In Patanjali’s Eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, the second limb (Niyama) discusses freedom from all observances. Some of the greatest shackles of our minds lie in our experiences and perceptions of the physical world – how we perceive our bodies, emotions, and challenges in life – and how we let these experiences or perceptions eat into our present state and well-being. In today’s modern society, is there any way to free ourselves from these constructed perceptions?
Niyama resonated most within me as I often felt ‘trapped’ in my thoughts, behaviours, and feelings. For one, throughout my life, I always thought that my past setbacks were a manuscript for the future. Most of the hardships and pain that I had gone through were seen as negative flaws in my life that would dictate my future experiences and cloud my optimism toward them. For example, if I had been betrayed by someone closest to me, I felt that I would not be able to find true friends for the rest of my life. Easier said than done, I struggled to see such experiences as turning points for improvement and learning. I was unable to passively observe these past experiences, allowing them to control my present reactions.
Out of the various things that we have discussed in class, there was one Niyama that I felt I wanted to incorporate into my life, which was Tapas. In the manual, Tapas is described as “austerities transform impurities”. Master Sree gave the imagery of a small seed breaking through the soil, rocks, and dirt to grow into a big tree when describing Tapas. From there, the message I took home with me was that to emerge and purify the body and soul, certain hardships and even deprivations have to be experienced and accepted. That image of a seed breaking through its adversities and emerging as a big tree helped me through my self-journey of healing from past trauma and difficulties. I decided to see these experiences as happenings that help to refine me as a human being, preparing me for future experiences. Perhaps only by having experienced them was I able to grow and develop in many aspects of life, such as my empathy, compassion, and resilience.