On the Mat, Off the Mat

Off the mat / Philosophy

An introduction to the Niyamas – Part 1

Continuing onto the second limb of Ashtanga yoga, are the niyamas, which are the personal ethics and habits we are encouraged develop in order to propel us on our path within. The niyamas, present to us very personal traits that, if practiced, assist us in successfully overcoming a lot of the suffering and conflict we find within ourselves and the people around us on a daily basis. These principles cultivate the characteristics we need in order to find the peace inside ourselves that is always there, quietly guiding us through times of ease and times of challenges.

The first niyama, saucha is interpreted as purity or cleanliness. If we examine this on a physical level, it is about keeping good personal hygene habits certainly. It is also about eating purely and living purely. Since we do live in an age of toxicity, fast foods and GMO foods, living purely with our diet is very challenging, but the idea is to do the best you can and by bringing mindfulness to what you put into your body. The same can apply too, in terms of what you put on your body. Going deeper, it’s also about what you say and think. Often what goes on in our lives is a reflection of what is happening in our minds – your thoughts become your reality. We are often surprised when we live our lives but they are not leading us to our goals. By practising purer intention, we can guide ourselves to behave more in line with what we truly want out of live.

If we start to link poses to see how we can start to have an impact on our minds through our body, we can look at the effect asanas have on the body and mind and practise accordingly.

This week, I planned a sequence starting off with a few rounds of Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) to warm up on the chilly morning and then moved onto shoulder openers for Salamba Sarvangasana (supported shoulder balance, or whole body balance). Shoulder balance is known as the mother or queen of all poses and this is so true. Shoulder balance activates the pituitary gland in our brain which is part of our endocrine system and produces hormones which controls so many other glands, organs and processes in the body. It’s a cooling pose and soothes the nervous system. Reversing the blood flow also rejuvenates the organs and upper body, flushing it with oxygen rich blood, purifying the upper body. Just as a mother soothes and looks after her children, so does Sarvangasana create emotional stability and harmony throughout all bodily systems. It’s a pose that should be practised everyday (except if you happen to be menstruating – then avoid inversions).