We all strive to find happiness in our lives, and we spend our lives figuring out what really makes us truly happy and fulfilled. It comes in many different forms, such as the first cup of coffee in the morning, to spending quality time with a loved one. Our perception of happiness comes from our feelings within, and from our experiences in the world.
Perhaps you’ve had a friend or family member mention Yoga, and how practicing yoga enriched their physical and emotional life. Originating in India over 2,000 years ago, Yoga is a compilation of practices and disciplines meant to improve one’s quality of life physically and emotionally. Yoga, tentatively translated as ‘unity’, is based upon a set of guidelines known as the Eightfold Path, which include 8 ‘limbs’ that can help you live a life that’s healthier and more connected to the world and your sense of self! The first two limbs, known as Yama and Niyamas, each consist of 5 characteristics that if practiced, can aid you in establishing a more positive relationship with yourself and with others. For seniors, who might shy away from the idea of yoga (which is mostly known for its physical exercises), would find many benefits in practicing Yamas and Niyamas, which are simple mental disciplines and beneficial ways of acting and perceiving. Consistent practice of these two limbs can diminish symptoms of depression and anxiety in seniors, and encourage a mindfulness that can inspire a stronger sense of self-awareness, connection with others, and ultimately happiness!
The first limb is Yama, which means ‘universal morality’, and consists of 5 disciplines that can help contribute to how we can better see and treat the people and world around us.
- Ahimsa “non-violence”
- Focuses on purposefully not causing harm to others or to yourself in either thought or action
- Satya “honesty”
- Means to always be truthful and honest to yourself and others, but to do so in a manner that is not harmful or destructive (as seen in ahimsa)
- Asteya “non-stealing”
- Focuses on the realization that we are enough, and that we have enough. To mindfully not steal or experience envy, to dismiss feelings of insecurity and low self-worth. To think negatively of yourself is to ‘steal’ energy and positive feelings from yourself.
- Brahmacharya “right use of energy”
- Means to mindfully use your energy for purposes that further your own happiness and prosperity. Encourages mindfulness of our use of physical, mental, and emotional energy to activities that beneficially serve us and others.
- Aparigraha “non-attachment”
- Means to not depend on someone or something for happiness. Change is constant, and it is unwise to let others shape your feelings about yourself. This is about finding your own self-worth from within.
These five characteristics of the first limb Yama are seen as a moral code of conduct for how to harmonize one’s social experiences and interactions in life. Consistent practice can yield beneficial results such as a stronger sense of community and sense of self.
The second limb is Niyama, which means “personal observances”, consists of five characteristics of how we should relate to and observe ourselves.
- Saucha “cleanliness”
- It means to treat oneself with respect, physically and mentally, and to dismiss any negative self-worth thoughts.
- Santosha “contentment”
- Means to search for happiness from within ourselves and to find inner peace. For instance, if you base your happiness on a goal or person, then you give that entity the power over you to determine your emotional and physical state.
- Tapas “discipline”
- Means to consistently find the motivation and discipline to do what we must and should do; to face change and uncertainty with bravery and strength
- Svadhyaya “study of self”
- Focuses on truly seeing yourself for who and what you are, to observe yourself as you would another person. Knowing one’s habits, tendencies, feelings, and actions – an awareness of why and what you do
- Isvara Pranidhana “surrender to a higher power”
- Does not really refer to a religion, but to the idea that we are all connected, and that we do not exist apart from each other or the world. To feel the unity and peace in yourself is to feel the connection to the ‘higher power’
Consistent practice of these five characteristics of the limb Niyama can result in a stronger sense of discipline in one’s inner life. It can heighten self-awareness and allow one to have a better sense of control, and thus establish a better foundation for true happiness.
Yoga and its benefits are not just for the young and limber, but is a practice and philosophy for all ages. Yoga is a discipline for the body, the mind, and the spirit, and it’s benefits are a sole result of the individual’s determination and desire. There are multiple reports that document yoga’s rewards, from physical results to mood improvement. From lower blood pressure to lower cortisol (stress) levels, and improved respiration and emotional balance, yoga is an exercise that can benefit the mind and body. These two limbs can help you focus on not needing to compare, judge, or compete with people; it introduces the idea that the biggest obstacle we all face is ourselves. These yamas and niyamas reveal that finding our best self is within our own power. If you’d like to read more about these yamas and niyamas and the eightfold path, you can check out these other links below!