A BLUEPRINT FOR LIVING YOUR BEST LIFE
Words: Jordan Ashley
The Yamas and Niyamas are yoga’s ethical guidelines laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path. They’re like a blueprint written to guide you on your life’s journey. Simply put, the Yamas are things to refrain from, or restraints, while the Niyamas are things to engage in or observe. Together, they create a moral code of conduct or offer us guidelines on how to live our lives not only pertaining to ourselves, but also the world around us in how we interact with people, plants, and animals. These texts were written around 500 BCE (more than 2000 years ago) and obviously, the world is a very different place. With that being said, just like how you wouldn’t force
your body into a specific pose, you shouldn’t feel obligated to dramatically shift your lifestyle or beliefs into what isn’t authentic for you. Just like any religious scripture or text with great historical gravitas and influence, I think it’s important to recognize that when we engage in the yoga practice it’s about the practice of working with ourselves, with our individuality as opposed to forcing or feeling pressured to be something that we are not. In the big, vast world of wellness and yoga there are a lot of opinions on what makes someone a true yogi be it what your diet consists of, how long you can meditate, or even what activities you like to enjoy in your free time.
But honestly, try your best to leave all of that behind. It’s not about what someone on your social media feed is doing, it’s about what you are doing to create a positive ripple effect in your life, starting with yourself. So, let’s begin to explore what exactly the Yamas and Niyamas are and how these principles can be integrated into your yoga practice both off and off the mat.
The five Yamas, self-regulating behaviours involving our interactions with other people and the world at large:
When we practice nonviolence, we are trying our best to not harm any living being. Some examples are making sure our words and actions are kind before we speak, act, or write, and also doing our best to prevent or stop violent behaviour toward ourselves and others. In contemporary times, Ahimsa has equated to having vegetarian or vegan diets. However, for many people, this is not feasible due to economic, cultural, or medical reasons. Thus, remembering that everyone is on their own path and not to shame or guilt others for their dietary choices is essential and also could be deemed as counterintuitive to ahimsa if you are inciting violence on someone else for not doing exactly what you are doing. So, be kind.
Restraining from falsehood and living our truth is practiced by always telling and living the truth we already know. We may not always know what is true and what is false, so standing behind what we know to be true is the best way to practice. Acting from personal experience and letting that be your moral compass is a great way to engage with satya in that your actions come from your own authenticity. So getting quiet and listening to that guiding voice inside of each of us can help you to begin to navigate the world with a little more transparency.
We practice non-stealing by working towards keeping our thoughts and actions honest, by not taking credit for things we haven’t done, and by not stealing any physical things that aren’t ours as well as ideas and information that we know don’t belong to us. I think this is more abundant and apparent in the world of social media in how much information and content in the yoga space is constantly recycled and reappropriated. Be it retreat itineraries, well-being articles, or the need to emulate someone else in order to get more perceived likes, has gotten out of control. And yes, while the late and great Oscar Wilde wrote, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness,” this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt and cause a great deal of pain and frustration when others pilfer. So I always look to the golden rule of treating others how you want to be treated.
By restraining from extremes in our lives, we keep our own in balance. To me, this is very much in line with the Buddhist idea of following “the middle path” in that for the most part you are not overindulging and also not abstaining from life in itself either. While we are only on the planet for a short period of time in the grand scheme of things, we must enjoy our existence as life is for living. Be it food, drink, sex, or fun, pleasure is part of the human experience. However, if we indulge too much this can shift into addiction, and dependency, and ultimately affect our ability to work and provide both for ourselves and the people we love. On the other hand, if we constantly restrain ourselves be it through food, drink, sex, or fun, then we are living a very unfulfilled existence and a very small life at that.
Hence, following the “middle path” or having Bramacharya be your go-to the majority of the time, gives you room to both play and restore by not living in extremes, but more so cohesively in the centre.
Sharing creates community. When we share the things and ideas that we have in this life, we’re opening ourselves up to deepen our connections with one another. When we are able to be detached from material things and possessions and refrain from having a hoarder mentality, then we can engage in a society in which we are helping each other and of service. This doesn’t mean to be a pushover and let people take and take from you, but rather to come from a place of abundance and not scarcity. Sharing food, giving away clothes that you don’t wear anymore, and not keeping information to ourselves that could greatly help and benefit someone else is a way to engage in Aparigraha.
