The niyamas in breast cancer recovery

Continuing on our exploration of yoga philosophy and the 8 limbs of yoga, as originally outlined by Patanjali, let’s discuss the niyamas, or the 2nd limb. The niyamas can be described as duties, inner observances, or guidelines for the way we interact with ourselves. As with the yamas, there are 5 niyamas:

  1. Saucha: cleanliness or purity (of body, mind, energy)
  2. Santosha: contentment
  3. Tapas: self-discipline, inner fire, dedication
  4. Svadhyaya: Self-study
  5. Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender, either to a higher power, or just to the present moment, letting go, releasing control

So, as with the yamas, I won’t expound on all of them here, or you’ll never finish reading this post! I’ll focus today on my favorite niyama, the 4th one, svadhyaya. As BKS Iyengar beautifully expresses, “Yoga is a mirror to look at ourselves from within”, and yoga indeed helps us to explore and understand ourselves. Practicing svadhyaya helps us become more self-aware, better able to observe the things that we do and think, and then to begin to understand why we do them, and how they affect us. This allows us to then work on avoiding thoughts and behaviors that are harmful to us, and to pursue more of the thoughts and behaviors that help us move in the direction we want, toward our higher selves, toward peace, truth, wellness, and joy.

In yoga asana, self-study is huge in helping us understand the physical part of our practice. Where are we resisting the pose? Where can we soften more to achieve more flexibility? Why do we love certain poses and avoid others? (You know they say the poses we hate the most are probably the ones our bodies need the most!) Can we translate any of that to our lives off the mat?

In relating svadhyaya to our breast cancer journeys, what have you learned about yourself through your cancer experience? Do you need to be more patient? To learn to accept help from others? To release anger or the need to control every detail? Do you need to work on releasing fear? Developing trust? Empowering yourself? Did having cancer make you more compassionate and understanding with others? Did you learn to take better care of yourself? In all of these ways (and probably many others you can think of), we can see how studying ourselves through our cancer experience can help us see the good things that can come from this crummy disease. We can turn it into an opportunity for growth and development, to make ourselves into our newer, better selves. This outlook will help us feel more at ease with the situation, more optimistic about the future, and more joyful in the moment.

Finally, spend a little time considering the other niyamas and how they might relate to your life. For example, saucha encourages us to keep our thoughts clean and pure, and avoid putting toxic ideas and energy into ourselves (via movies, fighting with people on the internet, obsessing over the news, or otherwise). Santosha encourages us to find contentment in the present moment, despite whatever difficulties we might be facing. Tapas encourages us to maintain our self-discipline in the things we know are good for us, such as taking our medicine, eating healthy, or exercising. And Isvara pranidhana can be so helpful in releasing our need for control, in trusting the universe or our higher power, in finding peace and grace in our situation.

So as for the yamas, I hope that reflecting a little on the niyamas will help you, as it has me, in traversing this crazy breast cancer journey. As always, be patient with yourself. And just keep practicing.


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