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Is your Yoga Practice taking you “off the mat”?

I have often heard the phrase “Yoga off the mat” as a way to explain the importance of taking one’s personal yoga practice (on the mat) to connect more profoundly to the wider world (off the mat).  And while this is a beautiful, poetic way to describe the importance of outward expression, and I do personally love this expression; this description implies that yoga on the mat is somewhat a separate activity to that off the mat.

If indeed we find it necessary to describe yoga in terms of “on and off the mat” then it appears that we are losing yoga’s original, ancient meaning.

The term yoga is translated as “union” and so the goal or destination of yoga (union) is yoga (union) itself.  Simply put, the goal of yoga is yoga!

Yoga is the process of connecting, awakening and realisation.  Consider this description of yoga: Yoga is physical system with a spiritual movement.

This description is quite fitting with how yoga is viewed today, particularly in the West.  However, it would be more accurate to rephrase the statement in this way: Yoga is a spiritual system with a physical movement.

Sometimes the spiritual realm can feel quite distant, unknown and unattainable.  So it is helpful to start with something we are familiar with.  We know our bodies – our body is tangible.  We can touch it, feel it, see it.  What better way to start, than with something physical, real and obvious to our senses.  Our body is what we know and so we work with that to help us journey through the process of spiritual discovery.

Our body is what helps us connect to our mind, to our breath…to consciousness.  So we start the practice using our body.  With regular, sustained practice, we start to notice changes in our lives; our way of thinking, our approach to life, suffering, happiness, relationships, attitudes and our way of “being” in the world – THIS IS YOGA working! This is UNITY.  This is “yoga off the mat”.    Peaceful beings

Yoga is a science; a practical philosophy that deals with the body, breath, mind and soul and ultimately the universal Self… connecting to the divine! Yoga uses the physical body to help us journey to the ultimate goal of spiritual realisation.

Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras that we can achieve this spiritual realisation through a regular and sustained practice (1.14).  So what are you waiting for?

Get on your mat, practice unity.

Be present and create the space for change.

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I no longer believe in New Year’s Resolutions, I believe in Daily Resolutions

So it’s that time of year again; where we hear about New Year’s Resolutions and how we are encouraged to set new goals for the year – usually in the area of good health and fitness. Have you done yours yet? Do you make one every year? Do you find them beneficial?

A New Year’s Resolution is a positive way to start the year as it helps us set clear goals and a focus.  It is said that goals help us have a positive attitude and helps direct a purpose in what we do.  And while I used to think about New Year’s resolutions back in my teens, it was when I started a regular yoga practice that forming a New Year’s resolution each year became obsolete.  Why you ask? Well, yoga is so transformative, that I found I was renewing my health on a daily basis with my yoga practice.  As a result of a daily practice; my body, mind and soul were constantly being nourished – through the natural highs and lows of life circumstances.

You see, yoga is a sadhana; a spiritual practice or discipline.  Yes, a discipline.  It is work.  Hard work, in fact.  With this hard work, yoga becomes second nature and forms part of your life and who you are, not something ‘extra’ that you do.  When I began this daily practice/discipline of yoga, I found so many areas of my life changing naturally.  The Yoga Sutras talk about abyasa which is translated as practice or effort.  Without the actual doing, nothing happens.  Practice makes it possible to go deeper, to evolve and to transform your life.

With a regular practice, my physical health boomed and I felt lighter, stronger and more open and comfortable in my body.  My self-image became more positive and I generally felt great every day! I slept better and developed positive habits around sleep – sleeping early at night and rising early with the sun to start the day with a yoga practice before work.  With this physical evolution, my state of mind became calmer and clearer.  I developed a more positive attitude to life and a greater acceptance of life’s trials.  I became more aware of how my thoughts, words and actions were deeply connected and how my yoga practice helped keep them in a state of harmony.  This then affected my relationships and I developed amazing friendships with inspiring people who I would never have met if I wasn’t open to new experiences and challenges in life.  This lifestyle led me to travel the world more and see the riches that life has to offer.  I could never have dreamed this future for myself when I walked into my first yoga class many years ago!

