In my previous blog (8 Steps to a Clear Mind) I have shared with you the Eight Limb Path of Yoga. Eight steps towards a life with a quiet mind, the first step being the practice of the Yamas (non-violence, non-stealing, non-grasping, moderation and truthfulness). In this blog I will introduce the Niyamas (observances), and how surrendering to Life makes it so much easier. My suggestions as to how to practice the Yamas apply equally to the Niyamas.
The Niyamas are:
Santosha – to practice contentment with yourself and your life as it is.
Practice: gratitude and joyfulness. Remain calm with success or failure. This state of mind does not depend on any external status.
Affirmation: “I am content. I am joyful. I learn from the joys and disappointments that life brings me. I am grateful for what I have. I accept life just the way it is.”
Swadhyaya – to expand knowledge through self-observation and to educate the self.
Practice: study of yogic texts, (self-)reflection and meditation, wanting to know the Truth.
Affirmation: “I practice conscious awareness on and off my yoga mat. I study sacred books and read and listen to inspirational teachings. I study the words of great teachers and saints and apply them to my own life. I expand my self-knowledge and reflect upon my life with acceptance.”
Saucha – to practice purity in thought and action.
Practice: to practice purity of body and mind, cleanliness and good health habits.
Affirmation: “I cultivate purity in my body by practicing yoga, pranayama, chanting, meditation and conscious eating. I choose a diet that is wholesome and pure. My inner and surrounding environment is clean. I focus my mind on inspirational thoughts and readings. I purify my mind by chanting, dancing and practicing yoga.”
Tapas – to practice discipline with understanding for self-development.
Practice: determination to pursue daily practices and enthusiasm for the spiritual path. Joyfulness with outer discipline will lead to inner discipline.
Affirmation: “I cultivate discipline. I have a realistic and balanced schedule for my work, my yoga practice and my personal needs. I am disciplined yet relaxed. My purpose is clear, my mind is decisive.”
Ishvara-Pranidhana – to surrender to God (Love/ The Universe)
Practice: accepting God’s will and truly letting go. using faith, dedication, sincerity, patience to transcend the ego that is resistant to surrender.
Affirmation: “Not my will, but thine” (Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya). “I surrender my ego to God. I know that everything is always exactly as it should be.” I repeat: “Dear God/Spirit/Universe, I surrender this day/my life/this issue to you, for your purposes. I only ask that my heart be open to give love and receive love. May everything unfold according to Your will. Thank you”.
It is the last Niyama, surrender to God / Love / The Universe (whatever concept works for you), that has brought me the most peace of mind and the greatest life lessons. I can sincerely say that if I hadn’t surrendered to the flow of Life, I wouldn’t be (literally and figuratively speaking) where I am today. If nothing else, I highly recommend you make this Niyama your way of life.
For some people ‘surrender’ may sound as ‘defeat’, as if you would passively watch your life passing by without taking any action, or having any opinion about what is going on. It is not so. Surrender, in this case, means that you let go of the idea that you know it all and that however your life is unfolding is the best way possible. It means giving up resistance against what is. It is about accepting the present moment exactly as it is, without attaching a story to it and without needing it to be any different. Perhaps more easily said than done, but certainly worth the effort!
I have many examples of how my life almost magically turned out to be amazingly great – and better than I had ever thought it would be – when I let go of the need for it to be something specific or different from what is going on. Not long ago, I was once again reminded of this simple concept.
For two weeks I was staying with my brother, sister-in-law and my two little nephews (3 years and 6 months) in their home in Norway. We all had a wonderful time and were enjoying each other’s company tremendously. If you have (had) small children you may know that it is not always easy to stick to your own needs and wants when there is a baby and a toddler involved who also have needs and wants that simply cannot be ignored.
The ultimate challenge came one morning after my brother and I had actually done a 60-minute yoga practice on the mat and my 3-year-old nephew, who came downstairs during our Savasana, had patiently waited till we had opened our eyes. We needed things for breakfast and drop off a car at the garage. Still in yoga clothes (and not the nice kind that I wear when I teach…), with my hair in a messy bun and wearing my glasses, without having had breakfast, we went to the grocery store after dropped off the other car. Back home, and half way through my bowl of oatmeal, my brother asked if I could give him a ride to this office, upon which my sister-in-law mentioned that we had to leave for a visit to the pediatrician with the baby in 30 minutes. I felt a light panic creeping up: I wasn’t done eating and I desperately needed a shower. She offered to drive my brother if I could feed the little one in the meantime. I did a quick calculation in my mind and decided I would never be ready in time. I would just not join her for my nephew’s 6 months’ doctor’s check-up visit, even though I really wanted to. My desperation grew and I was close to tears. Being tired probably didn’t help. Suddenly, there was a moment in which I could watch my thoughts, and especially those that made me feel stressed out: I just didn’t want to go to a doctor’s office in town looking as if I had just gotten out of bed. Realizing this truth calmed me down a little, although I was also disappointed in myself. Wasn’t I here to be with my family? To spend as much time with them as I could, since we live so far apart? Didn’t I want to be part of their daily lives, even if it was only for two weeks? When my sister-in-law got back and saw me not being ready, she said: “Just come as you are, there will only be other moms in the doctor’s office”. In that moment I realized that I was being silly, that it really didn’t matter what I looked like, that the only important thing was to get my nephew to the doctor’s appointment in time and that I didn’t want to miss it.
For the rest of my time there, instead of being frustrated or annoyed with the fact that it was hard to do my yoga and meditation practice in the morning – as I am used to – short of getting up at 6:00 a.m. every day, I just went with the flow and embraced every moment exactly as it came. I decided that I rather had a glass of wine and chat with my sister-in-law till 12:30 a.m. than going to bed early, and that I rather cuddled in bed with my 6 month old nephew right after he woke up in the morning than to practice yoga on my mat. After all, I was practicing yoga anyways: Ishvara-Pranidhana!
I surrendered to what was in order in every moment, and I am very glad I did. It was more fun to see my little nephew play with new unfamiliar toys and being praised by the pediatrician for being “so nice and active” than to take a shower at the time I thought I had to. Four days later, during the big traditional family dinner following the christening of the little one, I shared this experience in my speech. It moved some people to tears, as they were inspired by my advice: not my will, but thine. Surrender to the flow of Life. I hope you are inspired too.
Marije E. Paternotte