Yamas and Niyamas: An Introduction

Jun 16, 2020

The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of the eightfold path. Even at some yoga teacher trainings these are taught from a very theoretical standpoint. People give examples, everyone nods, then the course moves on. Here at Orchid Experience, we want you to notice experiences where the Yama and Niyama are in action in your life. Throughout the summer we will offer exercises or give an example of how the Yamas and Niyamas may show up in your infertility journey. Try the exercises? Then try them again, these are practices in Svadhyaya – self-study, but more on that later.

The quick overview is: the Yamas are how you interact with the world, and the Niyamas are how you interact with yourself. Each one has a short one or two word definition (which we have listed here), but once you dive into each one you begin to learn they are way more complex than the short definition. For the next 10 weeks we will breakdown each one and offer how it can be seen through a different lens. Get ready to get a rea-life practical sense of how to practice the Yamas and Niyamas.

YAMAS

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Many of us would never actually be violent towards someone else, but we might not be kind with our thoughts and our words towards others, and even with ourselves. Our thoughts are very powerful and they affect our state of consciousness.

Satya: truthfulness

Speaking the truth has many different facets. When we talk about speaking truthfully in yoga we incorporate the other yamas and niyamas. To pull in the first yama, ahimsa - nonviolence, when you speak do you speak the truth with consideration of how your words can harm yourself or others? Another aspect of truthfulness is living your truth. Listening to your internal clues and honoring them is a way of living truthfully. Another way is to live authentically to who you are, portraying yourself outwardly as a mirror of who you are inside while still having boundaries between what is public and what is private.

Asteya: non-stealing

Seems pretty straight forward, right? Don’t take things that are not yours: physically, socially, and emotionally. What about depriving yourself of what is yours? Is that stealing from yourself? Allowing yourself time to process and relax is an important part of self care. Allow yourself that time and those experiences so you can practice asteya.

Brahmacharya: moderation

Moderation is about balance. Eating enough to be nourished. Working out enough to appropriately stress your body in a controlled setting. Working enough to enjoy vacation. Having enough alone time and enough social activity.

Aparigraha: non-attachment, non-hoarding

We attach ourselves to everything. We literally come out of the womb attached to another being. It’s hard not to attach ourselves to things. We start needing love, food, and shelter for survival, but that turns into clothes, friends, a house, a car, an identity. Attachment can be of physical items, but it can also be of dreams, relationships, and of the stories we tell ourselves of our past or our future. Learning to let these things go is hard, but when we free ourselves of the expectations that come with these things we can free ourselves of disappointment and pain.

NIYAMAS

Saucha: purity

Sometimes this is considered abstinence. If you want to get pregnant you probably shouldn’t be practicing abstinence. Saucha is also considered cleanliness; cleanliness of our physical bodies, our internal bodies, and our minds. Consider how often you bathe, what you ingests, and what your internal monologue says.

Santosha: contentment

When going through infertility this can be one of the biggest struggles. How can you be content when you need help to do one of the most basic biological/evolutionary tasks that all creates do: reproduce. Start by finding joy inside instead of searching for outside constructs (people or things) to make you happy. An easy exercise to start finding contentment is gratitude. Create a gratitude list every day and see how much you already have.

Tapas: discipline

This is pretty self explanatory. Discipline. The discipline to start and continue the actions you need or want to make your life the way you want. The downfall: expectations. Your alarm goes off in the morning and you get up right away (no pressing the snooze). You get dressed, eat breakfast, and you leave on time. You leave 30 min before you need to be at work and it only takes you 15 min to get there with the normal rush hour traffic, but today there’s an accident. You were disciplined. You practiced tapas, but if you were caught up on being to work on time and get worked up about it then all that work might be for naught.

Svadhyaya: self-study

Yoga is huge on self-study. During asana you are asked to explore how a pose feels mentaly, physically, and emotionally. You’re constantly asked if you’re breathing. Really!? “If I wasn’t breathing I’d be dead.” True, but how are you breathing? Is it the same, or is it different? You don’t need to do yoga to practice svadhyaya, you can explore yourself by listening to what your body is telling you. When you get angry, how do you feel physically? When you work out, how do you feel mentally? When you study for a test/certification, how do you feel emotionally?

Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender

This is contentment and non-attachment combined. Can you live in the now and surrender all things to come. Live without expectations of how things will turn out. Do things without attachments to the end result. It is hard, and sometimes feels impossible. While practicing mindful eating, can you practice Ishvara Pranidhana. Have a partner make you something small and blindfold you before presenting the food. Start by smelling. Use your fingers to touch the food. Place the food in your mouth and slowly eat the food. If you expect to eat something sweet but the item smells savory, you might be disappointed. Surrender your expectations and allow yourself to have an experience.

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