Yoga cultivates a spiritual discipline, a sadhana that is addictive – but in a good way 🙂 A good yoga practice (and when I say good, I mean a steady, regular practice that is guided by a teacher), will ignite a fire within you that keeps you coming back for more.  This fire or heat is known as tapas.  Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras describes tapas as an important aspect of a personal discipline (niyama).   You can simply look at tapas as energy or discipline.  How are you directing your tapas – your energy? The Yoga Sutras say that we should direct our tapas to things that support our wellbeing and growth.  So it is not just what you do on your mat but how that translates off the mat in your life.  If what you are doing on the mat is good then this will be reflected in your life off the mat.  For example, your eating habits may change as a result of a regular yoga practice.  You may find that heavy foods bloat you or make you feel lethargic and hinder your yoga practice and so you start to stay away from those foods and choose more nutritious foods that make you feel light and refreshed.

As another example, take a common yoga pose such as virabhadrasna II (Warrior 2).  After holding this posture for a few breaths, you begin to feel your legs burn and your heart rate increase, your arms aching…. this is tapas at work! It is easier to come out of the posture early and rest and more challenging to persevere and make a conscious effort to breathe through the challenge.

When people find out that I am a yoga teacher and they have never done yoga before, they often say something like “oh yoga must be so nice and relaxing!”.  And while this is definitely an outcome of a steady yoga practice, it sure often doesn’t seem relaxing usually at the time! In fact, yoga is hard work that requires a great deal of focus, concentration, strength and flexibility and did I mention discipline already? 🙂

Guru Swami Haritharanda (Kriya yoga) says that “when the body develops the power to endure hardship and when the mind does not get easily upset by lack of physical comfort, one becomes qualified in practicing yoga”.  So basically when you are able to stay calm amidst the discomfort; that is when you are practicing yoga.  The Yoga Sutras defines asana (posture) as ‘stirum, sukem, asanam’ – steady and comfortable.  You only have to look at some amazing photographs of yoga practitioners in advanced postures to think “gosh, they make it look so easy!” But this “easy-ness” appearance is exceptionally strong, steady and focused which is a result of years of discipline and work.

So for this year’s focus, perhaps direct your tapas to your daily resolution of practicing yoga. It doesn’t need to be a long exerted practice to be effective. Even a sun salute once a day, a simple breathing exercise, meditation or gentle asanas each morning upon waking or before bed. Always try and get to a regular yoga class so you can connect with your teacher to guide you along your journey. Make a daily resolution to cultivate a personal yoga practice and watch your life unfold!

new year tapas

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Suffering and your Samskaras – a way to Liberation

We often view yoga as an activity. The way we speak about yoga reflects this assumption. We often hear the phrase “I am doing yoga” or “I am going to yoga class” and this language is part of our common social vernacular.

However, yoga is in fact a state. Patanjali describes yoga as a state of oneness, pure consciousness… unity. At the beginning of the yoga sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as a state of “calming the fluctuations of the mind” (YS 1.1).

The term yoga derives from the Sanskrit root word “yuj” which means “to control, yoke or unite”. So yoga is actually a term to describe a state of integration: harmony with ourselves, others and the world.

It is of course difficult to attain this state of yoga! We live in a world which teaches us to live in a state of desire. We are encouraged to believe that the more things we possess, the happier we will become. We begin to adopt this ‘future happiness’ belief that “if we have this, then I will be happy; if I get that car, then I will be happy; if I get married or have children; then I will be happy”. This desire in fact creates more suffering or dukkha (“bad space”) and the more we desire, the more we suffer!

The purpose of yoga is to overcome current and future suffering and ultimately attain liberation. So what is it that can be causing our suffering? Let us first consider what we are influenced by in life.

We are conditioned by the world that we inhabit by our:

  • Personal experiences
  • Birth circumstances
  • Influences of friends and family
  • Influence of chosen interest groups
  • Influence of belief system whether chosen or imposed.
  • Subconscious programming/subliminal activators (samskaras)

The first few factors are quite self-explanatory. We are influenced by our experiences and life circumstances. But what exactly are these subliminal activators known as samskaras?

Basically, a person has an experience. This can be positive, negative or neutral. Every experience leaves behind an impression or imprint in the mind called Samskara (subliminal activator).

These samskaras can be dormant in the mind (citta) and recede into the subconscious mind, lying low. They manifest when associations arise, like, for example, a certain place reminds you of a special time in your life or being with a lover or a certain smell reminds you of a place you have travelled to.

