How to cope with life’s ups and downs

How to cope with life’s ups and downs –
The Yogic View Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative…

“Pink And Yellow Lotus” Image courtesy of Nuttakit /

In today’s modern world, our minds are continually bombarded with experiences, both positive and negative. Negative TV programmes, the Internet, media, computer games, etc, they all influence and affect how we view our world; in our thoughts, emotions and behaviour. Each additional negative builds on negative impressions (samskaras) that are already in our minds. The company we keep also has an effect on us, for example, we may stay in a relationship that regularly hurts us, mentally or physically. All of this leads to negative attitudes, increased anxiety levels and depression and generally makes us feel as if we are being dragged down.

So, how can we accentuate the positive?

There are lots of ways we can be positive in our outlook – we can choose the company we keep, we can watch positive programmes on TV rather than negative ones and we can listen to uplifting rather than sad music. We could even put ourselves in a positive environment with other like minded people. How? You say… By thinking about the Yamas and Niyamas of Raja Yoga.

The Yamas are self restraints that aim to harmonize one’s social interactions. The Niyamas are personal codes to harmonize one’s inner feelings. In other words they are about being in harmony with your world outside and your world inside.

So what exactly are these Yamas and Niyamas?

The Yamas are:
• Non violence
• Truthfulness
• Honesty
• Non possessiveness
• Continence

The Niyamas are:
• Cleanliness
• Contentment
• Austerity
• Self-study
• Cultivation of faith

The Yamas and Niyamas help to evolve us. Basically, most human beings are truthful, honest, good and compassionate. However, when we are not being truthful or honest, rather than putting it down to a person’s true nature, it is a reaction to previous experiences, (although the person might consciously feel they are doing what comes naturally, subconsciously there is an inner conflict). This conflict is between outer action and inner need and the result is mental problems.

If you think about it, if we hurt someone, or lie or cheat or exploit them in some way or another, they may be waiting to get us back, they may want vengeance and this might come at a time we least expect it. Even if whatever it was we did has not been found out there is always the constant fear at the back of our minds that we will be found out. This causes a disturbance in the fluctuations and patterns of the mind, resulting in mental anguish. By observing the Yamas and Niyamas we can prevent these fluctuations; even abiding by them in a small way you will notice the resulting peace of mind. The Yamas and Niyamas are therefore relevant to everyone. Be patient though, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Keep the Yamas and Niyamas in mind and this will help you cope.

Now it gets a little more complicated. The Yamas and Niyamas are intended to reduce friction between the outer environment and inner attitudes. It might be a little easier to understand if you think of the mind and its environment as being a two way interaction; the mind stimulates external actions, while external actions stimulate the mind. Therefore if external actions are not harmonious, then the mind will be disturbed and vice versa, a disturbed mind will lead to disharmonious acts. The trouble is, abiding by the rules is not an easy task; it becomes a lifetime’s work, slowly and gradually improving bit by bit.

Here are some more details about the Yamas and Niyamas and how they can help you cope with the ups and down of life:

Non-violence (non-harmful intent)
By adopting non-violence and the feeling of non hostility towards all things, we start to become aware of our thoughts. We become more aware of ourselves, the ego is reduced and we become more compassionate. But, don’t start to feel guilty. Feeling guilty is violence to ourselves – simply observe your own tendencies and learn from them.

Truthfulness (be straight and true with self and others)
When one is truthful at all levels; in thoughts words and actions, people instinctively know you are being truthful and this leads to sincere, harmonious and trusting relationships. It doesn’t stop there though, it is just as important to be clear and truthful to yourself and then you can clear the mental blocks holding you back from being happy. Be clear and truthful to yourself.

Honesty (this results from being non acquisitive)
This means honesty at all levels, not just not stealing from others, but also not cheating or manipulating anyone for our own gain – this is internal honesty. Living simply and sincerely, not wanting to acquire more and more material things. In fact, if you think about it, if we are not interested in getting more things, then we will not want to steal things from others. Internal honesty brings peace of mind.

Non possessiveness (a result of non-attachment)
This means not only not being attached to material things, but also not getting attached to people and all aspects of our ego, for example roles, titles, social positions, habitual thinking patterns, favourite emotions, personal opinions, ideas, behaviour patterns, desires and cravings . If we are motivated to want and possess and hold on to all of these things and things don’t work out for us, then we become discontented, angry, or we are frightened of losing them or that they might be damaged or lost. Wealth doesn’t make you happy because you are afraid of losing it. Let go of what you don’t need.

Continence (‘to walk with Brahma’ continence in sex and other desire states)
This means that one should behave responsibly to achieve self control; not to use sexual energy in any way to harm others. One should form committed relationships and not give in to excessive desires. Behave responsibly.

Cleanliness (in all areas)
This means cleanliness in all areas, keeping the physical body clean, outside and inside (inner cleansing for example netti to cleanse the sinuses), cleansing mentally, (eliminating negative samsaras through meditation) and generally keeping your environment neat and tidy. Prevent taking in impurities, such as chemicals, smoke. Take in good quality food, drink and air – in fact adjust your life to take in as few negatives as possible. All of this will lead to kind and friendly interactions and a positive view of the world.

Contentment (be happy with life and its problems)
“Wealth is not having a lot, but being content with what you have”. Be satisfied with what you’ve got and as your demands get less and less, life becomes more and more simple. We begin to feel calm and content even when things get difficult. “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm”. We don’t need material things to make us feel better. We are better able to give and receive love and the world becomes a happier place. We are generally happier with life and because we are happier with life we have high self esteem, we can communicate better, we are able to give and receive love and our relationships become more fulfilling. Be content with what you have.

Austerity (developing endurance, stamina, willpower)
This means being disciplined or strict with yourself, for example if you give yourself modest hardships, such as fasting or observing silence, you will be able to cope with hardships without a negative reaction. You will have more peace of mind because you don’t fear bad things happening to you. Self discipline helps you cope.

Self-study (self-observation, analysis and knowledge)
Get to know yourself through self observation. Who can know you better than you? Through watching yourself (or being ‘the witness’) you can gain an insight into your own strengths, weaknesses, ambitions, and needs. You become aware of your own perceptions, attitudes, thoughts, emotions, behaviour and your effect on the world. Know yourself and be friends with yourself.

Cultivation of faith (to surrender oneself and one’s actions to the higher power)
Whatever your belief the cultivation of faith develops a sense of oneness with the universe. Developing faith helps bring you closer to yourself and others.

Has all of this helped? Remember most of all be kind to yourself. The Yamas and Niyamas are guidelines for living. They are powerful ways of improving your lifestyle and will help you cope with life’s ups and downs. If you can incorporate just a few of these principles into your daily life you will find immense benefit in all areas of your life.

Don’t forget … accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative!

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
But don’t mess with mister in between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
have faith, or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk up on the scene

AuthorWritten by Sandy Hector BSc(Hons) Psychology
Yoga teacher, Registered Hypnotherapist