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Creating Space for Change

At 33 weeks pregnant, I am frantically ‘nesting’… the rumours are true! Both pregnancies, I have just been so focused on sorting, tidying, throwing…creating space. Space for this new life that will enter my world. It is not something I have intentionally told myself to do, or planned; but rather an intuitive part of me has just taken over and I feel the need to create space for this baby that will meet me on the ‘other side’ in just a few weeks.

It makes me wonder how much space in our lives we create to allow the ‘new’ to enter…how much of the ‘old’ we can potentially cling to. As I dig through old paperwork, or go through the medicine cabinet, I see so many ‘expired’ items that I no longer need or desire. Our needs, our desires change. If we don’t ‘check-in’ once in a while, we may remain unchanged, stagnant and bury deeper in our set ways. I have often heard that a person’s mental state can be reflected in the state of their home or their work space. So a person who is tidy in their outward life is reflecting a ‘tidy’ or clear mind. Does this ring true for you or someone you know?

Yoga is about doing clean outs – ‘checking in’ is something we often do at the beginning and end of a yoga class. Checking in with the breath, body, state of the mind… and it is at the end of the yoga class, you notice a shift in these states. A much calmer and relaxed state is often the case. I see yoga as an incredible ‘clean out’ tool for the body and the mind. In fact, the first niyama (discipline or observance) in Ashtanga yoga is saucha (purity or cleanliness) where Patanjali (author of the Yoga Sutras) encourages the yogi to maintain a state of cleanliness in body and mind. Let’s use a yoga class as a simple but effective example. We can practice this cleanliness in the way we:

• Lay out our mat: is it aligned, clean, ready for class?
• Come to class: do we have strong body odours, a towel to wipe off sweat, keep any clutter away from us (like shoes) while we practice?
• Put our props away: do we stack them in an orderly manner, are we mindful of others while waiting our turn?
• Show awareness of our surroundings: do we step on other people’s mats, wear strong perfumes, assist the teacher in packing up after class?

These simple practices cultivate an awareness of self, others and surroundings. As we become more mindful, our behaviour changes. We start to notice the sacredness of things around us.

Sometimes I ‘forget’ that I carry a sacred life within me. It is easy to go about your daily life without ‘checking-in’. Little rituals can help us to remember these important, sacred things. In an effort to do this, I have made an effort during my pregnancies to rub some oil onto my belly each night before bed and whisper some words to my baby. I love this ‘check-in’ time even if it’s a simple “hi baby, mummy is here” because it reminds me that despite the ‘busy-ness’ of everyday life, there is a sacredness that is present. Right here, right now…one that I can so easily miss if I don’t open my eyes and heart to it.

So what can you do now to create some space in your life?

Can you make some space to ‘check-in’ to help create a space for change?

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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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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

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The Second Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga: Niyama

The last few months, the focus has been on the first limb of Ashtanga yoga – yama (restraints).  As discussed a few months back, there are 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga:

  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)

We will now focus on the second limb, niyama.

Niyama refers to individual discipline or observance and is the Sanskrit term meaning rule or law.  They refer to the cultivation of following good habits.  Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied; they represent far more than an attitude, but an inner state of the mind. The niyamas are more intimate and personal than the yamas and they refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.

The five niyamas (codes of conduct) 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).

Let us examine these niyamas in more detail. This month we’ll focus on the first niyama, saucha.

Saucha is total cleanliness and purity of both mind and body. The body is considered to be the temple or dwelling-place of the Atman (Self) which is used to worship the divine and so external and internal cleanliness is of chief importance.  External cleanliness (bahya) is seen to have a psychological effect on a person and includes general hygiene, a clean environment and adhering to a healthy diet.  Similarly we need to follow a mental diet where internal cleanliness (abhyantara) helps to cleanse and strengthen the mind.  This includes cultivating connections among those who are spiritually minded by regulating our reading, conversation and generally our intake of mental “food.”  Saint Francois de Sales observes that constant awareness of cleanliness of the mind is important so that “once thrown off its balance, the heart is no longer its own master.”  Christian mystics have stressed the importance of being in a state of purification where one’s mind is rid of distractions of thoughts and desires; cultivating sensitivity to what is pure and wholesome.  Purification is not seen as emptying out but leads to greater intentness in one’s life where self-purification comes from not only self-effort but by through centring oneself to a personal identification and unity with the divine.  For the yogi, purification is connected with an inner transformation where one can more clearly see God.

 Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms.
~
 Yoga Sutras 2.40-2.41