- Shaucha – Purifying body and mind
- Santosha – Contentment
- Tapas – Training the senses
- Svadhyaya – Self-study
- Ishvara pranidhana – Surrender
As we mentioned last week, Niyamas are the counterpart to the Yamas. Niyamas, like all of the 8 limbs, are achieved through careful observation of our actions, and results of those actions, in order to become aware of their benefits or disadvantages.
To look at their definitions without any analysis, it looks as though they have the wrappings of a strict religious devotion. However, the devotion that is needed here is not a devotion to an outside entity, it is devotion to our own spiritual growth. Through the Niyamas we can begin to realize that this work we are doing within ourselves is reflected upon those surrounding us.
This can be compared to the idea of “what you reap, so shall you sow.” If you make the effort to eat healthy foods and exercise, then you will be working towards a healthy body. In the same way, if you feed your mind healthy thoughts and information, then you will be working towards a healthy mind. Of course, this is an oversimplification. We live in a world where it isn’t always convenient and affordable to eat organic and take the time to chew each bite 100 times before swallowing. Similarly, we are constantly inundated with images of violence in our news and in our entertainment.
The point here is to make a conscious effort. To work towards slowing down and being aware of what we are putting into our bodies and what we are filling our minds with. Once a student begins to pay attention, they may find that the body really doesn’t want that cheeseburger and that the unsettled stomach after having a pint of ice cream soon becomes more of a deterrent than the desire for the immediate satisfaction. The waves of emotion from watching or reading about violence and the abundance of exposure that ugliness of the world receives fro the news media will become exhausting once the mind discovers that there are options to expand and explore the self.
Finding happiness with where you are. This one really is as simple as that. However, to put this into action could require a reversal of a lifetime of training for keeping up with the Jones’. We live in a world of consumerism that, unless you are ready to pack up and head for the caves, none of us are immune to. We need to eat, we need clothes, we need a roof over our head and stuff to put under that roof, and then a couple more things to put under the roof, and then a few more items, and then that’s all you need. Except for the iPad, you need that too.
Of course, it isn’t all about being content with what we have. It’s also contentment in our relationships (or lack there of). Being content with your job (or lack there of). Can you be content with just where you are? Our lives are fluid and changing with each moment. If we are stuck in the mind set of “Everything will/was be better when/if…….” then we are lost outside of the current moment and attaching our expectation of happiness to something (or someone) outside of ourselves.
Tapas literally translated means “to burn.” A student working on this yama is working to burn off the mental impurities in order to gain control over the body and its senses. If I may use the lingo of the eighties, the saying “no pain, no gain” can be viewed as Tapas. Any time we make a significant change in our lives, or a change is put upon us, there will be resistance to it a struggle or even suffering until we acclimate to the new situation. So with Tapas we make the decision to make our minds clear and steady by turning towards that suffering and pain and addressing it.
This becomes a kind of washing of the mind, cleansing of the thoughts, and a rinsing out (or letting go) of the impurities and open us up to a greater awareness of our body and our senses.
With so much external stimuli to contend with we begin to split our world into internal and external realms. And what we view as the external overtakes our mind and our senses to the point of losing the awareness of what is happening within.
Svadhaya is the practice of rediscovering what is happening within ourselves. Bringing awareness to the mind body and breath until we come to the realization that the separation of the external and internal is false. That our awareness is all encompassing and all things are interrelated.
Anything we do with to deepen this awareness is Svadhyaya. This could be studying the yoga texts, sitting for meditation, attending a yoga class and being aware of each posture and its effect on the body, or even throughout the course of your day watching your breath change as you are confronted with different situations. Anything that you do to deepen the awareness of the self is Svadhyaya.
We can imagine this yama as a practitioner sitting in lotus pose meditating, letting go of the mind, and surrendering into bliss, enlightenment, God, etc. However, to truly engage in the practice of Ishvara Prandihana, we must surrender any attachment to the outcomes of our actions. A practiced yogi dedicates all actions to the benefit of the Universal Consciousness.