Let’s review what we’ve discovered and explored so far in the course:
We are multi-dimensional beings. We are body, energy, senses, intellect, spirit. We are made up of space, air, fire, water, and earth. We live in a world of change—a world ever shifting as the energies of movement, balance, and inertia play their games. We cannot stop change, but we can direct its course in our lives. We must deal with the consequences of our past actions, but we have the ability to transform our future actions. We are people who work and play, who love and loathe. We seek pleasure and hope to avoid pain. We were born. And we will one day die. In between we live. And the practice of yoga can help us live with intention, meaning, and mystery.
In this course we have explored big questions (and some of the answers given through the tradition of yoga):
Who am I?
Both purusha and prakriti
What causes suffering?
Ignorance of our purusha (and the ego, attachment, aversion, and fear that arises from this ignorance)
What’s the purpose of the world?
We are part of the world—a reality that allows us both experience and liberation
What is yoga in action?
Discipline, self-study, and humility (surrender to something higher)
These three aspects together constitute Kriya Yoga, which is the heart and soul of yoga
This month we turn our attention to the nitty-gritty—to the tools and techniques of yoga practice. We begin our study of the 8-limbs of yoga practice with limb one and two… All about relationship.
The Heart of Yoga chapter 11
Yoga Sutras 2.28-45
I also recommend the book The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele and pages 7-16 in Donna Farhi’s book Yoga Mind, Body, & Spirit: A Return to Wholeness
Click the link above to download this month’s 6-page packet:
An art piece that you can hang somewhere (the fridge or bathroom mirror maybe…) to help keep this month’s focus in your awareness.
Yama Cards! My intention is that you can print these on card stock, cut them into individual cards, and make personal notes on them.
Niyama Cards! Choose one yama or niyama every day and keep the card with you throughout the day. How do notice the principle showing up in your attitude, behavior, thoughts, and actions throughout the day?
An art piece for the Great Vow. I hope you bring this question into your daily noticing practice.
A pratipaksa bhavanam practice (you’ll want to have this printed before you begin this month’s practice.)
Cultivating the opposite journal page (you’ll want to have this printed before you begin this month’s practice.)
This recording includes call and response with the SahaNa mantra.
This recording offers the context in which the 8-limb path of practice shows up in the 2nd chapter of the Yoga Sutras.
This recording offers more of an introduction to the yamas and niyamas. You’ll want to have your packet printed before listening as I refer to a couple of the pages.
This live teaching includes call and response chanting of sutras 2.30 and 2.32. You might want to have the yama / niyama art piece from your packet to look at for reference while chanting.
TOOLS TO SUPPORT YOUR PRACTICE
The images I provide below belong to Joseph and Lilian Le Page. If you are interested in mudra practice I highly recommend you purchase their excellent book Mudras for Healing and Transformation.
The sutra translations below are from the translation by Chip Hartranft.
Limb One : The Yamas
Chip Hartranft describes the yamas as “skillful ways to relate to the world without adding to its suffering or ours.”
Non-violence is the foundational principle of right relationship. Doing no harm is part of every other yama and niyama. Non-violence can easily be understood on a grand scale. Killing is an obviously violent act. But what about the subtle ways that violence shows up in our self-judgements (how nice is your inner monologue?), the way we speak to those around us (does a harsh tone ever creep in?), or the actions we take throughout the day (rushing, pushing, stressing, fearing, judging…). What would shift in your life if you began to take seriously the idea of doing no harm toward yourself, the earth, and all the humans and creatures around you?
Sutra 2.35 “Being firmly grounded in nonviolence creates an atmosphere in which others can let go of their hostility.”
Truth telling is much more than being polite or nice. Truth telling can be risky business. How do you tell the truth about yourself (to yourself and to others)? How do you express your deepest desires? How do you stand up for truth in the world? Have you ever dealt with consequences for telling the truth? Or avoided telling the truth out of fear? Have you ever had to relinquish a belief—one that you may have held dearly—after realizing it wasn’t true?
Sutra 2.36 “Being firmly grounded in truthfulness, every action and its consequences are imbued with truth.”
You might say “I’m not a thief” and skip this one… But are there ways you steal opportunities from yourself because you let your fear (too much anxiety to show up) or laziness (not enough gumption to build your skill and competence) get in the way? And how about ways you steal from others when you’re unwilling to celebrate their success or commend their efforts? When you explore your use of resources, do you find that all is in right relationship (with the earth and all the other citizens of the world)? Non-stealing is much more than not walking into a store and taking something from the shelf. Non-stealing asks us to consider our relationship to everything and everyone.
Sutra 2.37 “For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand.”
