Yamas & Niyamas - the personal values
“A value is a value when you value it” - Sudhir Rishi.
You can’t force a value. What I mean by this is that if something fundamentally matters to you, then it’s gonna shine through your actions and thoughts. If you value something, if you understand the importance of that thing then it becomes one of your values. Reciprocally, something you don’t understand and don’t appreciate the importance of can’t be a value, no matter what you may say. Which doesn’t mean that our values are set in stone. With experience we can learn or understand the importance of things we never considered before; then they become new values.
But we can't unlearn our values, because "Ignorance never comes back" - Sudhir Rishi. Sometimes when our mind is troubled and we lack clarity, we can lose sight of them. But then our decisions and actions feel odd. We can sometimes be so confused that we can’t really tell why it feels odd. That’s because it doesn’t match our values. Social pressure, anxiety and fear tend to obscure our mind, and that’s what meditation is for: it helps clearing it.
Yamas & Niyamas
Yamas and Niyamas are 2 of the 8 limbs of ashtanga yoga. Yamas are values connected to deeper emotions. I like to think about Yamas as values defining who one is as a person. Niyamas are values connected to self-practices. I think of Niyamas as values defining what one does in society.
There are 5 Yamas:
- Ahimsa - non-violence.
- Satya - truthfulness.
- Asteya - non-stealing.
- Brahmacharya - control of desires/energy.
- Aparigraha - non-possessivness.
And 5 Niyamas
- Sauca - cleanliness.
- Santosha - cheerfulness.
- Tapas - discipline.
- Svadhiyaya - self-study.
- Ishvara Prani Dhaana - surrender to Ishvara.
I was mentioning earlier that we can’t force a value - it’s only a value when you value it. But as I'm studying yoga, I want to live a yogic life as much as I can. Rather than trying to apply the 5 Yamas and Niyamas as they’re listed above and pretend they are my values, I decided to go through the process of checking if they were overlapping with my own values.
My personal values
Learning about the 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas made me think about my own personal values. I know I have some, that’s for sure, but I never really took the time to list them out and understand their impact in my life choices. Doing this exercise of writing down what I consider my values helped me with an important work related decision I had to make recently. If you feel confused and unsure about a decision you have to make, I invite you to do the same exercise, as it’s been very helpful and provided me with clarity and peace of mind.
I started with listing out the things that matters to me the most. These things are:
My friends and my relationship with them
They are the family I chose. My relationship with my friends takes precedence over anything. I’m lucky enough to have kept my childhood friends, so I can fairly say that they are a huge part of who I am today (no matter how cheesy it sounds). They’ve inspired me a lot without even knowing it, and they’ve supported me consistently. They’re my home.
So I guess I value friendship. But what’s behind a true friendship? What defines it? To me it’s trust, support and kindness. My friends are people I can trust with my life, people I know will always be there for me, and whose feedback will always come from a place of kindness and not judgement. Which doesn’t mean we can’t hurt each others sometimes - but I know that if this happens, it would be an ego related issue or some poor communication. Nothing we couldn’t sort out with a discussion. Our relationship is genuine and I know I can be authentic with them, as much as they can be authentic with me. I believe this is my way of practicing satya.
Being my own hero
Practice what you preach. I try the best I can not to be judgmental but it’s impossible not to have an opinion. Things should be more like this, that person should be less like that. When I teach, I try my best to give constructive feedback as I believe that change comes from will, not from reproof. At my (other) work I try to behave the best I can and I hope this is going to inspire more junior team members, or at least make them think about what type of person they want to become at work (and the answer may be ‘definitely not like you’ and that’s fine ;)). When I catch myself doing or thinking something I’m not very proud of, I try to get rid of that thought and I chose to act positively. I believe that ousting negativity from my mind and behaviour is practicing sauca.
New things all the time. I feel like being willing to learn new things opens new perspectives. It gives you more informations to comprehend the world around you. Learning new things means embracing the unknown, being comfortable with not knowing and with being a beginner. With making mistakes as well. There are definitely some domains in which I’m more okay with making mistakes than others, but I think that moving to a foreign country really forced me to accept that I need to let go of that fake idea of perfection. When you start living in place where cultural codes are different, where their norm isn’t your norm and where they speak a different language, you don’t have any other choice but being ok with making mistakes. It’s not gonna be pleasant all the time, but eventually what you get out of an experience like this is so rewarding and fulfilling. I believe this is practicing tapas. Practicing things with discipline, which are outside of your comfort zone. Like practicing yoga on and off the mat. Or learning a new activity like aerial hoops.
Recently I’ve discovered the power of being grateful. I guess after spending so many hours in yoga classes, reading so many posts and invitations to be grateful, I gave it a try. I started saying thank you for things that I would have considered ‘normal’ a few months ago. And mean it! There are so many things you can be grateful for: the time and effort someone spends on you, the way they make you feel, the way they inspire you. It also applies to things, to your surroundings, and to yourself too. Sometimes people aren’t even aware of their impact, sometimes they’re paid for it. Nevertheless, saying thank you will both bring a smile on their face and will make you realise what impact that person - or thing - has had in your life. It teaches you to appreciate even small things. Gratitude is, in fact, a win-win. I believe this is practicing santosha.
Weirdly enough, this is another one I’ve started to experience quite recently. Not that I’ve been mean so far, but I tend to be quite blunt, which I have learned by example. Although I still believe that truthfulness is a virtue, I’m now very aware of the impact of how you present things. You can convey the same message from a place of kindness and - oh surprise - it’s gonna be well better received. Encouragements achieve more than punishments and blame. But it takes some courage to be kind, and some energy to allow and help others - or yourself - grow. It’s way easier to be defensive all the time and push back on everything which isn’t yet right. It requires patience and love. I believe this is practicing ahimsa.