Yoga is a science of mind as well as a physical postural practice. For centuries, yoga has been a map for the earnest seeker to find her way through the maze of life on earth. Through the trials, tribulations, distractions and celebrations it is easy to loose sight of the truth that lives as the core essence of one’s own being. While asana and meditation are central tools for inner awareness, there are other tools that you may not hear much about.
The Yoga Sutras of the 2nd century play a big role in the modern yoga that we practice today in the western world. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of yoga that you may be familiar with. Before asana, niyama is outlined as an essential aspect of living a yogic life.
Niyama is translated as an observance or an obligation. An obligation is understood as a duty or commitment. To take up yoga as a spiritual path of liberation and realization is to commit to a way of being and observe a code of morals so that you know what is what in a world that can often be confusing. There are five niyamas in the yoga sutras that are worthy of every yogi’s study and commitment. Today, there is a wild fire of yoga studios, teachers and students raging through the mainstream and it seems as relevant as ever to look clearly into the teachings for insight.
Soucha means cleanliness of body and mind, thought and deed. Everyone knows that cleanliness is next to Godliness. But what does that mean in practice? It doesn’t mean you need to be OCD about every stack of dishes or pile of laundry and avoid French fries forever but it does mean that one must take care not to taint their minds and bodies with that which is gross, unclean and otherwise harmful. Keeping your physical and mental environment clear of messy clutter and distractions keeps your energy clean and bright and more able to see the light within. Think of it in terms of fuel. When you burn clean fuel, there is no toxic residue; your engine stays clean and strong and is able to function at full capacity, as intended. If you burn dirty fuel, sooner or later the engine will blow.
Santosha is understood as contentment and it is crucial on the spiritual path. Without feeling a sense of fulfillment, you will always be searching for something outside of yourself and foolishly try to fill your emptiness and discontent. This discontent breeds feelings of worthlessness and insecurity which leads people down a dark path of hungry neediness that can never be satisfied because what you truly want is already within you. No amount of Facebook likes will help you feel the love within. That isn’t to say that one must not feel a burning passion and desire. Desire is what makes life juicy and vibrant. It’s about keeping things in perspective and being happy and grateful for what you already have.
Tapas is often seen as a strict and staunch discipline that is either too difficult or very boring. But a true yogi sees behind the veil. A seeker on the path understands that anything important in life will require you to step up your game and reach high. Tapas is to burn with enthusiasm. and melt away the layers that keep you from your truth. Tapas is to make a spiritual effort, to put your heart and mind to something and stick with it long enough to see results and grow from that effort. The freedom you seek is waiting for you just behind your spiritual effort and as Krishnamacharya, my teachers teacher said, “No effort on your spiritual path is ever wasted.” It takes a certain discipline to truly be free. Like any good river it needs the banks to hold its structure so it can flow.
Svadhyaya refers to self-study. It is wise to read the works of great spiritual masters and the religious books of old. They contain little nuggets that serve as valuable reminders to put your attention toward God, Goddess, and the mystery that contains it all. The idea is to read inspirational wisdom daily to keep your mind turning toward the divine. Little poems, myths, stories of saints and holy ones rekindle our heart flame and act as a spark when our fire goes dim. Yet there is nothing more valuable then to study and witness oneself and our own unique intricacies and obscurities. To understand your mind the best place to begin is with your breath. You can read all the scriptures in the world but none will give your more information about the state of your mind, body and heart then your breath.
And last but certainly not least Ishavarapranidana, surrender to god. At first glance this might sound a bit dramatic for a non-religious person. But if we look closer we see the significance of surrender and what it means to let go of our small ego. We often take ourselves way too seriously. When we do that life becomes heavy and eventually you start to mope around. It’s not pretty or productive. There is a refreshing lightness in trusting the mystery and knowing deep down that we don’t have the answers, no one does. So why not give it up to god! Let go of your nagging fear and the desperate need to control everything and see what happens when you let life unfold in its own timing and rhythm. Its going to anyway, whether you like it or not, life is like that. The truth is something amazing is waiting for each one of us. We have be brave enough to surrender the little life we are living in order to live our true service, purpose and divine calling. beelieve me, it’s easier said then done that is why Ishvarapranidana is worthy of deep contemplation.
Going eeper into the wisdom of yoga brings us back to what is important, the simple things in life like honest work, gratitude and integrity. The Niyamas of cleanliness, contentment, discipline, study, and surrender make us a healthy, happy and honest yogi.
Which Niyama resonates with you or triggers you right now? Are you willing to take it on as a practice and sincerely focus on it for the next 30 days?