I’ve been thinking a lot about the yamas and niyamas lately. Remember those? My first big assignment as part of my yoga teacher training was to read and think about the yamas, a set of five practices of self-restraint, and the niyamas, a set of five observances. After spending March and April reflecting on these things, I thought they’d be pretty ingrained in me. I was hoping I’d naturally remind myself to practice them throughout the day, and that I’d start to see my thought patterns changing.
Well, as you all know, I’ve done a lot of stuff during the past month or so, but consciously practicing the yamas and niyamas has not exactly been up there on the list. I think I still work on ahimsa pretty consciously (and I figure, if I’m only doing one of them, that’s the right one), but paying attention to and trying to improve my thoughts and my behavior is important for every single day, not just days when I’m supposed to be studying it. This is kind of the yogic equivalent of the ten commandments here. Don’t harm others, be truthful and generous, be moderate and balanced; be pure and simple, content, and disciplined; study hard and well, practice devotion. Be mindful. If I’m not paying attention, how can I say I’m being mindful?
Thinking back, I can say that even without being fully cognizant of the yamas and niyamas, I think I did a pretty good job of following them. I think I’ve been better about practicing non-violence in my words and in my thoughts. I’ve had the opportunity to be generous with my time and my support, and I think I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve studied hard and worked hard in my yoga practice. I’ve been very accepting and content with where I am in my life right now (although admittedly my life is pretty spectacular at present).
My husband F, with his usual impeccable sense of timing, sent me this great link the other day: Six Ways to Deal With I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome. This fits right in with thinking about the yamas and niyamas.
I’ve actually posted about my own experiences with I-Should-Be-Better Syndrome before, and I already try to do many of the things Amy Johnson recommends in her blog post: striving to be honest and truthful (practicing satya) and breathing (which, I’ve learned this month, is something we could all benefit from being more aware of). I also like her awareness that this is a universal issue – in Buddhism and in yoga, you work to feel compassion for everybody, every living creature, even that nasty parking attendant, even yourself, and if we understand that everyone is striving to be better, that it’s not just us, then that helps us to love everybody a little bit more, including ourselves.
I like Johnson’s practical, no-nonsense approach to this very emotional and personal issue. It’s hard to admit that you think you should be better, because really, you don’t want anyone to notice that you’re not already super-great. We feel shame when we get into I-Should-Be-Better mode, and it’s natural to try to hide shame. But being honest with yourself about these feelings is the first step to moving past them and feeling more content, more satisfied, and more peaceful, and that’s what the yamas and niyamas are all about.