What kind of energy is needed on the spiritual path? If you over-indulge in food, alcohol, sleep, sex, work, drugs, or television how do you feel afterward? There is much to enjoy in this world. But do you have a sense of when enough is enough? Can you experience pleasure in ways that do no harm—that are in alignment with truth and integrity? Can you experience pleasure in ways that reveal the divine within you and within others? Brahmacharya means moving toward the essential. We have powerful energies within us (think how powerful sexual energy is). Do you contain and harness this energy? Do you allow it to simply dissipate? Do you use it to cause harm to others (directly or indirectly)? Does your use of energy move you toward or away from that which is most essential in life?
Sutra 2.38 “The chaste acquire vitality.”
Graha means grasp, cling, or hold. Aparigraha is the act of letting go—of releasing the tight grasp we have on certain objects. What have we accumulated in life? What do we actually need? It can also refer to the expectations we hold for the people in our lives. Are we expecting to find fulfillment through the actions of other people? Are we attached to our ideas of what people should or shouldn’t do—what we should or shouldn’t do? What happens when we lose something we’re clinging to? How does attachment show up in your life? Have you ever given something away—something you loved?
Sutra 2.39 “Freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence.”
Limb Two : The Niyamas
Disciplines in relation to self.
Remember the old saying: “cleanliness is next to godliness?” Saucha certainly refers to cleanliness (how clean is your home, office, or car? How clean is your fridge or your clothes? How clean is the cabinet under your bathroom sink? How clean is your body?), but it’s more interested in internal purification than any outward appearance of cleanliness. The principle of saucha asks us to consider our diet and hygiene, but it also asks us to remain in right relationship with the body in general (we all have pretty strong attachments to the health, appearance, and functioning of our bodies. I’ve never met anyone who LOVES watching their body age). I love this piece of artwork by Kiki Smith, which reminds us what are bodies are made of. There are actually 2 sutras for saucha—one for purity of body and one for purity of mind. How often do you take time to reflect on the cleanliness and purity of what you put in your body and mind?
Sutra 2.40 “With bodily purification, one’s body ceases to be compelling, likewise contact with others.”
Sutra 2.41 “Purification also brings about clarity, happiness, concentration, mastery of the sense, and capacity for self-awareness.”
Contentment is all about the present moment. How often is your attention focused on something that happened in the past or on something that you’re anticipating may or may not happen in the future? What does it mean to accept what you have? What does it mean to accept the moment you’re in? What would it feel like to let go of attachments and aversions and just be where you are? Santosa doesn’t mean that you accept bad circumstances or injustice in the world. It does mean, however, that you approach bad circumstances and injustice from a content center. Contentment is the understanding that happiness will never come from external forces.
Sutra 2.42 “Contentment brings unsurpassed joy.”
We have already studied the principle of tapas—a word that means “heat” and can be translated as austerity—in our study of Kriya Yoga. In the context of the niyamas, tapas can be understood as commitment. How committed are you to your practice? How committed are you to weeding out the seeds of suffering in your life (ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion, and fear)? Are you serious about putting forth effort to purify your body and mind in order to move forward on your spiritual path?
Sutra 2.43 “As intense discipline burns up impurities, the body and its senses become supremely refined.”
An important part of Kriya Yoga, svadhyaya means “moving toward the self.” In the context of the niyamas, we are given a lovely idea regarding svadhyaya: the ista-devata, which means cherished divinity. As we deepen our self-understanding, especially through the study of scriptures that are meaningful to us, we will form a connection to the diety of our own heart. We will find our ista-devata—our cherished divinity. We all need practices that help us deepen our self-understanding and offer us a sense of refuge and support. How do you connect with the divine within you?
Sutra 2.44 “Self-study deepens communion with one’s personal deity.”
The final aspect of Kriya Yoga and the final niyama ask that we surrender. Surrender is a difficult concept for many. But the state of yoga—a state of meditative absorption—cannot be forced. We prepare. We practice. We study. We are disciplined. But ultimately, we must release everything. We can’t have attachments to anything—even our efforts. What areas of your life do you try to control? What would it feel like to put forth effort, but to let go of any attachment to the outcome of that effort?
Sutra 2.45 “Through orientation toward the ideal of pure awareness, one can achieve integration.”
Pratipaksa Bhavanam Practice
Pratipaksa Bhavanam means cultivating the opposite.
Before beginning this practice, please have your copy of the sutras, your journal, and the last two pages of the packet (the one with the stick figure drawings and the one with all the questions on it!) out and ready to use.
One final (artsy) resource
The April issue of my Magazine Project explores the yamas and niyamas in the context of “ethic lists that have shaped us.” If you’re interested you can check it out here.