For positive and negative experiences, there are a number of associative factors that are obtained by the five senses. These can be the people who were involved in the experience, music, taste, smell and feelings associated with the experience. These associative factors create a Samskara a subliminal impression which basically develop into “patterns”. They form little seeds in your mind. So whenever you come across that seed, it brings back a memory.

Have you experienced a time when a smell reminds you of a particular time in your life or event? Or a song takes you back to a distinct place and time in your life? In these cases the sense of hearing or smell has awoken your Samskara. You listen to that song again because it takes you back. Then you listen to it again, and again; each time you do the action that awakens a Samskara, you reinforce or strengthen the Samskara.

So gradually each time you repeat the action, you create a stronger impression and eventually this impression comes to be a vasana (habit). You find yourself wearing this special perfume over and over because of the Samskara you have formed. This habit (vasana) then creates your svabhava (part of your nature). And when something becomes a habit, it can form an addiction. You cannot leave the house without spraying this perfume! This addiction can apply to both positive and negative experiences.

Some vasana (habits) can be important. Like when you first learn to drive a car; at the beginning it is challenging. You must give complete attention on the skill of driving. I remember I couldn’t even listen to music when I first learnt to drive! But after some practice and skill-development, you are able to drive while having a conversation, listening to music and even eating!

This vasana (habit) has now become part of your nature (svabhava); as though it is part of who you are. We even drive in “auto pilot” at times because of our habit! Consider the addiction of smoking or drinking alcohol. It starts with one taste, or one inhale of the cigarette. Each taste or puff strengthens your Samskara and before you know it, one develops an addiction/habit for smoking or alcohol.

It’s important to note that vasana is not only referring to habitual action (like driving a car); it is also referring to habitual thoughts. Our habitual thoughts that are negative can cause us deep suffering. If you are familiar with using negative-self talk; this builds a strong negative Samskara about how you see yourself which in turn affects your self-confidence and positive view of yourself.

Our suffering in life can often be attributed to our negative samskaras. We need to work on our negative samskaras that cause us suffering. So we ask the question, what is causing us suffering? Can you identify any negative samskaras in your own life?

Often people don’t want to identify their negative samskaras because it is not always pleasant to deal with them. Many people suppress them. However if we don’t deal with them, then we cannot improve ourselves or remove what is causing us suffering. Or at least reduce our suffering! What is causing you dukkha (bad space)? What is making you unhappy?

Once we recognise our negative samskaras, the question becomes: how do we break these patterns or subliminal imprints in the mind?

By cultivating a sustained yoga practice.

Meditation helps us deal with negative experiences. We often view meditation as a very peaceful, calm state. In fact, meditation may ultimately assist one into a calm state, but we need to go through turmoil in order to reach that calmness! “Face your demons” so to speak.  In meditation, your mind churns! If you have meditated before for sustained periods, you may notice that the first thoughts that arise are the negative ones. It is important for us to acknowledge the negativity and not deny or suppress it. It is important to recognise them and let them go.

In yoga therapy, “reliving the experience” or “de-briefing” is not always necessary. It in fact can potentially reinforce your Samskara. In yoga therapy, instead of de-briefing, the focus is on breaking the vasana (habits) which naturally will break the negative Samskara.

We need to work through our negative samskaras which inhibit us from functioning in sukha (good space or happiness) by allowing the negative experience to come up (not necessarily reliving it); just simply accept it. Avoid being attached to it.

Patanjali mentions we need to cultivate “vairagya” (dispassion) in order to calm these fluctuations of the mind (YS 1.12). What exactly is dispassion? It is about becoming neutral; not denying the thought or the pain that arises. Simply observe it, accept it and let it go. So become non-attached to your negative stuff. This is a big skill and takes a lot of time.

An analogy to go by is to visualise yourself sitting in a coffee shop and looking out the window, watching and observing people walk by. Avoid judging or forming opinions of them. Rather, be an observer. If we start to judge, we run with those thoughts! One judgemental thought leads to another. So the skill of meditation is the skill of looking at the thoughts, facing them and letting them go. Allow them to come and go but do not “hook” onto that thought.

Patanjali says that through sustained practice, we can achieve this steadiness of mind (YS 1.13) which ultimately removes our samskaras. It is through sustained effort that one can achieve this steadiness and harmony of the mind! It is a regular practice a lifetime(s) practice! (YS 1.13-1.14)

Patanjali also says that this vairagya (dispassion or non-attachment) is achieved through humble motivations. Your motivation to remove your samskaras and have a calm mind should not be for worldly gain, benefit or pleasure (YS 1.15). Patanjali warns us not to be motivated by rewards heavenly or worldly!

The motivation should be for the practice itself; the here and now is the focus. By doing the practice, we become better people which then make the world a better place. Our efforts yield rewards here and now.

Do not be attached to the outcome! By being attached to the outcome, our happiness is dependent on that outcome. What happens when or if it doesn’t turn out that way? We develop dukkha (bad space/suffering)!

The greater our expectations, the more dukkha we create in our world and therefore the more suffering we have.

Our motivation should just be for the practice itself.

Practise for the practice.

 

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We All Share the Same Nature

Last month I talked about the essence of the nature of who we are.  Who are we? We are: Sat Chit Ananda (‘Absolute Bliss Consciousness’).  This is the Self.  We share this nature with all living beings: whether we are human, a cow, a dog or a fish.

We all share this common nature of the Self.  As we start to recognise our shared nature with all sentient beings, we start to realise the importance of Ahimsa (non harming).  As living beings we have two main goals in life: to be happy and to avoid suffering.  We share this goal with the horse, the pig and all living creatures.  Once we realise this, we start to change the way we think, the way we speak and this influences our actions.

The greatest everlasting happiness is achieved by putting the welfare of others before your own.  Patanjali says that we should avoid harmful thoughts, not just actions.  Our thoughts are deeply entwined with the way we act!

As a yogi, we are encouraged to live a life that causes the least amount of suffering to others.  All beings.  This is ahimsa in practice.

An important ingredient of ahimsa is compassion.  The word compassion means to “feel with”: ‘passion’ means to ‘feel’ and com’ means ‘with’.  So when we have compassion towards another being, it means we literally “feel with” them.

If we recognise that we share the same nature as other living beings, we begin to see ourselves through other beings.  Compassion trains the mind to see past our outer differences of form.  Just because a dog has four legs and we have two, it doesn’t change the fact that we share the same inner essence.  Once we see this, we begin not only to desire happiness for ourselves, but we realise that every single creature also desires happiness.

To develop compassion, it is a good practice to examine or reflect on your motives for your actions.  What are your intentions for your actions? Are they honourable? Are they honest?

When I was very young, I was always very sensitive to the suffering of others; humans and animals alike.  When I was a teenager, I started to really become aware of the fact that I was eating the flesh of other sentient beings.  I started to develop a very fine conscience about this and so when I was 17 years old, I became a vegetarian.  My motive was to avoid contributing to any suffering of another being.  I couldn’t come to terms with the fact that an animal had to suffer in order for me to eat, when there was plenty of other food that I could eat that was nourishing for my body and mind. So for the last 18 years I have been a dedicated vegetarian and although my dairy intake was not big, I only decided to become a Vegan about 3 months ago.

I read up on the dairy industry and it suddenly overwhelmed me to realise the suffering that cows and chickens (hens and roosters) endure so that we can have aisles of dairy in our supermarket.  For me, the decision to stop eating meat or dairy came from within me, with no outside pressure.  It was something that came with an acute sense of wanting to avoid suffering.  I strongly believe that if we live our life fuelled with ahimsa (non harming) and compassion, it will vibrantly change our planet.

So I encourage you to examine your thoughts, words and actions this month: how do you contribute to ahimsa in your world?

  • What are your thoughts on your boss at work?
  • How do you view your colleagues?
  • How do you treat the stranger that bumps into you at the shops?
  • How do you speak to your partner and loved ones after a rough day?
  • How do you speak to your colleagues when you’re under pressure?
  • Are your actions at work honourable?

 “The root of happiness is compassion” ~ Dalai Lama

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The Eighth Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Last month, we covered the seventh limb of Ashtanga yoga – Dhyana (meditation).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the eighth and final limb:  Samadhi (absolute consciousness).

 Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 This month’s focus: SAMADHI

If you walked the streets and asked people what they think the purpose of yoga would be, many would suggest that yoga is about flexibility, strength, fitness and health.  As much as this is true and these are definitely by-products of practicing yoga; the ultimate goal of yoga is not about touching your toes and feeling healthy.  The main purpose or goal of yoga is self-realisation.  Pure consciousness.  Samadhi.

According to Patanjali, this eight fold path of yoga leads to a full experience of samadhi, which is the realisation of pure consciousness.  It is a supreme experience where through acute sensuous perception, one has direct knowledge of an object in truth of its own nature, completely free from the distortions of our imagination.  In other words, one generally distorts their sense perception based on preconceived ideas and beliefs, hence samadhi is the full experience of seeing things for what they are, not what one thinks they ought to be.  This is where one uncovers the union of yoga; union between humanity, unity between human and nature and union with God.  Samadhi can be seen as a state of emptiness of the human mind and language and fullness in itself.

So yoga shows the way to Samadhi.   Yoga is not simply an accumulation of asana or devotional practices, but rather a transformation of body and spirit which aims for completion of the whole person.  Samadhi can be described as a state of ‘enstasy’.  We are all familiar with the term ‘ecstasy’ where one is in a state of outward joy or bliss.  However, Enstasy is described as an inward state of joy or bliss.  The term enstasy was coined by Mircea Eliade to describe the state of Samadhi as ‘standing inside oneself’ as opposed to the Western term ‘ecstasy’ which is a state of ‘standing outside oneself’.   So the joy or bliss one experiences in a state of Samadhi is derived from within us, not outside or external sources.  Yoga engenders an inward blissful state… a state of complete awareness…Samadhi.  It is a state so complete that it is indefinable beyond speech.  It is experienced.

So now that we know the purpose of yoga, how do we achieve this state? Well over the past few months, we have looked into detail at Patanjali’s eight fold path which leads to Samadhi.  Quite simply though, avoid over thinking it…start with the here and now.  Get on your mat, breathe, move and be mindful.  Do your yoga practice and all will come!

 “Practice, practice.  All is coming.” Pattabhi Jois

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The Seventh Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Dhyana (meditation)

Last month, we covered the sixth limb of Ashtanga yoga – dharana (concentration).  Now we are going to explore the seventh limb:  Dhyana (meditation).

Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 This month’s focus: DHYANA

The last three limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga are inward practices.  The sixth limb, dharana (concentration) and the seventh limb, dhyana (meditation) are higher stages of the same discipline.  Dharana is the concentration on a particular physical or spiritual centre and dhyana is a continuous meditation or deep thinking beyond the mind.  Next month we look at Samadhi (absolute consciousness or union) which is the ultimate goal of yoga.

When practising dharana (concentration) we focus on a particular object or word/phrase.  Dhyana is sustained concentration which we refer to as meditation.  As we begin to have focused concentration, we progressively move inwards to a meditative state.

It is very difficult for a beginner to meditate for long periods of time.  Asana (postures) is what we usually begin with when we begin yoga for the first time.  We begin with the here and now – our body.  We are familiar with the physical world.  The body is tangible.  We can feel it.  So what better place to start.  Once we work on the body through asana, the body becomes more supple and is able to sit comfortably for a sustained period of time.  If the body is not comfortable, how can we hold a seated pose for meditation? With regular asana practice, we become more comfortable in our physical body, which leads to a more ready attitude towards meditation.  For this reason, meditation is well practiced and well received by the body and mind at the end of an asana practice.  Once you have calmed the body, calmed the mind… you are now ready to take your seat and just be.  Simply be.

At first glance, yoga can look like acrobatics or gymnastics.  However, it is within the asana practice that we learn many deep inward lessons that translate into our seated meditation practice.  You can experience concentration and focus in your asana practice! When you focus your attention on your alignment, you are practicing dharana! As you become more experienced, your concentration becomes much easier and you find yourself ‘lost’ in the practice, where often times you come in and out of a pose and do it ‘without thinking’.  This is dhyana.  As you become more supple and experienced in the practice, your mind becomes at ease and you focus without strain.

Ashtanga yoga has often been described as a ‘moving meditation’.  This has been my experience in the 11 years I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga.  At first, I felt lost in the poses, trying to remember the sequence of postures and correct alignment.  However after some time, the postures came more easily to me.  I didn’t need to focus so hard on my alignment, because it just came with regular discipline and commitment.  There are times I have practiced and been so ‘lost in the practice’ that I was uninterrupted by thought and felt like I was in a meditative state.  I sometimes get half way through my practice and suddenly stop and think, ‘How did I get here?!”

As the mind repeats asana over and over, your yoga practice becomes second nature.  The mind becomes so well trained, that eventually your mind will rest in the present moment.  This is dhyana…meditation!

  • When you practice asana, observe the mind… are your thoughts focusing on the pose, or is the mind wondering about the chores you have ahead of you?
  • Where is your drishti (focused eye gaze) when you practice asana? Your eye gaze is vital in assisting the practitioner to remain focused.  The mind goes with the eye…if you are looking at your neighbour…your thoughts will no doubt follow!

 

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days and God came to me.”  – Kabir (15th Century Indian Poet)

 

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The Fifth Niyama: Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion to God)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to God). 

 Last month, we looked at the fourth niyama – swadhyaya (self-study).  This month, let’s explore the fifth niyama – isvara pranidhana in more detail.

 This month’s focus: Isvara Pranidhana

 Isvara pranidhana relates to the practice of devotion to God.  Patanjali’s reference to the divine in the Yoga Sutras is not restrictive to a particular conventional God but rather a universal divine force.  According to Patanjali, liberation can be achieved without devotion to God however this is seen as a subtle and dangerous path, which results in ambition and pride.  Liberation through devotion to God is the safest and happiest pathway which leads to attitudes of humility and service.  We can look at isvara pranidhana not necessarily as a specific God of a particular faith tradition, but rather a surrendering to a higher power or source.  Today, many struggle with this concept as in our modern society, the concept of God or the divine is often lost; and rather there is a greater focus on human capabilities and wisdom.  Patanjali stresses the importance of an ongoing practice of ishvara pranidhana as a means to obtaining the ultimate unified state of yoga: Samadhi.  Devotion to God or ‘surrendering’ helps us shift from the individual and obsession with ‘I’ to a more balanced focus on the sacredness of all things and ultimately reunites us with our true Self.

 I was recently in Bali and as always, I am in absolute admiration of the complete surrender the Balinese people have to God.  Each morning, all shop fronts, market stalls and homes are ritualistically offered up in surrender to God.  Offerings to God are an integral part of daily life with the use of natural materials (such as banana leaf, rice,  a flower) which are placed throughout the home and door steps.  This is a gentle reminder to all that there is a higher power at work, despite human efforts.  Similarly, when I was in India, I was in absolute awe of the beautiful and elaborate offerings made to Lakshmi (the goddess of good fortune and prosperity) that women made each morning by drawing sacred and intricate diagrams (rangoli) on the earth in front of their homes.  These offerings once again remind the individual, the families and the public, that we surrender to something higher than ourselves.  These physical offerings remind us to shift our perspective from our narrow and individual concerns, and instead invite us to surrender to that which we cannot control.  Through surrender, we are able to peel the layers of the ego, and calm the mind’s distractions; reuniting us with the source (God, divine, universe, higher power) which leads ultimately to individual freedom.

 At the beginning of each yoga class, I invite you to offer up the yoga class for something (a need such as wisdom, strength or even offer up for a person who is struggling or a relationship that needs healing).  This remind us that the yoga practice is a ultimately a selfless one.  Yes, we may roll out our mat with the intention of feeling good and getting a ‘work out’ but ultimately, an ongoing practice of yoga shifts the mind and heart from the needs of ‘I’ to the needs of others.

How do you practice ‘surrender’ in your daily life?
What do you use as a daily reminder to surrender to a higher source?

balinese-offerings-441896-m

Ishvara pranidhana is not about what your yoga can do for you, but about approaching your practice in the spirit of offering.”  -Shiva Rea

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The Fourth Niyama: Swadhyaya (Self-study)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the seconde niyama – tapas (austerity).  This month, let’s explore the third niyama – swadhyaya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: Swadhyaya

Swadhyaya is the practice of self-study and self-analysis.  Sva is interpreted as ‘self’ and adhyaya means ‘investigation or inquiry’.   As yogis, we are encouraged to self-inquire daily through practices such asana, pranayama and meditation.  Traditionally, swadhyaya is attributed to the study of sacred texts.  According to Patanjali, in order to attain a greater understanding of one’s true being, the study of scriptures is important.  The scriptures are used to assist one in engaging in life spiritually through self-inquiry.

