Yamas & Niyamas in Recovery

In my study of yoga philosophy I was introduced to two very important practices, the yamas and niyamas. These are the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path, and they represent different ways of being in the world. The yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the niyamas are things to do, or observances. Put to practice, these ten principles allow a person to lead an ethical and balanced life. They can especially help to guide those like me in recovery from an eating disorder.

I want to take this time to write specifically about the first of the these two practices; the yamas. The yamas are ethical guideline for interacting with the world. There are five yamas – ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, and aparigraha. The first principle, ahimsa, is Sanskrit for nonviolence. The concept of ahimsa teaches people to have compassion for themselves and for others. In my eating disorder I had very little compassion for myself, and I outwardly expressed violence in protection of my disorder. My behaviors became deeply ingrained and revolved around judgement, deprivation and strain – the opposite of compassion. Recovery from an eating disorder means finding compassion toward mind, body, and soul. Without compassion and non-violence, detrimental behaviors persist and degrade the healthy self that resides within each person.

The second yama is satya, or truthfulness, and it is very difficult to balance with ahimsa. In recovery, it is necessary to tell the truth, without judgement, in a way that is slo non-harmful. For me this means speaking up when my mood drops, or sharing when I have urges to engage in eating disorder behaviors. Without truthfulness I am stuck in my disorder, and alone in the world too. With satya, you not only gain freedom, you gain connection as well.

The third yama is asteya, which means non-stealing. When I am in my eating disorder I continually steal from my authentic self. Practicing asteya means that I provide my body of vital nutrients and fill my life with genuine experiences. Unrealistic standards tend to rob a person of happiness, and in order to recover, one must choose fulfillment over “perfect” achievement. A healthy body allows you to do and accomplish so much while the eating disorder merely keeps you trapped. For this reason I choose to no longer allow my eating disorder to steal from my life. This is a choice that I have to make each day in order to be recovery.

The fourth yama is brahmacharya, or non-excess, and teaches us to find balance in life. For those who have eating disorders, bramacharya is severely disrupted and life is way out of balance. There is very little respect for the bodies limitations, and the mind gets stuck in a vicious cycle of judgement and brutality. The concept of bramacharya teaches us that we mustn’t act in excess, either by restricting or bingeing, overexercising or purging. All of these actions throw the body and mind out of balance, leading to a disruptive lifestyle. Brahmacharya has helped me to personally find respect for the balance of life and abstain from harmful behaviors.

The fifth and final yama is aparigraha, or non-attachment. I constantly have to remind myself of this yama as life constantly takes unexpected turns. I have had to teach myself to not be attached to the results, and to accept things as they are. As far as my eating disorder goes, I am constantly having to detach from my appearance, my diet and my exercise in order to gain a steady sense of self-worth. Aparigraha means letting go of the way that you expect things to go and accepting them as they are.

Although I am still in recovery from my eating disorder, I fully believe that I can make a full recover if I continue to practices the five yamas. Already these principles have helped me to find greater balance in my life and more respect for myself and my body. I hope that you too can adopt some these principles into your own life!