Experimenting with a yama or niyama allows Axis Yoga Teacher Training students to have real-life experience with how Yoga can affect their lives. This student worked with the niyama Santosha (contentment) to keep a healthy perspective and focus on the positive things in life.
The niyama I chose for my first experiment is santosha, or contentment. I selected this particular niyama because I have noticed how easy it can be to become wrapped up in daily life and in dealing with major life stresses, leading to negative thought patterns, a sense of unhappiness, or at the very least a general malaise. I have also found, during challenging times, I sometimes tend to focus on dealing with whatever mayhem is occurring in my life at that time and lose sight of the big picture, and the things that are good in my life. During these times I also often lose sight of myself, and my focus on physical, mental, and spiritual wellbeing. For this reason, I felt conducting my experiment on santosha would be appropriate and beneficial because contentment is something that fluctuates regularly for a 5th year doctoral student dealing with some significant life challenges.
I can lose sight of all the blessings in my life when things become difficult or hectic and feel a subsequent sense of general discontent.
A shift in perspective, or a gentle reminder of all the good things in life, and all the things I have to be thankful for, is sometimes exactly what I need. It is for this reason I chose to conduct my personal experiment on santosha. I was feeling the need to re-center myself and remind myself of all the reasons I wake up each morning and all the beings and things that put a smile on my face.
If I take time to mindfully acknowledge the things in my life for which I am thankful, instead of focusing my energy on the negative things, I will experience a shift in perspective and increase my sense of wellbeing.
To do this, I engaged in a gratitude practice. I kept a journal in my nightstand, and every night before going to sleep I wrote down three things I was grateful for. I left the parameters of my experiment open so my list could include people, places, animals, foods, stars, the weather, etc. Nothing was off-limits for the gratitude list. If I felt moved enough or touched enough to include the same item on the list more than one day per week, or even every day, I could. If the list ended up being all foods or all flowers, that was fine too. No judgment. No restrictions.
Every night before going to sleep, write down three people, places, or things for which I am grateful.
When I first began this experiment with santosha, I sometimes needed a few moments of thought to come up with three things to add to the list. But as I moved further into the experiment and began truly embodying the practice, not only did it become easier to come up with three things, some days it was difficult to only write three down. There were a few days I was so overwhelmed by gratitude I had to write down five or more things just so as to not neglect feeling or explicitly expressing gratitude. I knew things had shifted when I felt myself getting fired up in traffic one day and I was able to talk myself back from the brink by reframing the situation and mentally thanking the person in front of me (going 45 in a 65) for the opportunity to practice patience. Usually those people just get the finger, not my gratitude.
Taking the time to mindfully acknowledge and record three things I am grateful for each day was a powerful personal reminder to maintain focus on the blessings in life.
There are far too many negative things in the world to distract us from what is important and placing my attention on the things in life that make me happy, instead of things that upset me, helped create just the shift in perspective I needed to feel better on a day to day basis. Engaging in this experiment also helped cultivate a change in how I look at the world and events and people around me. This occurred after a week into the practice; so, not only did this practice help create a space for acknowledging the positives, but it also increased my general levels of contentment and influenced how I interact with the world around me overall. Pretty powerful stuff.
I intend to continue with the gratitude practice indefinitely and I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in this yama/niyama experiment.
The following posts describe one Axis YTT student’s efforts to rid the body of residual rubbish through the niyama, tapas. Creating internal heat through pranayama and asana resulted in multiple benefits, both physically and emotionally.
Ever since Winter hit and I got my job camping out in the wilderness every other week, I had been finding myself lethargic and toxic. I was eating low quality foods like ramen, simple grains, and cheap cheese all week, and then coming back home every other week to find myself “too busy” to keep up my regular yoga practice, or even exercise. The wilderness therapy job did, however, leave me feeling spiritually fulfilled and in a calm and clear mental space, so when I was asked to create an experiment pertaining to the ethical precepts of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga, I knew that I would like to work with that residual toxic feeling leftover from the job, and the lethargic feeling it left me with.
The Niyama Tapas deals directly with the internal “rubbish” of the body, and heating the body with activities such as asanas and pranayama as a way of expelling that rubbish. It also pertains to eating and habits and breathing patterns as ways to internally cleanse the body. In order to implement this internal cleansing process in my life, I first and foremost made it a point to resist that lazy urge not to get off my butt and move in the morning, and engage in some sort of physical activity (including asana and pranayama) every day. I also committed myself to not eating when I was not hungry, which has been a bad habit of mine for years in times of stress and also in times of celebration.
At first it was extremely difficult to gain that initial impetus to roll out my yoga mat and do asana every morning, and then to abstain from eating breakfast for another stretch of time until I finished my pranayama exercises. I started my experiment late because I had to finish my last week of work, but for a full ten days (including teacher training days), I managed to engage in at least one hour of yoga practice and one hour of other internal heat-producing exercises per day. After the first few days, it became much easier to motivate myself to start, once the life-enhancing effects started to show up in my body as a feeling of lightness and increased energy. The yoga practices almost completely erased my compulsion to eat out of stress rather than out of hunger, and it even had the unexpected result of making sweets much less appealing to me, as well.
I think that the root cause of all of these changes in my attitude and body was the heightened sense of connection to my body that my Yoga practice brings to my life. I have found other subtle changes like an increased awareness of exactly how different foods make my body feel, an increased sensitivity to other people’s bodies and feelings, and of my surroundings in general. I find myself able to stay calm and centered more easily in stressful situations, and I am less and less drawn to toxic substances like alcohol and caffeine.
Also, I think part of what allowed me to break the habit of non-action was the physical cleansing of my external environment after finishing my final week of work. I undertook the daunting project of cleaning my car. I organized things, took them out and put them in storage, and spent several hours scrubbing the inside and outside until my friends thought I had gotten a new car. It sounds so superficial, but that simple act of cleaning out the space in which I practically live, had the effect of cleaning out my mind, as well, and giving me the feeling of organization and the ability to be productive in my life. That type of cleaning falls more under the category of the Sauca Niyama, pertaining to the inner and outer cleanliness of body and mind, but having done that helped immensely in creating the space for me to start the process of creating the inner heat of Tapas to clean out my physical body.
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