Yama & Niyama

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Somewhere in the past, I biked home from work. Knowing my daughters would already be there, this was my first stop. When I entered the kitchen, E. had made herself dinner. The big tower of eatable stuff was staring at me from the pan. Crushed between slices of bread it looked like the most artistic ‘Croque monsieur’ I had ever seen.
A silent voice inside pronounced what I felt at the moment. If the kids were grown enough to make themselves dinner than maybe it was time for me – as a single mom – to start thinking about picking up my dreams where I had left them.

Even though I was physically and mentally burned up, simply by living, to be honest, becoming a social-cultural worker was the goal.
Two years later, as part of the skill development program, I had to stand up and speak for an audience. The fear was so excessive whereby my brain shut done the real-life image of the group in front of me. Leaving me alone with just the image of the one person I liked in the room. It was as if I was stuck in a very small tunnel. My mouth fell open, my voice was speechless and my eyes full of anxiety. It seemed I had a big problem. Since speaking for a group is necessary I had to find a way to overcome the issue.

And so I grabbed all the boldness in me and wrote an email to the biggest yoga studio in town asking if I could teach yoga. Of course, teaching yoga in front of a group triggered the same response of the mind. But I felt at ease in the yoga studio and I was very inspired by the teachers. To my surprise, the answer was ‘yes’. Even now and many years later, I am still thankful to all the yogi’s who had put up with me. I mean, back then the fear was so dominant it created huge blackouts and stumbling sentences. But I was determined to become at ease in front of a group so I could share everything that can help or inspire others.

Because of all the destructive thinking, I did not believe in myself. And because I did not believe in myself I did not do the things that mattered to me or who mattered to the community.

14 years later, now that is, I am preparing a workshop on the Yama and Niyama for the first time. And you know what? It struck me how obvious they are in the deep spiritual transformation of a human being. To transcend negative tendencies (Yama) by exercising their opposites (Niyama) is a mindblowing yogic tool for pure change. Really!!!
For example, Samtosh which means ‘contentment’ is a Niyama and the source of pure joy. There is nothing to nag about if you keep being content from morning till evening. I learned it from a great Indian guru in the form of a ridiculously simple exercise namely Namaskaram which is the practice of ‘gratitude’.

Can you believe it that a person who feels depressed, fearful, lonely and desperate, gets up at 5 am to greet the world in Anjali mudra? I had so much trust in the guru that I got up every morning whilst feeling physical and mentally exhausted, to pray to the world and say thank you. Grateful for a new day, for the food and water, for clean air, for my breath and my heart. I still do it every morning in Balasana, bowing down humble for this amazing life experience.

And then came along Ahimsa (a Yama) which means non-violance or in an active way: the abstention of violence. The never-ending waterfall of self-destructive thoughts is a crime to yourself and humanity. It is extremely violent and therefore I teach my students to practice purity of thought. A zero-tolerance towards all negative thinking making the mind untainted. Listening to the yogi’s stories it is obvious that most of the people are being harsh on themselves or they are disappointed in their body. Please don’t do that!

When Arjuna stood on the field of Kuru ready for battle and observing the enemy, he got overwhelmed by the sight of seeing old friends, family and even old masters. Filled with grief he dropped down arrows and bow and sat in his chariot completely confused. It is at that moment Krishna spoke to him: this cowardice is beneath you, Arjuna: do not give in to it. Shake off your weakness. Stand up now like a man (translation Mitchell S.).

You see many people think the Bhagavad Gita utter the battle for principles. The battle between good and wrong. But it is the appeal for inner battle. The story of how to become free of human limitation.
To practice Satya (truth) makes you courageous.
Svādhyāya or self-contemplation brings you in contact with your divine nature. The practise of Yama and Niyama leads you to the answer: who am I.


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