A (real) Year of Yamas and Niyamas

Picture it. Charlotte, January 2018. Like many, I started off the year with as much optimism I could muster and motives to better my world by starting with myself. I had bold plans to set monthly intentions corresponding to the five yamas, or ethical restraints according to yoga philosophy. And I did. Or at least I started to. As in 2015, I started like a true Capricorn out of the gate, laying out a clear purpose for each month with a measurable plan of action (or non-action). But unlike that successful previous year, I slowly let my motivations fizzle for no good reason and quietly abandoned the whole dang thing. Whoops.

As the late great Carl Kasell said, “Everything deserves a second chance… that’s why there’s refried beans.” So here we go. In 2019, I will live A Year of Yamas and Niyamas, setting tangible monthly intentions requiring real lifestyle changes, big and small. Each month (minus two) will correlate with the ten ethical and behavioral restraints and observances in yoga philosophy, which are:

  • Non-Harming (Ahimsa)
  • Truthfulness (Satya)
  • Non-Stealing (Asteya)
  • Moderating the Senses (Brahmacharya)
  • Non-Possessiveness (Aparigraha)
  • Self-Purification (Shaucha)
  • Contentment (Santosha)
  • Self-Discipline (Tapas)
  • Self-Study (Svadhyaya)
  • Self-Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana)

In retrospect, I think my main downfall last year was planning TOO big and TOO far in advance. Looking 365 days ahead and mapping out ten substantial life changes, or even one, can be pretty intimidating. This is the problem with the “New Years Resolutions” we love to make (and break) so much. Setting a big fat goal with no integrated support system — the WHAT without the HOW — is a prescription for certain failure. Creating an attainable, short term intention, or sankalpa, every thirty days or so is way more doable, and enjoyable. I’m actually looking forward to these mini-challenges and excited to see what less than four weeks of doing (or not doing) something will amount to.

Look for a separate post coming soon which will detail my plan for this first month. (Hint: it’s the same intention I made in both 2015 and 2018.) I’ll officially start tomorrow (today is holiday, after all) and I invite you to join me by making your own monthly sankalpas. Maybe it’s the same as mine, maybe not. Feel free to comment here or tag on Instagram to share what and how you’re doing. There’s no wrong way to practice the yamas and niyamas; they are “golden rules” that can be interpreted and lived in a multitude of ways. As long as your actions and intentions are in keeping with the root of the precept and, above all else, abiding by the foremost yama — Ahimsa, or non-violence (to yourself and others) — I say go for it! These ten simple ideas make up the FIRST two limbs of yoga after all. Before physical postures, before breathwork, before meditation, the yamas and niyamas are the ten stepping stones that build the foundation for a true, meaningful, and lasting yoga life practice. So, let’s do it together — one step at a time.

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