The Niyamas

We will continue with the Niyamas and again..."Practice the yamas and niyamas ... When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas the entire garland will follow."

Non-violence, truthfullness, non-stealing, moderation, non-possessiveness, purity, contentment, discipline, study, surrender.

The niyamas are:

Saucha - Purity

The first of the 5 niyamas is Saucha or purity. This might manifest in your life in lots of ways.

You might be working on purifying your body. Some people fast to do this or just eat certain foods.

You might be purifying your relationships. Maybe meditating on what is pure and whole for you. Maybe letting go of some toxic people in your life to make room for something more pure.

You might be purifying the air that you are breathing. Perhaps bodies of people with breathing problems or allergies are learning the lesson of purity by reacting to impure substances in a way that makes life difficult.

And what about those "impure thoughts"?

Does the niyama of Saucha/Purity speak to you? Is this a lesson that is calling to you to work on? Or is purity not a big deal to you. Ivory soap made a a lot of money out of 99 and 44/100ths percent pure, but they never said pure what?

A yoga posture to try to facilitate saucha is the seated Ardha Matsyendrasana or the half spinal twist. This posture is like squeezing out a washcloth, releasing the old, and then making space for the new to enter our body.

Santosh - Contentment

The second niyama is called Santosh or Contentment. This one made a big impact on me. When I feel content, things just don't bother me. I feel peaceful when I am content.

In class the other day, someone said for them contentment feels like being full and not needing any more. And to someone else, they said that contentment was like being empty and not needing anything. Just the simplicity of it. So, contentment to me means being empty and being full at the same time.

How does contentment show up in your life? Is it taking a walk in nature. Is it resting in the sun? Is it petting your cat or dog? Is it eating a good meal, but not getting that full and bloated feeling? Is it holding hands with someone you love? Is it sitting here and reading a message that resonates within you?

One of the keys, I think, to Santosh, is to live in this moment. To be present. Not to focus on what you should have done or what you expect to do. Just be in the now.

Contentment isn't an easy place to find. Especially in this modern world. People are always pushing the latest and greatest new thing, trying to make us discontent with what we have. TV commercials are one of the greatest offenders to our feeling content. Maybe they are our tests?

Then again, maybe it is good to not be content and to seek something greater in life. How will be grow and learn if we just settle for contentment?

A yoga posture to try here is Virasana or the Hero posture. This is one that I find difficult. So, if I can sit in Virasana and find contentment, maybe I will understand that contentment is not always an easy place. And, can I be content, if I don't do Virasana in the picture-perfect way? Can I be content if my body prevents me from getting where I think I want to be?

So where are you with this idea of contentment?

Tapas - Austerity

Tapas is austerity or discipline. Often we think about discipline as what we should or shouldn't do for some desired outcome. For instance, if you want to quit smoking, you discipline yourself to not take a cigarette. If you want to lose weight, you discipline yourself to eat better. If you find you are tired in the morning, you might discipline yourself to go to sleep earlier. There are lots of examples where you set up rules to follow when you want a desired outcome and thereby discipline your behavior.

Here is another way to look at that kind of discipline. Discipline is remembering what we want and acting accordingingly. If what I want is a healthier body, then when I am offered food or drink that would be unhealthy, I would think "Is this what I want?". I remember what I want is that healthy body and then I no longer want that piece of chocolate. If I have decided that my body would be served by that piece of chocolate right now, I may take it.

If what you really want is a new computer and you need money for that, then Tapas reminds you to save the money that you might have squandered on something that isn't necessary, because you really want that new computer. So, remembering what you want is discipline.

When this question was put to me "What is it that you really want"? My answer was I want to love myself and release myself from negative thoughts and self judgement. This is what I want. So, my way of practicing TAPAS or discipline is when I begin to have a negative thought or when I start judging that I am not as good as I think I should be, I remember what I want. I want to release myself from this thought pattern. So remembering what I want is being kind to myself.

Discipline doesn't always have to be something harsh. It doesn't have to be something that you follow because you think you ought to act in a certain way. It is how you care for yourself. What is it that you really want? Remember it.

A yoga posture to try for Tapas is Adho Mukha Shvasana or downward facing dog. This is also called the tent posture. When doing this posture, I really focus on my body and remembering to press my hips up and my legs back. It is an active posture in that it takes strength to hold this posture.

How does Tapas show up in your life?

Swadhyaya - Study

The next Niyama is Swadhaya which means study or self study. One focus of this niyama is learning from our own lives. We are our own teachers. Lessons abound for us. There is a reason that we are here in this life now and part of that is to learn.

Since I no longer attend formal schooling, to me swadhyaya is mostly learning the lessons and studying on my own from my experiences. But, there are other ways to study. And we are at the time when people who attend school are returning to school so they see "study" as something more formal.

How does Swadhyaya show up for you in your life? What are you studying? How do you study? Who is your teacher? Is study a part of your everyday life? How do you know when you have learned it all and can move on towards a new lesson to learn?

Do you feel a pull in a certain direction to learn and study? Is study important to you (it doesn't have to be)?

I honor the teacher within me. I am my best teacher. I am my best student. Life is my classroom. But I learn from so many aspects of life. I learn from the hurts and the successes (more from the hurts and failures, though). And I learn from formal study, too. I learn a lot about me and my life from yoga and from the path that I have chosen. Still, I have so much to learn. Swadhyaya lasts a lifetime ... or all lifetimes.

A yoga posture to try for Swadhyaya is Urdhva Mukha Shvasana or upward facing dog. This, combined with downward dog, makes the "yogi push-ups".

Tell us ... share with us ... Swadhayna ....

Ishvar Pranidhana - Surrender

The final niyama is Ishvar Pradidhana which means surrender. How does surrender show up in your life? In yoga postures, the posture of yoga mudra when your head is below your heart is a symbol of surrender.

Life gives us lots of opportunity to learn about and practice surrender. Usually, it occurs later in life when we learn about this lesson :). Surrender to the universe or to the Divinity (if that fits your beliefs) and ask for guidance. Believing in the goodness of nature and the divinity in all things is an act of surrender. Believing that we have done all that we can and then trusting that things will work out is definitely surrender.

I think when we sit in meditation we are practicing surrender.

What does surrender mean to you? Can you see it as something desireable or does it appear as a weakness? Do you see surrender as love for yourself and love of the divine aspects of the Universe (or Universal oneness)?

A final yoga experience to try for Ishvar Pranidhana, the surrender Niyama, is free flow. Listen to your body. Surrender to the needs of your body. Relax into life and surrender to your own inner knowing. Or sit in silence and allow all these thoughts to integrate in your mind.

So, to develop a deeper spiritual understanding of yourself, perhaps you might choose just one of the yamas or niyamas. Choose one that is important to you. Choose one that "calls" to you. And try to incorporate it in your life. And, as Bapuji says, doing one will lead you to an understanding of all.


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