January's theme at my home yoga studio, Yogamaya, was "The Niyamas", which allowed me to go back to my favorite book on the subject, The Yamas and Niyamas; Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele, for at least the 4th time. I bought this book during Teacher Training and have continued to go back to it over the years for inspiration and review. I love Adele's simple analyses and explanations of these ancient guidelines. Each one is seemingly straight-forward, but you could spend a lifetime delving deeply into any one of them and still not fully explore, much less achieve, it. The way Adele wraps each one up in an easy-breezy manner, offering modern examples and illustrations truly impresses me. Her book has helped me to understand these otherwise deeply philosophical and complex concepts better, without having to commit to a dry textbook.
The Yamas and Niyamas are basically guidelines for living-- precepts on how to treat ourselves and how to treat others. They are the first two of eight limbs of Yoga and there are five of each: 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. At their core, they're not very different from any other religion's basic rules/commandments. They are extremely valuable, mostly reasonable, and yet pretty impossible to live in fully, just as it's nearly impossible to be always following the Ten Commandments, all of the time. I mean, it's easy for me not to kill anyone every day (most days), but not coveting my neighbor at all, allllll day?? Impossible.
The Ten Commandments were never really my jam anyway.
I find the Yamas and Niyamas much more interesting, challenging, deep, and personal. I feel good when I am studying them and trying to apply them to my everyday life, and noticing the small challenges that result. Which is what I was doing throughout the month of January as I shared tiny snippets about the Niyamas in my dharma talks before teaching. By the end of the month I was not nearly satisfied with my revisit of them and that's when the "idea" started to percolate.
Adele offers "Questions for Exploration" at the end of each chapter of her succinct book, conveniently laid out in four-week increments: devoting a week to think about and apply one or two specific aspects of each Yama or Niyama.
I love schedules. I love performing suggested activities, crossing them off the list, and seeing my improvement as I progress through the schedule. This is a major reason I love marathon training so much: a very clear, set schedule of specific activities each day, which if completed with unwavering dedication, will get me across the finish line in an expected timeframe and injury-free. I feel stronger and better as I progress, and the discipline carries over into other aspects of my life.
So the idea of dedicating the rest of 2019 to studying and attempting to live out the Yamas and Niyamas, guided by Adele's weekly challenges (as well as my own interpretations and edits), sounds to me like an ambitious training schedule for my brain, heart, and life. And since I'm nursing some pretty serious running injuries right now, I need the diversion. (I'll talk about external motivations plenty in the months to come.)
My plan is to go in order, starting with Ahimsa and ending with Ishvara Pranidhana, devoting 1 month to each and 1 week to a particular aspect of each. That will take me through the end of November, with all of December available for make-ups and re-dos that I may need. I'm blogging about it mostly for my own record, but also as an aspect of public accountability that I probably won't tell anyone about, and maybe an approachable reference for my students, the way Adele's is for me.
So here we go.