sending light towards others rather than judgment or impure thoughts.
Take a moment to reflect on the questions below, and perhaps free write the first things that come to mind.
How do you create purity in your environment?
How do you create purity in your body, emotions and thoughts?
2. SANTOSHA | contentment
Understand and accept your current reality for what it is, break attachment to the material world and seek happiness internally. It’s impossible for one who is dissatisfied with oneself or with anything else in life to realize their higher consciousness.
How to put Santosha into practice now?
Experience your joyful nature. “Venture to a comfortable place, either physically or in your imagination, where the surroundings evoke a feeling of peace and joy. Spend a few minutes experiencing comfort with the ambiance and notice if you spontaneously begin to smile. Once the smile forms, let it engrave on your face, close your eyes, and journey inward. Notice how your outer smile is greeted by your inner smile of contentment in your heart. The smile is the outward expression of the joy. When you leave the physical place that invoked this feeling, the outward smile remains as the constant reminder of your inner contentment. Sharing it with each person you meet is like sharing a place in your heart.” The Secret Power of Yoga.
Use the 14-day rule when shopping. When you find an item that you want to purchase, add it to your cart and leave it there for 14 days. If after 14 days you still want or even remember it, purchase it. By taking time to pause before you impulsively buy something, you give yourself the opportunity to understand why you are purchasing the item. Is it because you really want/need it, or are you looking for a temporary fix of contentment?
Take a moment to reflect on the questions below, and perhaps free write the first things that come to mind.
Is there an area in your life that causes you suffering?
Instead of resisting it what can you do to find more ease and contentment in that area?
3. TAPAS | self-discipline, austerity
Tapas directly translated means heat or glow. Tapas focus on building character and calmness by challenging yourself to achieve your goals without attachment to the outcome or attaining anything.
In the Bhagavad-Gita Tapas is referred to as kindling the purifying flame through refining the actions of our bodies, minds and speech. Tapas encourages you to use zeal and sincerity to drive all of your actions, whether serving your family, community or yourself; transform all of your actions into spiritual practices.
“Living life with zeal and sincerity, the purifying flame is ignited (Tapas), revealing the inner light.” The Secret Power of Yoga
How to put Tapas into practice now?
Tapas of Body. For the next 7 days pay attention to your yoga asana (postures) practice, notice if you usually give 100% when you practice, and perhaps back off a little and give 80 % for a week. Visa versa, if you usually give 80%, perhaps for this week, give 100% and notice what that evokes in you. If discomfort arises, try to sit with it, you might discover something new about yourself.
Tapas of Speech. The next time you sit down to have a conversation with a friend or family member set a device to record your conversation. Leave the device somewhere out of sight and you will soon forget it’s there. After your conversation, listen back to the words and expressions that you used. Was your speech tranquil and gentle? Did it bring benefit to yourself and your friend? Did you feel soothed or agitated listening to yourself? Now consider some positive changes that you can bring to your speech and make these changes for a week, and repeat the process.
Tapas of Mind, Are your thoughts tranquil, gentle, kind, and pure? How you think and feel has a substantial impact on your physical health. Your way with the world around you is determined by the way that you imagine it to be. What situations are weighing heavy on your mind? How can you find some purity and tranquility around this situation?
4. SVADHYAYA | self-study
Svadhyaya means closing your eyes and observing one’s own self. Svadhyaya guides you to know yourself through outward observation and inner reflection. In every day life, if you seek to gain knowledge on a specific aspect of something you might to go to an expert in that field.
If for example you want to know more about buildings, you will consult an Architect. When it comes to getting to know you it gets a little trickier. You are the only expert on yourself but it can sometimes be uncomfortable to study yourself.
How to put Svadhyaya into practice now?
During your yoga practice, or at any other time of the day, observe the nature of your thoughts. Are they kind and compassionate or do you see yourself through a more critical lens? Practice Ahimsa (kindness and compassion) as you practice Svadhyaya.
In our modern age book learning is well respected, filling our minds with a variety of information. Did you know that if you read an entire Sunday Times newspaper that you would have consumed more information in one sitting that the average person one hundred years ago read during their entire lifetime? What if you applied that same curiosity and energy to getting to know yourself?
5. ISHVARA PRANIDHANA | surrender, devotion
Ishwara Pranidhana means to surrender to your consciousness by offering the fruits of your actions to the highest source, you become connected to this higher power and your practices are filled with grace, inner peace and love.
Devotion is the pathway that leads to revealing our hearts. When you live with an open heart you see clearly as the pathway of your life unfolds. It is here that you begin the cultivate faith and devotion before you get to a point of frantically seeking comfort through prayer or any other means of devotion in desperate times.
These prayers or devotions can be made to a higher power within yourself or to an external higher power if you so choose. However you choose to do it, try to be consistent and notice if this consistent devotion makes a difference to your faith.
How to put Ishwara Pranidhana into practice now?
Choose a prayer or affirmation that deepens your level of joy. Create it in your own words and save it somewhere that you will see it every day. Make an effort to repeat your prayer/affirmation to yourself every morning and evening.
After a few days, start to expand it into other parts of your day by setting a reminder on your phone, or placing a post-it note on your computer or mirror. Let it be a constant reminder to repeat your affirmation or prayer.
Reflect on a time in your life when all pieces just fell into place. A time when there was no struggle and you knew that everything was exactly as it was supposed to be. Write down as much as you can remember.
Your evolution towards harmony
The Niyamas are your evolution toward harmony, allowing you to continue your journey inward toward wholeness.
Perhaps resolve to incorporate one of these practices into your daily life as a way to deepen your connection to yourself. I know that this is a lot of information to take in, especially if you are learning about this for the first time. Sometimes it’s easier to digest information in smaller quantities.
If you felt inspired by this and feel like you would like to try incorporate some of these elements into your daily life then follow me on Instagram @elumi_yoga for inspirational reminders of each element of the Niyamas, practical ways to apply them to your daily life and community support and love.
“Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” Richard Branson.
Love and Light