Have you ever taken the plunge to commit to eating better? Somewhere along the line, you decided that fast food and candy bars were not giving you the kind of vitality and wellbeing you wanted from your body? Maybe you read some healthy eating books or enlisted a food coach or took the plunge with a friend for mutual support. However it may have happened, you were determined to leave the world you knew and walk into the unfamiliar territory of broccoli and other vegetables you had never even heard of.
For me, the practice of the yamas and niyamas has become a similar journey, a way of looking at just what it is we are feeding our minds. In giving us these 10 ethical principles, Patanjali has for all practical purposes given us a healthy diet book for the mind. The first step, he says, is to understand that violence, non-truthfulness, stealing, excess, and possessiveness are junk food. They not only cause harm for others, but they cause harm to our minds by making them chaotic, disturbed, dis-eased and out of harmony. A steady, focused mind cannot be sustained by these harmful actions any more than a vital body can be sustained by processed food.
Patanjali is clear: stop doing these things. Wean yourselves off this unhealthy diet. Just as your body is too beautiful a temple to trash, so is your mind. And so in the yamas, we notice the truth of Patanjali’s words and we begin to wean ourselves off our addiction to disturbance much as we learn to wean our taste buds off our addiction to sugar.
Those of us who have begun this process know just how boring vegetables can seem at first; they are certainly an acquired taste that gradually grows on us. So it is with the niyamas, the mind is at first bored. It doesn’t know what to do with purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and surrender. “You’ve got to be kidding,” the mind complains, “what’s so great about these?” And so the process begins of training the mind to prefer these sustaining places of harmony.
In the upcoming months we will explore these 5 niyamas and how we might acquire a taste for this fine dining. For in truth, how can the world find sustaining places of harmony if we can’t find them in ourselves?