By Clare Newman, Program Director of Mamata Yoga
*Stay tuned over the next several weeks as we continue to explore the 8 Limbs of Yoga. If you missed last week, we explored the yamas*
2. Niyamas (Personal Observances)
The niyamas are spiritual practices that need to be observed by an individual at a personal level. Like the yamas, there are also 5 intimate niyamas that create a code for living a meaningful life, which help to encourage self-discipline and inner strength necessary for progression along the path of yoga.
1. Sauca (Cleanliness)
Sauca not only refers to outer cleanliness and care of personal hygiene, but also inner cleanliness. The importance of maintaining and living a healthy lifestyle, both within the body and mind as well through positive thinking is the primary focus of sauca.
Eating nutritious foods and removing negative thoughts of jealousy, anger, pride and guilt are important cleansing aspects of sauca. A mothers diet during the first 6 weeks consists of little nourishing foods as the need for rest overpowers the need for food. Mothers that are beast-feeding are cautious of the foods they ingest during this time as it has a huge impact on the digestive tract of the baby. Foods that are gaseous, citric and acidic can result in gas and colic in babies and usually result in a lot of discomfort an crying. Some items that consist of dairy such as milk, cheese and yogurt are not easily digestible as it passes from mother to baby, resulting in an upset stomach, colic and in the most severe of cases, blood in the stool which may result in a milk allergy. Mothers need to eat a properly balance meal consisting of fresh fruits and vegetable that are easily digestible for baby as well, fish, turkey or chicken, lentils, potatoes and plenty of water to increase milk production. Dairy products can be introduced back into ones diet in smaller doses soon after the fussy period begins to ware.
Positive thinking is one of the more important components of sauca, especially for new mothers. Even though each baby is unique, the need to be surrounded in a safe and positive environment is intrinsic. We learned that early in the womb and throughout fetal development, babies can sense stress, negative situations and experience fight-or-flight response. This is still quite prevalent during developmental stages outside of the womb. Creating an environment that surrounds a baby with love, positive affirmations, acceptance, compassion, honesty and connectedness stimulates mental and emotional development. Mothers need to refrain from any outside negative impurities such as jealousy towards other mothers for losing the baby weight quicker or anger towards her spouse for not dressing the baby in a specific outfit with matching socks.All are quite irrelevant and only take away from the importance of staying connected as a family.
Contentment with what we have, rather than focusing on being unhappy with what we don’t have. Santosa is relative to modesty and humility, a humbling state of sense in accepting the Truth for what it is. This niyama supports the theory of Karma.
The ultimate goal of santosa is to attain a sense of calm and happiness, accepting that life is a process for growth and out of this growth comes wisdom and knowledge. Perhaps the calm and serene baby we dreamt of while pregnant turns out to be more colic and cranky, we simply need to accept this truth and learn to cope rather than complain. Acceptance and surrender to the way in which all beings have been created. There is no need to try to change someone or a situation, rather take the time to learn to adapt and find contentment in each and every situation. As teachers, it’s important to remind mothers that every baby is unique and rather than approaching a unfamiliar situation with grief or complaint, we need to seek coping mechanisms that will help strengthen the intelligence and create a stronger focus for support.
Tapas can be described in many ways as motivation, commitment and dedication and is an opportunity to free ourselves from unnecessary distractions. It can lead an aspirant towards liberation through the method of personal transformation by learning and understand how all facets of ones life are merely tools for self-realization.
Understanding the need for transformation and self-realization comes quite naturally to new mothers during the first year of motherhood due to the sudden and drastic changes. Often times, this realization begins with knowing that a change must occur and that life will be forever changing as a parent. Mothers realize that they are unable to control, reason and communicate with a baby until the development of verbal communication. In the meantime, mothers begin to look for other creative outlets on how to communicate with a fussy child or soothe one that is teething, which is often a lesson on how they themselves communicate with others. Mothers begin to learn to handle sudden inner urges without an outer response or at the very least, tend not to react to a situation right away. When a mother pays attention to her postures, habits, breathing and habitual thoughts without the need for repression or response, transformation of her inner strength will become her biggest reward.
4. Svadhyaya (Self-Study)
Self-reflection and the observance towards knowing ones’ self is svadhyaya. It allows aspirants an insight to themselves and brings clarity to the connection we share with others.
The study and journey inward for new mothers is challenging, as most are busy trying to idealize normalcy and perfection towards their family. When a mother actually studies herself and her reactions to certain situation, she begins to note that there is room for improvement which lifts the veil of ignorance, attachments and aversions. The first glimpse into svadhyaya for most mothers is a pre-natal or post-natal yoga class. Through the practice of physical postures, mothers can watch the habits of the mind and engage the breath with the body, whether it is in preparation for birth or healing. Mothers can gradually learn through their emotions the connection between the physical body, habits, reactions and stillness. When these emotions come to the surface, after practicing the above limbs, a mother is now able to cope with clarity and confidence rather than judgement and ignorance. This self-realization allows mothers to be more open and honest with their child and embrace the role of mother as a blessed gift from the Divine.
5. Isvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Divine)
The Divine is whatever resonates with an individual. A higher power that could be God, the Universe or simply the Divine within. Whichever it is that one worships, the central teaching of isvara pranidhana is that the act of surrender must be absolute.
In order to focus on surrendering, one must first have a relationship with their inner guide or have conceptualized and experienced the study within. For new mothers, this very simple teaching is not so easy to grasp and consists of constant daily reminders that we must let go and surrender to a higher source. As beautiful, chubby and angelic babies turn into rambunctious, vivacious and charismatic toddlers, mothers are soon faced with the need to once again, control. If they are safe, why can’t they explore? Babies and toddlers learn first through their very active senses, touching, smelling and tasting give them an opportunity to learn about their surroundings, yet new mothers are always interrupting this process out of fear and attachment. Only by releasing fears and hope for the future can a mother really be in union with the present moment; experiencing grace, peace, love, clarity and freedom by surrendering to the idea that everything simply is as it is. Isvara pranidhana provides a pathway through the obstacles of our ego and keeps our hearts open to the Divine in every aspect of life.