How do the eight limbs of yoga and sheltering from coronavirus relate? In the last blog post, we discussed the yamas, or moral imperatives, and how they can help to navigate the difficulties of sheltering during the pandemic. Now, we turn to another of the eight limbs of yoga, the niyamas, and what insights they can give into living with sheltering in place.
The niyamas are observances that take us deeper to our inner world. Where the yamas were more focused toward our relationship with the larger society, the niyamas concern our relationship with ourselves. These are rules of conduct that apply individual discipline.
The first of the niyamas is saucha (cleanliness). Obviously, bodily cleanliness through bathing and other grooming habits is important. Often, this can be the first thing to be neglected when we find ourselves in stressful times. Good personal hygiene is important to a positive personal outlook so keeping the basics up can go a long way. Cleanliness goes beyond skin deep however. Asanas (poses) and pranayama (breath work) can keep our bodies clean of the physical tension that manifests during times of stress. Keeping ourselves clean inside and out will help us manage the tensions of living through the pandemic.
Santosha (contentment) can and must be cultivated. The fact that we are alive and invested enough in our well-being that we are studying yoga is a great place to start. Many future scenarios will be created by our minds in times of stress. Many of these will be unpleasant and will contribute to deepening the feelings of stress. Cultivating a sense of tranquility with what we actually have right now, if only a measure of health and self-reflection, will balance out the destructive thoughts created unconsciously in our minds. This is not easy, so in times of peace it is good to fortify our feelings of contentment.
Tapas (effort) is the engine which drives us in the direction we strive toward. As our sheltering drags on, just getting up may feel like a herculean labor. We must do it. When given the choice to make the effort or not, we must choose to make the effort. During sheltering, this applies to all the eight limbs of yoga, including the yamas and niyamas. Deciding on the goal of positive self-attainment requires that we decide to make the effort each step of the way. While all of these precepts are intertwined in some way, tapas is the one that keeps them all progressing.
Svadhyaya (self-study) is the fourth of the niyamas. In this case, we must be both teacher and student. Taking the eight limbs of yoga as a guide, we listen to our hearts to instruct us to put them into practice. From there, we continually examine how we are applying them and determine how we continue going forward. Constant reflection, without beginning and without end, is the hallmark of svadhyaya.
Finally, we come to the most subtle of the niyamas, Ishvara pranidhana (surrender). Here we are concerned with the surrender of the fruits of one’s actions. This is not meant in a negative way, as in a sense of loss or giving up. More, it is the knowledge that what you are developing with your yoga practice is not something that can be held onto or displayed. Rather, it is the subtle awareness of the personal benefits of practice. It might even be that you can’t put your finger on just what the benefit might be, but you can feel it is there. Similarly, sheltering in place will seem like an overreaction if it really does work in mitigating the effects of the pandemic, but it will be hard to know exactly how it has worked.
The eight limbs of yoga, including the niyamas, provide a guide to handling the challenges of sheltering from coronavirus. Together with the yamas, we are provided with a direction toward living in concordance with others as well as with ourselves. Yoga is often an understanding of balance, and the yamas and niyamas embody that understanding. They may seem obvious at first glance, but difficult to grasp in their practice. What may seem to be simple common sense turns out to be much deeper upon reflection. This is the energetic dichotomy that drives a yoga practice. How is it for you and your yoga practice? Let us know in the comments how you feel the push and pull of the yamas and niyamas in your daily life.