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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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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 Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Pratyahara (Controlling the Senses)

Last month, we covered the fourth limb of Ashtanga yoga – pranayama (breath control).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the fifth limb: pranayama (breath control).

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: PRATYAHARA

Pratyahara is centering the mind with control of the senses.  The yoga sutras define pratyahara as ‘the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses’.  You can liken the state of pratyahara to a tortoise who hides in its shell or the return of sun-rays at sunset.  Pratyahara encompasses the ability to direct your five senses internally instead of externally.  The yogic paradigm suggests that there is an internal world within each one of us that can be explored, and only by withdrawing from the exterior environment can one begin to investigate the inner world.

Jean Dechanet describes the external senses as servants of the soul, not masters and the internal senses must be wise and active.  In order to have this control, one must get to know one’s mind.  A simple exercise of pratyahara would be to spend some time daily observing the mind; its drumbeats so to speak, and gradually after consistent practice, it will grow calmer.  Self-inspection is one of the most effective and penetrating criticisms which leads to mental control.    When the senses are at rest, a sense of internal stillness causes the mind to be clearer.

Saint Teresa of Avila describes the senses as inhabitants of the castle of the soul which if not ordered and controlled can plunge into inner darkness.  For the yogi, the senses should be refined and tuned into the experience of the divine….be it Allah, God, Jesus, Yahweh or simply the universe.

So what does pratyahara look like in a practical sense? It can be described as the state of non-reaction to external stimulus – like a state of being in the world, but not of the world.  Many of us can relate to pratyahara in the resting posture of savasana.  The last posture we practice in a yoga class; lying completely still on our back and the practice of falling into deep rest and relaxation.  Initially it seems difficult and we shuffle into a comfortable position but once our physical body is still and relaxed, the mind then begins to become still and relaxed and soon enough you are in a blissful state of relaxation where you withdraw from the external world but without losing contact with it.  You may still register the sounds around you, the temperature of your skin, your position on the mat; but it does not disturb your mind or body.  So your sense organs still receive the input of what is happening around you however you are unresponsive to it because you are in a state of pratyahara.  Like a tortoise who hides in its shell is still able to hear and feel the outside world, but is now unresponsive to it.  Or the sun that sets, is still present in the world although introspective.  So in pratyahara, it’s as though you are removed from your senses.  This is the beginning of being in a true meditative state!

  • Do you give yourself time during your day to practice pratyahara? ….Simply sitting or lying still while focusing on relaxing the body will naturally relax the mind and encourage you into a state of withdrawing the senses…
  • B.K.S Iyengar says that in Sanskrit, pratyahara literally means “to draw toward the opposite”.  The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain, a difficult reaction.
  • Pratyahara is built brick by brick through the first four limbs of Ashtanga yoga – yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, then utilised in the last three limbs – dharana, dhyana and samadhi.  It is the fifth petal of yoga, also called the “hinge” of the outer and inner quest.  It is the pivotal movement on yoga’s path.
  • Pattabhi Jois says in Yoga Mala that yoga is a path we step into and that will lead us towards unveiling the Self.

 “Pratyahara helps the mind acquire knowledge of the self”  -B.K.S Iyengar

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The Third Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Asana (Posture)

The last few months we have covered the first two limbs of Ashtanga yoga – yama and niyama.  Now we are going to explore the third limb: asana (posture) which is the most popular in the Western world.

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: ASANA

Asana, the third limb, is often referred to as posture and is the aspect of yoga practice that is often misunderstood and taken for the sum of all yoga practice, rather than an isolated practice of yoga.  Asana literally means “seat” and is the seated position or posture where one’s body is firm but relaxed.  The yoga sutras describe asana to be ‘stirum sukham asanam’ which means ‘steady and comfortable meditation posture’.   Asana is not about performing fancy moves with the body, but rather about certain ways of holding the body along with certain attitudes.

One must be in a meditative state when practicing asana and these certain movements promote concentration of the spirit and inner connectedness, thus assisting one to pray in a purer fashion.  The aim of asana is to achieve an effortless alertness where one’s body is focused on the infinite.  Through the practice of asana, a daily communion with God (the divine, the source, the universe…) is promoted, thus making it easier to receive graces.

