10 ways yoga can help you to like yourself more

Fairfield Porter
Painting by Fairfield Porter

I have some home projects going on these days—as in, quiet projects that require me to be okay with spending a lot of time at home…alone.  I’m reading the work of some great poets, I’m doing some book keeping and some filing.  I’m writing material for my yoga therapy practice.  This simple stuff might not sound like a big deal, but this morning I was thinking about just how remarkable this is because a couple of years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible.  Sitting in a room by myself was so uncomfortable back then. I was unsettled, grieving and grasping, and sitting still, by myself, gave space for unruly and unwelcome thoughts to surface…thoughts I wasn’t ready or able to deal with.  So back then, I stayed very busy and engaged with things that allowed me to put my focus somewhere outside of myself.

Slowly, it has become possible to sit for a little while, and read for enjoyment.  Slowly, I’ve been willing to let activities and commitments that filled up any extra time fall away. Slowly, my meditation practice has gone from all stirred up to settled and quiet.  One of the definitions of yoga is “to attain something that was previously unattainable.*”   Totally.

What is it that made hanging out with myself enjoyable?  Some of it is time passing, some came with intention and practice but perhaps the bigger part has been cultivating attitudes, behaviors and self-care that let me have less drama in my life and less to fret about.  Less drama and less fret-stress means I feel pleasant to be around when I’m all alone.

It turns out that the stuff that has changed for me very closely align with the yamas and niyamas.  It’s no accident, really.  These 10 attitudes are really practical and useful for those involved in yoga or not.  As they develop, it is easier to spend time with yourself…quiet and alone. The yamas and niyamas are described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, II.29-II.45 and are the first two limbs of the 8 limbs of yoga (ashtanga yoga).  At first glance, it may seem that, like the Bible’s 10 commandments, these attitudes are about making life with others more pleasant and less conflict-ridden, which does tend to happen.  But upon closer consideration, I’ve come to understand that the yamas and niyamas, like the commandments, are really guidelines for cultivating attitudes that make it more possible to enjoy the company of my own quiet self.

Yamas*  –I like to think of the yamas as  good attitudes to have about being in a relationship with others.  The others includes people, of course, but it also includes things, nature, and our environment, too.

Ahiṁsā, non-violence, or consideration for all living things

Satya, right communication; be honest but not in that jack-ass way

Asteya, non-grasping or the ability to resist a desire for things that don’t belong to us

Bramacarya, moderation and right relationships.  This does include sexual relationships, but that’s not all it’s about.

Aparigraha, non-greediness or the ability to accept only what is appropriate.

Relationships.  Aaaah, yes.  This matter can make time alone very torturous. When things would get quiet around me during that dark time, and I’d hear my thoughts, ‘relationships’ was a favorite fret-topic.  Maybe things weren’t right with someone or I did something that wasn’t very nice or someone did something to me.  Maybe I was jealous of someone’s job or house or car or stuff. With all of that going on I wouldn’t be clear enough or focused enough to sit down to do the book keeping.  There was way to much getting in the way.  I preferred to spend time with good people.  I got really into my asana practice.  I did a lot of therapy. I listened to the jams on the hip-hop radio station and I danced…a lot. 

The Niyamas* are attitudes we cultivate toward ourselves.  They really are foundations for having a good a  relationship with yourself.

Śauca – cleanliness, this is cleanliness of body, mind and surroundings

Saṁtoṣa – the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have; contentment

Tapas – removal of impurities and cultivation of healthy habits so that our work and play, body and mind are balanced and maintained

Svādhyāya – the ability to study, self-reflect and see our progress and the room for improvement

Īśvara-praṇidhānā – reverence for the bigger plan, order of things, or the divine…however you want to see it.  This is a beautiful attitude or feeling that allows us to let go of the things that are out of our control and still feel held.  This one is a really big deal.