We can often go through life without looking deeply within ourselves, our values, actions and the impact we have on others by our thoughts, words and actions.  The yogi is encouraged to engage in self-reflection by analysing the impact they have on others.  You may think you come to yoga to build fitness and build strength and flexibility; which of course is true; however, through these practices we are engaging in the act of swadhyaya.  We flow through postures using breath and movement, building concentration… we scan the body, we bring our awareness to our breath, we still the mind…all practices of self-reflection.  By doing this, we get to know ourselves more honestly and see ourselves for what we are, not who we think we are.

So how well do you practice swadhyaya in your life?
Do you take time out daily to focus on your breath?
To sit still with no TV, music or stimulation?
How can you incorporate some self-reflection daily?
Do you look within to seek guidance, understanding and wisdom?

“Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”  -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44

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Grace's Blog

The Third Niyama: Tapas (Austerity)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the seconde niyama – Santosha (contentment).  This month, let’s explore the third niyama – tapas in more detail.

This month’s focus: Tapas

Tapas is the practice of discipline and self-control.  It literally means “heat” and refers to an inner fire or energy which enables one to control the body and the mind.  The ability to do this is created by ascetic practices such as fasting, silence and self-discipline leading to the ultimate tapas which is union with the Atman (Self).  This heat-producing work often requires a level of self-denial or selflessness and can include practices such as walking instead of catching a bus, almsgiving, practicing regular and consistent asana (posture) and pranayama (breathing exercises), donating regularly to a charity and a commitment to mindful speech.  These practices of self-discipline are quiet and controlled and may also include regular ritualistic worship.  Spiritual disciplines for the yogi are considered channels to heightening one’s desire, awareness and love of God.

In our modern day society, tapas is becoming lost, especially with the immediate access to everything we could ask for, there is little reason to wait or show any discipline.  Some examples are our quick access to knowledge via the Internet, overuse of our credit cards and who uses snail mail these days when email, text messages or Facebook create an instant response? It is difficult to exercise self-control in a society that does not value the practice of self-denial or selflessness.

So how do you practice tapas in your life?
In what ways can you try to exercise self-control or discipline?

If you want to read more about tapas, an article that I found interesting can be read here.

“How much do you want it? That’s how much effort you give to the desire. That’s the offering. It has to be equal.” -John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga

Categories
Grace's Blog

The Second Niyama: Santosha (Contentment)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1.  Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the first niyama – saucha (purity or cleanliness).  This month, let’s explore the second niyama – santosha in more detail.

This month’s focus: Santosha

Santosha refers to contentment of one’s lot in life and the desire for no more than what is available to you.  It is an internal balance where one accepts the pleasures and pains of the world and preserves a sense of contentment within.  A key understanding of santosha is living in the present time; not longing for the past or worrying about the future, but an awareness of one’s responsibility in the present time.  Santosa is about cultivating an inner state of satisfaction with what you have – with whatever comes, be it the joys and the suffering.  Contentment is not a passive acceptance of suffering, but a balanced and controlled way of seeing the world, where an attitude of equanimity is closely associated with peace and joy.

This sense of contentment can be difficult in our often busy, materialistic world.  It is easy to buy into the ‘Greatest happiness’ perception of life, where we see happiness as a future goal… “If I get this job, then I will be happy… if I get married, I will be happy… if I earn this much money, I will be happy….”.  This way of thinking promotes a future/goal oriented attitude where happiness is not yet realised until a future achievement is gained.  The fact is, when one does achieve these goals, often times it does not bring this sense of happiness one was searching for, or a sense of contentment.  It is not uncommon to seek the next future desire to then make us happy.  When one seeks santosha, and finds awakening in the contentment of the present, our ‘need’ for things dissipate and a deeper sense of joy and contentment resides within.  This releases a sense of simplistic freedom within oneself.

So how do you practice santosha in your own life?
How do you live in the present moment and find contentment right here, right now, even when life is difficult?

True happiness comes from contentment with whatever one has, not with thinking that one will be happy when one gets all one desires.
~
 Edwin Bryant