By Lauren Fournier, PT, DPT
The Yamas & Niyamas are the “ten commandments” of yoga philosophy and ethics. “Raja Yoga claims that yama and niyama must be practiced before commencing hatha yoga. It says, “control the mind and then purify the body” (Muktibodhananda, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, p. 56). The yamas and niyamas are the foundation of yoga practice and offer moral guidelines to live by. It is said that they are more important than physical techniques and contribute to developing the power of one’s mind and giving direction to one’s life.
The first yama is thought to be the foundation or core of yoga philosophy and practice. Ahimsa means non-harming or nonviolence. Killing or causing physical harm are easy enough concepts for most to understand, however the more subtle examples of feeling off balance, fearful, anxious, powerless or being harsh or critical of ourselves are more common pitfalls.
This concept has been difficult for me to practice because I have found I often speak harmfully to myself or put myself under undue stress. Most likely this stems from my feeling that I perform better under pressure/stress. I have always been someone who in school would get worse grades when I had worked on a paper or project days or weeks in advance. My best work came from the adrenaline rush of “I have to get it done or else.” I know that’s not a healthy way of doing things, but it has proven to work for me by getting better grades/outcomes when I use that method.
My negative self-talk also comes from my father’s teaching of playing sports with a “chip on my shoulder“. Having a competitive edge is what drove me to perform well. I’d use the negative talk to motivate myself and “prove them wrong”. So, I think I use similar language in my head throughout my day to always be at my best and ensure that I am getting everything done using that self-driven pressure. This method may have served me well on the softball field, but through my yoga training, I see how this isn’t effective off the field.
The start of the new year is a time where many of us will attempt to make “New Year resolutions”, which are typically in the form of “I will eat better/not eat junk food”, “I will exercise more/not be so lazy”, “I will be more patient” and so on. These aren’t necessarily bad resolutions, but they tend to be more critical of the person’s current habits and aren’t very ahimsa-like. Try setting the intension with a phrase that is already true, such as “I am patient, loving and generous with those around me.”
I have found it difficult to completely stop and change my patterns but feel at least acknowledging that it happens has been a great start. I often find it difficult to change my inner voice to a positive one. It just seems easier to keep the same pattern to find criticism and difficult to compliment myself. When I was able to shift my typical way of thinking, I could see the benefits in my overall outlook as well as my self-image. But I’m very aware that I have a long way to go. I’m hoping to make a more conscious effort to work on these areas in the future.
Our yoga practice isn’t meant to change us at our core, but to unveil the goodness within because we already have the tools that we need. I invite you to let go of your attachment to perfection and instead find compassion for yourself this year.