Through the framework of fundamental yoga philosophy, specifically the yamas and the niyamas we can learn how to navigate life, both on the micro level of the coronavirus pandemic and the macro level of daily reality as a whole.
These thousands-of-years-old guidelines apply beautifully to every situation; including this present moment pandemic and long into the future once we’re all back outside and hugging one another again.
Yoga Philosophy: The Yamas and the Niyamas
The yamas and niyamas form the first two steps of Patanjali’s Eight Limbed Path to Enlightenment. They are the moral and ethical principles at the foundation of yoga, beyond just the asana—the physical practice— we usually consider yoga to be in the West.
This is what we call ‘yoga off the mat’—my favourite type of yoga. It’s where philosophy comes in and guides us to living a good life in union with ourselves, with others, and with the world.
This is true yoga.
Here we will explore the yamas and niyamas through the lens of the coronavirus to see how we can best navigate this strange situation for the ultimate benefit of ourselves and others.
The Yamas - Social Guidelines
The following yamas are 5 social based guidelines we should aim to live by:
1. Ahimsa (non-harming)
In its wider context, ahimsa refers to the practice of non harm.
In terms of the pandemic, we can interpret this as keeping ourselves safe from infection and doing the best we can to help keep others safe, too.
Of course, we must also consider not just physical harm, but the importance of keeping safe emotionally and mentally too.
Look at what you’re absorbing from your environment: consider your media intake, the nature of the narratives you’re involved in and taking in, and the kind of energy and information you’re sharing with others.
Ask yourself, are you fueling fear or love? This will usually provide the answer as to whether you’re practicing ahimsa.
2. Satya (truthfulness)
Satya encourages us to be truthful. Right now, this is particularly relevant.
There is so much information flying around, it all seems to conflict, and none of us knows what is true and what isn’t.
Satya teaches us discernment, so we can decide for ourselves what feels true about what’s happening.
Ask yourself: does this piece of information feel like truth to you? If it does, carry on. If it doesn’t, discard it. Don’t carry around things that aren’t true for you. This refers back to ahimsa, be careful not to harm yourself by holding onto untruths.
Importantly, when something is true for you, not just when it comes to Covid-19, speak it. Voice it, let your truth be known. Your truth is your truth for a reason, and keeping quiet, saying yes when you mean no, agreeing outwardly when internally you disagree, conforming to avoid confrontation, causes avoidable tension and conflict within you.
3. Asteya (non-stealing)
4. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
The third and fourth yamas we will cover together in this context:
Not stealing and not possessing can be considered to be similar guidelines through the lens of the culture of Covid-19.
Rather than referring to theft here, asteya can be considered as a reminder to not take more than you need: not hoarding dry good and toilet paper being the most obvious. Hoarding more than you need flouts ahimsa --- as taking so much from the table that there isn’t enough left for others causes them harm.
These two yamas are also about being able to make do with what you already have and not coveting what other people have; being wary of comparing both your possessions and experiences to those of others.
5. Brahmacharya (maintenance of vitality)
Brahmacharya means the conserving of your energy:
not wasting it, not leaking it, not giving it out without refilling your own supply.
Where are you spending your energy right now?
How are you using all of the new energy you now have that’s not being spent on commuting, the gym, the school run, coffee dates etc.?
Are you directing it into distracting yourself, doing all the fitness, trying to control things you have no control over, and staying busy beyond necessity?
Or do you have boundaries in place to conserve your energy? Are you directing it into keeping your body healthy and calm? Are you moving with kindness, managing the things you CAN control and letting go of the things you can’t?
The Niyamas - Personal Guidelines
The following niyamas are 5 social based guidelines we should aim to live by:
1. Tapas (discipline)
Are you maintaining an element of discipline in your lockdown life?
Tapas is important in maintaining structure and progress.
Establishing a morning routine, not eating all of your quarantine snacks as soon as you buy them, doing the things you need to do without all of this becoming an excuse to give up entirely, or having a process in place to get back on track after you’ve taken the space you need, are all ways to implement tapas right now.
2. Santosha (contentment)
Maybe the most difficult of the yamas to live by and implement right now, santosha is the ability to be content in the present moment.
Doing this requires honesty—satya!—and, referring back to ahimsa, you deserve to be content in any given moment.
This requires acknowledging the things that aren’t bringing you contentment right now, and allowing yourself to detach from them. It doesn’t mean that these things won’t exist, it means you can learn how to have them exist without causing you harm, either because you need to distract yourself from them or because they consume you.
Create an environment in which you can be content and a perspective which allows you to accept, let go, and feel at peace.
3. Saucha (purity)
Saucha means self purification: In times of Covid-19 this refers to far more than just washing your hands!
Purifying means keeping your vibration high and your field clear of messy information and untruths.
This is the time to clear out old beliefs and ways of life that no longer work for you, avoid gossip and speaking and thinking negatively, and replace them with higher vibrations.
There are many layers of interpretation to this one, but through the lens of the coronavirus specifically, it’s a reminder of the quest for our personal search for meaning.
Svadhyaya calls us to the opportunity for self growth right now: studying yourself, getting to know yourself, instead of all this doing, just be with yourself.
We need to decide for ourselves why this is happening, is there a greater purpose to it all? This is for you to decide through examination of your own belief systems, conditioning and truths.
Ishvara Pranidhana teaches us the importance of surrendering to something outside of ourselves.
Acknowledging that there is some kind of greater force at work right now enables us to trust that it is working for our ultimate greater good.
Whether you call this force the Universe, Source, Consciousness, Oneness, Love, Light, Spirit, or God doesn’t matter. But surrender to its existence means accepting that you as an individual are a part of a whole, that whatever is happening right now might not always concern you as an individual, however horrible it might feel for you.
Sometimes we need to take one for the team and allow the greater good to serve the collective in the best possible way. And trust that whatever is going on is giving us what we need.