The five Niyamas are personal practices that relate to our inner world. When we take our practice into the world around us, the Yamas are a great guide for setting an example for others.
We practice this through yoga, meditation, and also by making good decisions for our diet and recreational activities. This also has to do with practicing good personal hygiene like bathing on a frequent basis, washing your hands, cleaning your teeth, and taking good care of our bodies both on the inside and out. Try to take your time when cleaning and not rushing when using products that you enjoy and set this up as a way of self-care. This also is in alignment with keeping our minds refreshed and nourished as well by giving ourselves the opportunity to let go of thoughts that no longer serve us as well as people and activities. What may have worked for you in your past or youth probably isn’t what you need right now, so being open to the different expressions of clarity that your present self needs is a way to find Saucha on multiple levels.
When we are grateful, we are content with what we have and where we are in our lives. Instead of always having our gaze be outwards and judging
what we don’t have and what could be improved, we are depriving ourselves of the ability to just be and to just be present at that very moment. Through PHILOSOPHY yogamagazine.com 71 facebook.com/official.yogamag While embracing New York City’s fast-paced yoga culture, Jordan Ashley recognised a need for a more service-based practice; a need for experiences that gives perspective to the self through selflessness. Drawing on her experience of travel and being a full-time yoga teacher, she created Souljourn Yoga Foundation as an avenue for the practitioner who wants more than just “downward dog” and to expand on the need for equal education across the globe. Jordan Ashley is an activist, writer, yoga teacher, TedX speaker, and Ph.D. candidate.
www.souljournyoga.com the ongoing practice of noticing when we’re envious and replacing that envy with gratitude, we can practice contentment. Even if it’s for something that we deem to be inconsequential, for someone else what you have is in fact a point of envy. Trying to be content and grateful for our basic human needs like having access to food, clean water, shelter, and for the most part, safety in our daily movements is something that unfortunately many people in the world lack. Even the ability to read and be literature is a luxury, so recognising how much we do have in fact can begin to grow our Santosha
This is often a practice of doing something we don’t always want to do. But we do it because it’s positive for our lives and the lives around us. We all have responsibilities, be it taking care of ourselves or others such as friends, family members, or animals. By creating a routine in what time we wake up for work, when to water our plants, or even how frequently we exercise, we can begin to build up the willpower and strength to flourish within our created boundaries and structures. When we have self-discipline in place, it can give us a sense of internal architecture in that we are grounded in our actions and ultimately have the power to create less stress and work for us. Like taking the dogs out in the morning because if I don’t they are bound to have an accident which then causes more work for myself (cleaning them and also the accident), so it’s not worth skipping out on the self-discipline.
Reading and listening to yoga philosophy and continuing your ongoing yoga practice both on and off the yoga mat. It’s more than just the study of our physical self, it’s also the study of our spiritual self. Understanding the reason behind what drives, motivates, and inspires us to take action in our daily lives, that constant internal dialogue that we have with ourselves is a way to continue to grow our own light and clarity on how we want to live our lives.
Be it through meditation or pranayama practice or journaling, painting/ drawing, or any other activity that creates self-expression, anything that brings us closer to ourselves and our true essence/nature is a way to practice Svadhyaya.
Sometimes this is practiced by realising that we aren’t always in control and that the driving force that moves us and keeps us connected is love. When we are connected to love, we can connect to a greater, higher truth and as we stand with the truth, we’re able to be a positive influence on others. By having the ability to let things go, be it people or actions in our lives that are causing us pain and suffering we can begin to make room for new things and possibilities to experiences we didn’t know were possible had we not had the ability to simply let it go
While embracing New York City’s fast-paced yoga culture, Jordan Ashley recognised a need for a more service-based practice; a need for experiences that gives perspective to the self through selflessness. Drawing on her experience of travel and being a full-time yoga teacher, she created Souljourn Yoga Foundation as an avenue for the practitioner who wants more than just “downward dog” and to expand on the need for equal education across the globe. Jordan Ashley is an activist, writer, yoga teacher, TedX speaker, and Ph.D. candidate.