Yoga is not just asanas and pranayams, but a complete way of life, conceived to enable one to keep working at one’s highest goals, always, undaunted by ups and downs of existence. To walk this path, one has to follow certain rules – 5 niyamas, which were first outlined by Maharshi Patanjali around 250 BC in his work Yog Sutras. While these niyamas of Ashtanga yoga are meant to help all humans living in any age, to lead happy, fulfilling lives, these are particularly relevant in today’s stressed times, when the bulk of humanity is battling a formidable enemy, and is ridden with uncertainties. The five ancient niyamas which we can follow today to advantage:
Saucha: It means cleanliness. Cleanliness of one’s body, mind and external surroundings. While physical hygiene can be achieved through exercises, (asanas, pranayams), kriyas (cleansing actions like jalaneti,) and right diet, mental hygiene is equally important as stress lowers immunity. Clean the mind by flooding it with noble thoughts. Read good messages, study any subject, listen to uplifting music and spiritual discourses, watch inspiring films, and pray sincerely. Just as we do not put garbage in our mouths, so also at all times, we need to be conscious of the words, images, etc. with which we fill our minds — for our good mental health.
Santosha: To be content with what we have in life. Keeping our desires limited. Instead of comparing with others and looking at what we don’t have, appreciating fully the persons and things in front of us. Appreciation leads to joy and calmness. And one becomes a source of peace and pleasure for others.
Tapa: Training the senses through austere practices. Being hard on oneself. Accepting both pain and pleasure with grace. Determined giving up of old ways of thinking, feeling and doing things — in sync with changing needs. Observing rules like fasting. Through the practice of tapa, we become stronger in mind and body. Tapa literally means ‘to heat.’ For example, the more gold is heated, the purer it becomes.
Swadhyaya: Study of oneself (‘Swa’- one’s own and ‘adyhyaya’ – to study) and also scriptures for direction. To know oneself is difficult. Deep reflection, contemplation and meditation on our thoughts, speech and action regularly, is essential to identify corrections that we need to make in ourselves, to become happier and more worthy humans. Reciting hymns aloud or specific mantras quietly (japa) are two methods of swadhyaya.
Ishwarpranidhan: Surrendering to the will of the universe and working for the highest good at all times, and not just for oneself. Ishwar signifies a higher, bigger reality than ourselves– the universe. The universe is eternal, subtle, has unsurpassable excellence and is benevolent. We need to have complete faith that the universe is working for our good at all times. Such faith drives out painful thoughts from the mind and steadies it, to focus on one’s work. Prayer helps to build faith and also develops our ability to concentrate.
By keeping our minds, bodies and houses clean; appreciating all the resources we have at this moment; taking on strenuous household chores and bearing discomforts ungrudgingly ( knowing this will only strengthen us); introspecting on changes we need to make in ourselves to be better humans; and above all by praying with full faith in the universe — we can effectively fight Corona and emerge victorious.