Between the Yamas & Niyamas: Learning to Love Broccoli

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?

4 thoughts on “Between the Yamas & Niyamas: Learning to Love Broccoli”

  1. Elizabeth Doyle

    I really like your practical approach to the sutras Deborah. I recently bought your yamas an niyamas book off Amazon and am deepening my learning through the contemplation exercises you have at the end of the chapters. I would like to read an english translation of the sutras. Which is your favourite? Do you have one you could recommend? Thank you for sharing your wisdom

    1. Deborah Adele

      Thank you Elizabeth. I like Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. He currently has a book on the first chapter called Samadhi Pada and a book on the second chapter called Sadhana Pada. I have also heard that The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi is a wonderful, unscholarly, woman’s version of the Yoga Sutra, although I haven’t read it yet.

  2. Makes sense…i’ve been working on this through my yoga practice, but haven’t specifically targeted aspects of myself as much as making an effort to lead a good life. I still find thoughts that are undesirable within my process and feel a certain amount of confusion towards my path. Maybe the yamas will help me with this…

    1. Dana, I appreciate your comment. I think in part Patanjali is inviting us not to fight with ourselves or try to fix ourselves, but instead to cultivate our desire for and joy in the higher virtues. It’s like don’t fight with your craving for junk food (you will lose), but cultivate your taste buds and excitement for things that make you feel better, like vegetables. For me, that’s easier said then done.

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