I was one of those people who started yoga to help my body. While I’d taken various yoga classes throughout my life, it wasn’t until I was pregnant with baby number three that I really started to develop a consistent practice. In the years that followed, my spirituality bloomed, and I felt a connection with Buddhism beginning. While I liked what I’d read about that philosophy, it wasn’t until I’d discovered Yoga Philosophy that I had my ah-ha moment of spiritual connection. The Yoga Sutras, written by Sri Patanjali thousands of years ago (the exact date is unknown), encapsulates this philosophy, giving us a road map for living our best lives.
Enter the Yamas and Niyamas
Keeping it super simple, in Yoga Philosophy there are the Eight Limbs of Yoga. While I’ll bypass six of them, the first two limbs are the Yamas and the Niyamas. They are higher up on the yoga ladder than Asana (physical yoga postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques), and they each have five subsections, if you will, which prepare ourselves for the ultimate goal of union with the divine.
Similar to the Ten Commandments, the Yamas and Niyamas bring us into relationships with ourselves, others we interact with, as well as a higher power.
The first Limb of Yoga Philosophy includes the Yamas. These are essentially five moral restraints, the highest vows we can take on our path to divine union. They help us be the best versions of ourselves, giving us guidelines on how to self-regulate and interact with others. The Yamas include the principles of Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Brahmacharya (moderation/celibacy), and Aparigraha (nonhoarding).
Limb number two explores the Niyamas. These five observances relate to our personal practices, what’s going on on in the inside. They are codes of conduct for how we treat ourselves. The Niyamas are Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (zeal/austerity), Svadhyaya (self study), and Isvara-pranidhana (devotion to a higher power).
In this time of a pandemic, here’s how we can take these philosophical tenets and apply them to our new reality.
Besides the obvious “don’t hurt anything,” the principle of Ahimsa has many different layers.
Living through a pandemic is stressful, and we all deal with that stress in different ways. Drinking too much, eating crappy foods, and getting less movement can take huge tolls on our lives. Practicing the act of nonviolence isn’t just about not killing the spider in your living room; it’s being kind to yourself in thoughts and deeds.
Another act of Ahimsa is wearing a mask while outside to prevent your potential cooties from making their way to someone else. It’s also being kind to those you’re sharing a space with. Tensions are high, and we’re all struggling, so tempers can flare. Be kind and remember we’re all in this together.
This isn’t truthful in like, “Hey, man, you look really bad in that outfit.” Remember Ahimsa and not hurting anyone? That’s higher up on the list, which means being brutally honest isn’t a part of Satya.
Satya means being truthful about how you’re feeling — physically, mentally, and emotionally. Talk with your person or a therapist about what’s happening and your doc about physical symptoms (especially if you suspect it’s the virus). It also means taking an honest look at yourself — how you feel about your job, your lifestyle choices, etc. — and making any course corrections possible so you can live a vibrant life.
This one is pretty obvious: don’t steal from anyone, be it an individual or large corporation.
But stealing others’ time is another layer for us to examine. Whether you’re late to a meeting or you keep someone from doing something, these are also examples of stealing.
And what about if you’re an asymptomatic carrier and don’t know it? You could literally be stealing someone’s time on this planet unknowingly. That takes Asteya to a whole new level.
This Yama has a couple of different interpretations. Back in Patanjali’s day, young men were the only ones practicing yoga. Because of this, there was a rule in place that those gents needed to keep their sexual energies to themselves. In modern-day speak, Brahmacharya encourages us to practice moderation — not just in our energies, sexual or otherwise, but also in our lifestyle choices.
What have your tenancies been lately? Are ya overindulging right about now? Think: booze, weed, food, news, and Netflix. And taking it to the other interpretation, if you don’t live with the person you’re having sex with, then chances are the celibacy part is already in play. Such. A. Bummer.
We do the best we can during intense times such as these, and that often means doing some self-soothing. Just beware that it’s not getting (or maybe it’s already there?) to the point of limiting your ability to be a healthy human. The path of wellness is not found by eating an entire package of Oreos. But you already know that.
This one is easy. Toilet paper. Flour. Hand sanitizer.
So when the U.S. first began COVID adaptations in mid March, I was supposed to go to Boston with my daughter to celebrate her 21st birthday. Needless to say we canceled our plans. But because we were going to be gone for eight days, we hadn’t stocked up on our regular groceries leading up to that time. Once we decided to stay home, we needed to go shopping. We were shocked at what we walked into. Lines 10 people deep and no food on the shelves (except some organic/gluten free/vegan options which fortunately suited us perfectly). Nearly two months later, I felt like I’d won the lottery when I actually found toilet paper at my local Target.
Moving forward, if you don’t need it, don’t buy it. There’s enough for everyone if we just stop shopping out of fear.
If you’re doing all the things to stay healthy, then you’re nearly there. Eat organic fruits and veggies. Drink lots of water. Use a neti pot. Try dry brushing for lymph flow. Getting an optimum amount of sleep is a must. And since the days can blend together, don’t forget to occasionally bathe.
Movement is a key component of Saucha as well. Getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes a day will do a ton of good. And don’t forget to meditate. We’re going for the whole body/mind/spirit purity.
This one might be a bit more difficult, because it can be challenging to be content in a time of such extreme uncertainty. Do you have a job? Will you have a job? Should you even be working? Are you content about your circumstances? I haven’t even held my boyfriend’s hand in over eight weeks, and I’m definitely not content about that. However, I’m at peace with the decision to practice social distancing with my man, and I’m looking forward to our re-connection time. Focus on the good things in your life. Begin a gratitude practice if you don’t already have one. Rose-colored glasses can be a good thing, especially now.
The fire that lights you up, the thing that gets you moving forward so you can follow through with your intentions, Tapas is all about self-discipline. This Niyama helps you burn off your bad habits (like binge watching Schitt’s Creek) through restraint. It also stokes the passionate and courageous sides of us, which will help us get out of bed in the morning instead of sleeping the day away as a means of avoidance.
Svadhyaya: self study
This is a great time to get to know yourself better and expand your horizons, especially if you’re feeling uncertain. Through Svadhyaya, you can study your habits during times of stress. You can pick up that self-help book you’ve been meaning to read. What if you started journaling? How about enrolling in an online course? Don’t forget virtual yoga classes, and the big daddy of ’em all, meditation. All of these are ways to reconnect to yourself, to learn more about yourself, and to grow as a human.
Isvara-pranidhana: devotion to a higher power
Try devoting some time in your day to prayer, meditation, walking in nature, or any other way you feel is best for you. You can pray to whatever god or gods you want to help you get through this time, because there’s lots to pray for right now. To clarify, you don’t have to be religious to reap the rewards of this Niyama. But when you’re devoted to something bigger than yourself, in whatever way that feels best for you, you’re more likely to not be a jerk to someone in the grocery store. And, let’s face it, the world really needs nice people, now more than ever.