We’ve been writing about about Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga for the last few months – detouring last month to talk about “The Middle Way”as I was talking about it a lot in class.
The 8 Limbs is a yogi’s roadmap for a creating harmony, purpose and self mastery. It gives us tools for managing and transforming the busy chaos of the mind and moving consciousness from being outwardly focused to exploring the inner landscape.
As we walk along Patanjali’s path, following the map he has laid out for living a more present and meaningful life we encounter the Yamas & Niyamas. While The Yamas which we covered in June’s newsletter, gives us guidance for our relationships with the world and the people in our lives, the Niyamas deal with the relationship we have with our self.
The Niyamas are 5 personal practices to help us shed some layers and baggage, free up more of our natural energy, keep us centred and transform our inner atmosphere in order to reach the ultimate bliss state of total contentment and pure present moment awareness – samadhi.
1. Saucha – purity
Purification is very much part of the yogic tradition. Yoga provides a bunch of practices – not all of them pleasant! – for purifying the body & mind. Breath practices & postures are a means of purifying the body; meditation and following Patanjali’s guidelines are to purify the mind and spirit.
When our body and environment is toxic we invite disease. A busy and cluttered mind can make our energy heavy or erratic and we are all over the place and find it hard to function. Yogis are trying to tap into dormant energy which exists within us to reach higher states of consciousness. When we’re weighed down with heavy stuff, clutter and toxins this moves us away from this possibility. Freeing up our natural energy reserves takes us to a more elevated state and grounds us within our being.
2. Santosha – contentment
Santosha relates to staying in our centre and maintaining a steadiness throughout the ups and downs of life. It is about seeing things as they are not how we wish them to be, dropping the resistance and being with what is.
Our mind’s tendency is to want to have more of what it likes and and avoid what it doesn’t. When the mind doesn’t get what it wants it can throw off our emotional balance and invites discontent & suffering.. we need to be fluid & flexible enough to adapt & maintain balance even when things aren’t going our way. In observing the way the mind behaves and giving it less of our attention, we see all things do pass and we don’t have to give them so much energy.
Santosha asks us to look at things we have in our lives and really be thankful. Our outwardly focused culture drives competition and comparison, making us hungry for the next thing so we don’t appreciate what we already have. Knowing when we already have enough and appreciating the things in our lives, grows this sense of contentment within.
3. Tapas – self discipline, heat
Literally meaning heat, Tapas has a sense of cooking ourselves in the fire of discipline to transform into something else. It is about doing practices which increase our will and purify our bodies and minds, control of our senses and strengthen our spirit. We use tapas to help us burn away unhealthy or unsupportive habits.
Tapas is about doing practices which increase our will and purify our bodies and minds, control of our senses and strengthen our spirit. We use tapas to help us burn away unhealthy or unsupportive habits.
Its about not escaping to our usual things and places when situations are difficult or uncomfortable.
Tapas teaches us to stay in the discomfort and the challenge because this is where we grow and discover things about ourselves we didn’t know were there in order to meet the challenge and we become stronger in that moment. Its not running away in fear but building resilience and self reliance so we can navigate our lives with truth and purpose.
4. Swadhyaya – self study
Yogis believe we are in our core divine consciousness. Swadhyaya is about finding out who we truly are through self observation and self study. It encourages us to see through the layers of conditioning beliefs, limitations and projections our ego self by becoming the witness of these aspects our minds and our patterns which are totally unconscious to us normally..
They often show up when we are in a state of disharmony or dissatisfaction – we tend to blame the conditions around us rather than. seeing our perspective as being the source of our unhappiness but if we have the courage to look at ourselves and observe the story we are telling ourselves it can be very freeing. Once we see things for what they are we can become free of them and it gives us choices rather than acting according to unconscious programming.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender
In Patanjali’s yoga sutras the ultimate goal of yoga is final liberation from the limited identification with the ego self and becoming one with the divine consciousness which exists in everything. This force is called Ishvar – the ultimate consciousness that is inclusive of everything and limited to nothing. Surrendering ourselves to that higher force (the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana) is one of the key components to reaching samadhi – oneness with the ultimate reality.
For the ego this can seem very scary- what does it mean to give up the idea of who you thought you were? What would it mean to let go of negative beliefs about yourself, self-imposed limitations and your judgments? Imagine how it would be if you were free of all your fears! Its about dropping our resistances and trusting the flow of life – as Eckhart Tolle says, surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.”
We have the power to choose our actions, but we don’t have the power to determine the results. So part of self-surrender is letting go of expectations. That is a practice of trust. When we are surrendered to a higher consciousness, we trust that we are taken care of and that everything works out in its own way. Do your best and then let go of the result.
As we begin to deepen our practice we see that the physical part of yoga is only the beginning to then take us into the deeper layers and the Niyamas are ways to feed our soul and allow it to shine. Patanjali’s roadmap is leading us deeper into an understanding of ourselves and the experience of the true yoga which is inside us… offering us freedom from the ways that we suffer our experience and radical transformation of our minds, directing us towards a pure and deep connection with the divine being within all of us.