The Yamas and the Niyamas are guiding ethical principles that Patanjali laid out in the Yoga Sutra as an eightfold path towards contentment. How can we practically apply these ethics, especially in the midst of a global crisis?
The Niyamas guide us on establishing peace and knowing our self, where the Yamas outline how to be at harmony with the world through social ethics. When we feel aligned within ourselves, and connected with the rest of the world, it can be a major element in experiencing contentment, even in self quarantine during a global pandemic.
Ahimsa- Nonviolence. Practice kindness, reverence, compassion, and non-violence in all things, including with yourself. In quarantine, I feel this starts with our thoughts, setting aside judgement and shame, anger and resentment, fear and anxiety. When tempted by a thought of anger or judgement, it can be helpful to try to set it aside consciously and return to kindness.
Satya– Speak the truth. In this season of unknown, make sure you are communicating how you are doing, with honesty. Often we can tell our family, I am fine or it’s ok, but then ten minutes later we react in anger, like lava bubbling over. Be honest with yourself and others. Seek a higher truth by taking time to be intentional with your words, using kind language, and believing in the inherent goodness in yourself and others.
Asteya- Don’t steal. Be honest in your actions and intentions. Focus in on the gratitude for what you do have and the resources all around you, rather than envy for others. When you need additional help and support, ask for it.
Brahmacharya– Everything in moderation. Notice your natural rhythms and energy flows. Having a stocked pantry, and lots of stress, can lead to binges and unhealthy eating or the opposite, with over exercise. Focus on listening to what your body is needing and honor those needs moment to moment, trying not to overdo it.
Aparigraha- Be aware of abundance. Gather the goods that you need to be mindful with social distancing, and also trust in the supply chain in order to avoid hoarding and wasting food. If you can, share your toilet paper. Practicing the release of resentments and anger is important too, so that we aren’t hoarding grudges.
Saucha. Purity. Take a bit of time each day to address your physical body and your habitat. Take regular showers or baths, make your bed, tidy up the space as you go throughout your day. And be aware of your thoughts, intentionally trying to forgive quickly.
Santosha– Contentment. It’s important to try to find moments of unconditional happiness, dancing while doing dishes, basking in the beauty of spring blossoming open, smiling at cute animals and new life. You can still acknowledge the pain. But have a commitment to finding the tiny joys that are an inherent part of the human experience.
Tapas– Self-discipline. Decide on a daily practice and commit to it without complaint. It can be helpful to strive towards showing up for yourself even when you don’t want to, and to willingly do things that are not easy. Tapas can be the practicing of holding yourself to the fire and the heat, melting away impurities of thought or feeling.
Svadhyaya- Self-study. Try to carve out space for self-reflection, observing your inner thoughts and emotions and noticing what is happening for you. When our thoughts are simply self-criticism or judgement, or default modes of thinking from our childhood, we keep ourselves trapped in smallness. Instead look towards yourself with compassion, fostering growth in understanding why you react to things in certain ways. It can be helpful to turn towards spiritual texts or poetry.
Ishvara Pranidhana– Surrender to God. Let go and let God. We can set the intention to be a channel or a vessel to a higher source each day, so that even in mistakes, we can still in alignment with source, and acting from the intention of love.