One may ask the question: is it possible for one to isolate the physical aspects of yoga as simply a method of exercise without incorporating the spirituality behind it? This is an important reflection as we can see that yoga practices open one’s mind and body to grow in consciousness and awareness.  Through yoga, physical and psychological healing can aid one to experience divinity through the transformation of the whole person.

Ultimately, asana is a means to prepare the body for spiritual exercises, with less obstacles, in order to find union with God (the divine, Allah, universe…or whoever that source is for you).

I often say in class that the entry and exit of a posture is just as important as the posture itself.  Do we enter and exit with mindfulness? Are we only concerned about the posture, or is how we approach it and leave it equally as important? We could certainly translate these thoughts into ordinary life – how do we approach situations in life that may be challenging? How do we leave them? Do we rush in and out of situations or do we mindfully address them? With complete awareness?

 “Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless.
After you’ve practice, the theory is obvious”
 -David Williams

 

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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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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 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

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The Fifth Yama: Aparigraha (non-coveting)

To refresh, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting). 

We previously looked at the fourth yama – Brahmacharya (continence).  Now, let’s explore the fifth yama – aparigraha in more detail.

 Focus: APARIGRAHA

Aparigraha is often interpreted as non-greed or non-coveting.  It is the abstention from possessiveness, greed, selfishness and acquisitiveness. Aparigraha is about accepting what one has and being mindful when giving and receiving.  In our contemporary consumerist society, this concept of simple living is a difficult one for many to grasp especially when we just have to get the new iPhone 5 or the latest gadgets or fashion items.  Ask yourself how many computer devices you own – a phone (perhaps more than one?), a computer, a laptop, an iPad… anything else? Aparigraha invites us to choose simple living by looking at our lives and asking ourselves the right questions – do we need this extra item? Am I being greedy? Is what I have enough? Will I truly be happy with more possessions?

In essence, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy or having many possessions; however it is the attitude of consumerism and attachment to possessions that can be harmful.  No doubt we have seen how wealth can lead to greed and excessive absorption of earthly cares in famous figures and even people that we know personally.

So instead of focusing on what we do not have or what we need more of…let us draw our attention to gratitude.

I started a gratitude journal about two years ago when I had a miscarriage.  I was absolutely devastated and I found it hard to get out of my sadness.  This journal I found is an App on the iPhone so it was really easy to use and something I wouldn’t forget to do.  Each night I would record what I felt gratitude for that day or in life in general.  This simple practice really helped bring me back to a positive outlook on life.

I read this quote once ‘if you can’t change it, then change the way you think about it’ and I found a daily gratitude journal helped me maintain a positive outlook each and every day, even the tough ones.

So how do you practice aparigraha in your life?
Do you take more than you need?
How do you show gratitude for what you already have?

Gratitude turns what we have into enough
Melodie Beattie

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The Fourth Yama: Brahmacharya (Continence)

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

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Last month, we looked at the third yama – Asteya (non-stealing).  This month, let’s explore the fourth yama – brahmachharya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: BRAHMACHARYA

Brahmacharya is keeping control of one’s desires, particularly sexual ones.  It is chastity of word, thought and deed.  One who practices brahmacharya is said to be one whose mind is always fixed on the divine Being to achieve purity of heart.  Attachment to sensual pleasures, such as sex is seen as an obstacle to spiritual knowledge.  One who pursues the ascetic life interprets brahmacharya as strict celibacy; where traditionally yogis lived in seclusion.  However the contemporary yogi often interprets this yama to mean an appreciation of the sacredness of all acts and faithfulness to one partner or spouse.

The practice of Brahmacharya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. When one’s focus is less on the physical, the mind begins to focus on the spiritual.  Strength and fortitude are obtained which gives purity and calm to the mind.

‘Brahma’ means divine and ‘carya’ means ‘movement’ so we can interpret brahmacharya to mean recognising the divine in all movements or beings.  Brahmacharya calls the yogi to live a sanctified life seeing sacredness or divinity in all actions by living a life of mindfulness in all relationships.

How do you live brahmacharya in your own life?
Do you value mindfulness and sacredness in all your relationships?

To be able to realise God, one must practise brahmacharya
~
 Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa