शौचसंतोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमा I
The five personal areas (niyamāḥ) that we need to do work on are purity (śauca), contentment (saṁtoṣa), refinement (tapaḥ), self-reflection (svādhyāya) and letting go of control (īśvarapraṇidhānāni).
PRACTICAL LIVING Last week we listed and briefly discussed Patañjali’s suggestions for us to work in relationship with others: (i) kindness; (ii) honesty; (iii) virtuosity; (iv) moderation; and (v) fairness. Here he gives guidelines to the work we can do with ourselves. Like in any sūtra, there are various layers of interpretation for each of these five areas of growth.
i. purity (śauca): this refers to both our inner and outer worlds. How do we treat our bodies? Do we treat the body with respect when we clean it, feed it, move it? What are our surroundings like? What do our houses and cars look like? Patañjali suggests that we see cleanliness as a practice as well. Keeping things tidy helps the mind be tidy. Which leads us to mental purity – how ‘clean’ are our intentions? Are we always thinking about how we will gain in every situation, or are there actions and thoughts coming from a place of spaciousness, awareness and love?
ii. contentment (śauca): in a world where we all desire more – more money, more power, more stability, more passion, more excitement, more…it is particularly important to pause, step back, detach from our hamster wheel and think about everything we are grateful for. As we think and the images cover our minds, it is important to feel that gratitude, that love. It begins with external things or people (parents, home, education, friends…) and gradually becomes more internal, until finally there is pure contentment. It is a state of feeling fulfilled regardless of the external conditions. Whether we have a partner, a great job, children, live in Hawaii…or not, we are full.
iii. refinement (tapaḥ): in a sense, refinement counterbalances contentment. Even though the aim is to feel full, we are still active and seeking to see clearer and access the amazing potential within. In order to do that, we need to constantly be working on ourselves. Continuous awareness and action on the result of that awareness is the job of the yogi. We pause, observe, act, pause, observe, act…
iv. self-reflection (svādhyāya): in order to refine, to keep burning the undesired ‘stuff’ inside, reflection is required. Since it is hard to see our own stuff, it is suggested that we use something or someone to help us see the things we cannot see for ourselves. In today’s world, blogs, websites, Skype and Facetime are all tools that we can use to connect to people or ideas that help us look inside and see things we could not see yesterday. We also have yoga teachers, therapists, priests, friends and grandma 🙂
v. surrender (iśvarapraṇidhānāni): is the understanding that we cannot control everything. There is a huge portion of life that is beyond our reach. So we let go, we surrender, we trust that life will happen the way it needs to happen. Everyone has their own way of assimilating this idea. The religious person surrenders to God. Some may trust life’s wisdom. Others let the organic cycles of nature take over. However you interpret this concept, this surrender happens when we allow space between ourselves and whatever we are grasping on to. Release and let go.
IN THE YOGA WORLD It is fascinating to see how the niyamas are all interrelated. Through self-reflection we are able to refine our actions, which helps us become purer and see clearer. The clearer we are, the more we understand that everything we seek on the outside does not in fact lead to peace. So, gradually, we begin to experience more and more contentment. In order to feel content, we need to let go of old ways of being, of seeing the world. Before, we used to desire and grab towards fame, power, success. Now, we may have moments where we remember that the jewel that we’re looking for is deep within.
Some say that the 5 yamas and 5 niyamas are equivalent to the 10 commandments in Christianity and Judaism as well as the 10 virtues of Buddha and the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Every spiritual philosophy has its suggestions of practices we can do on a daily basis. The words are different, but the ideas are very similar.
Patañjali finds that refinement of action, self-reflection and surrender are so crucial that he repeats these concepts here that were already mentioned in sūtra II.1. These 3 concepts make a powerful life philosophy of transformation!
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Dianna sneaked into my life and has become a sister. We actually look alike with our dark hair and freckles. But the connection goes beyond the freckles and into how we view life. We are seekers who thrive out of self-reflection. Her life story is inspiring. Her devotion to her students is awing. I love listening to her talk passionately about India, Hinduism, Gods and Goddesses and healthy practices. She is sassy, down to earth, strong and caring. Her wisdom expands and transcends cultures. I am so happy to have you as a friend Dianna! Love you lady!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will look at how we can develop a different attitude/approach to life when we’re in pain!