The Niyamas are simple, but not easy.  Even though I ‘m still at the beginning of this path, these attitudes have made a big difference in my life already.  Because when I sleep enough, I enjoy my children more.  When I’m not eating crappy food, I feel better and so it is easier to enjoy a lovely poem.  When there aren’t piles of stuff around my bed, I wake up and feel less burdened.  And I’ll tell you what, Īśvara-praṇidhānā is such a big one.  It’s not as directly accessible as experiencing cleanliness by putting your clothes in the hamper, but it is really something worth exploring.  It has been a process for me to connect to this feeling that there is some order or spirit or God that is rooting for me and holding me, but I’m so different because I do now sense it. It helps me to like myself and other people so mud more because I feel tethered to something strong and big and important.  And I don’t feel like I have to fix everything anymore.

Cultivating these attitudes may be really good for relationships with other people, our earth and our things, but I’m here to tell you, they are such an important part of having a good relationship with yourself.  It’s painful and exhausting to be unable to sit still in a quiet room for fear of thinking too much or fear that what you said or did or didn’t do will come back to haunt you.  Practicing the yamas and niyamas in the context of a yoga practice is so useful for getting to know and like yourself.  I’m sure it’s a process I’ll be involved in it for a really long time and it’s worth it.  These days, I’m feeling like I’m a pretty good person to hang out with.

*Definitions and quotations drawn from the excellent bookHeart of Yoga, Developing a Personal Practice, T.K.V. Desikachar

Mister Porter paints another lady who can be in a room by herself.
Mister Porter paints another lady who can be in a room by herself.
...and another
…and another
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10 thoughts on “10 ways yoga can help you to like yourself more

  1. Īśvara-praṇidhānā is an interesting one. When I did my year of meditation there was a period where I had a sense of faith. I’ve never really experienced anything like it. I approached it again as I’ve been meditating daily again for an extended period of time. The only way I can describe it is a sense that things will be ok, that isn’t as empty as though platitudes have so often sounded and felt before.

    1. Beautifully said, Andre. There’s this thing of “blind faith” that is sometimes associated with religion, but faith really isn’t like that. It is a feeling and a sense…faith is a belief that you really believe. And this sense that things will be ok. I know what you mean. it’s like being held.

  2. Hi,

    Sorry haven’t posted in a WHILE. Changed countries, moved to a new house, getting started with my yoga work in a new country-newsletter, website, finding students etc etc……

    Anyways, Im here although I have been reading every single post. I LOVE them 🙂

    This one was special. I was in the same boat ( and some of the time still am). Wanted the noise, the chatter, the monkeyness of the mind never ever stopped. And I realised that it was the FEAR of myself made me want all of the above.

    After practice after practice, I am able to come to an empty house and not turn on the TV and the radio and the washing machine and any other appliance that could make sound ALL AT THE SAME TIME so that I could keep the noise going.

    The practice brought śraddhā which brought vīrya to face myself and my kléshā-s. And that vīryam came in the form of dhāranam. And I was able to maintain focus with strength, with courage and with confidence. Y.S 1.20.

    Now whenever I sense that grasping, clenching my teeth feeling just before entering an empty house, I go straight to my mat and Chant and then few rounds of conscious breathing and I’m ready for that silence……and the sense came that it’s only me and I’m fine with me.

    1. So nice to hear from you again, prana! It makes me smile to know you are reading and loving :).
      Your practice is clearly working for you– the ability to recognize what is happening (itching for a distraction as you anticipate quiet time at home) and to know what to do about it is really huge. It’s at this place that things can get so interesting, right? when we can see who we are (purusa), and what we aren’t (thoughts, emotions, prakriti).

  3. hi love, Thank you (always) for sharing your wisdom.
    I can relate to this post on so many levels. When I first took up a meditation practice, I was deep in what I now call my “bumblebee years.” I could barely sit still long enough to take a bath. In fact, I had to take a bath every day just to feel marginally balanced. I longed to sit, but it felt beyond un-attainable. Thank goodness for tiny shifts// micro movements over a long period of time. Also, the wisdom that things shift all the time. (I think you wrote about this a few months back about going deep and then reigning it in.) That’s something we can only appreciate after many moons of practice, I think.
    Anyhow, I always enjoy your voice.
    LOVE.

    1. Kelly, I can totally relate to this thing of not being able to sit still! It’s a slow and beautiful process to begin to see change in this way. Change that allows us to be still and hang out with ourself. Your comment is beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

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