The difference between what we think and who we think we are vs. who we actually are is the gap that our “work” should close. Most of us have honest and good beliefs. But, we don’t often act in a way that mirrors those beliefs. Truly, we operate from an attempt to “gain” in this physical world instead of “gain” in the spiritual world.
The main question: “Do you practice yoga… or do you have a yoga practice?”
Niyamas of Raja Yoga
Once we have understood the way we are meant to interact with the world and others, we begin to focus on ourselves. The niyamas of Raja Yoga are the way in which we are to behave and treat ourself.
Are you clean?
Sauca – We begin our niyama journey with a reminder of our yamas. Sauca is purity. While certainly this applies to how we treat our bodies, it more importantly encourages pure thought. Yoga focuses on removing the negative until all light shines through.
To practice sauca is to let go of the greedy thoughts, the angry thoughts, the impure thoughts. To keep the thoughts clean and pure.
Also, take a shower every now and again.
Where are you?
Samtosa – How many times can we say “be where you are” without sounding trite? Contentment, however, is a fundamental principal of yoga enough to warrant it’s own niyama: Samtosa.
The car we have is fine. The house we have is fine. The amount of money we make is more than enough. We need to know we have TOO much already. No amount of things will make us happy anyway.
Samtosa reminds us that we are all on a path. None are further down your path than you are. We may share the same map with someone else, but our footsteps will never fall in exactly the same place. The experience of your life is completely and totally meant for you. Where you are is perfect… for you.
To practice Samtosa is to simply accept where you are right now on your path. Know that there is work to be done and will always be. When a goal is reached, another is created. When the ultimate truth is realized, there will be no need for “more” anything.
What lesson are you avoiding?
Tapas – The yoga equivalent to “feel the burn.” Tapah is the idea of accepting pain; that purification through fire or heat is natural. We can’t always choose whether pain will happen, but we can choose how we react to it. Additionally, tapah encompasses the concept of not causing pain.
When we think of austerities, images of yogis hanging upside down over fire come to mind. And for a time in history, this was certainly the case. This idea of deliberately causing physical pain to one’s body had become passe. But, in a world engrossed in a constant struggle to avoid pain and find “the easy way,” the idea of austerities – and the purification by heat – applies more than ever.
Practicing Tapas today is as easy as simply doing things fully and completely, rather than taking short-cuts. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone when your goal lies there. Just carry your bag instead of buying a new bag with wheels.
We are meant to learn lessons in this life. The more we avoid them, the more suffering we cause ourselves. If we lean into the difficulties and “burn through them,” we find our lessons AND create strength within ourselves.
What have you learned?
Svadhyaya – And speaking of learning lessons, the niyamas contain a directive to learn. Svadhyaya is translated as “study of scriptures” and “study of self.” Often we see Svadhaya combining these two “definitions” into the study of scriptures to learn one’s self.
I prefer to see the study of scriptures and the study of self to be one and the same.
Just as a piece of artwork is meant to encourage a feeling in the viewer, spiritual scriptures are meant to encourage an understanding in the reader. Often the artist has some feeling in mind, but just as often, they’re simply creating what they create and allowing the view to feel what they feel. This is the idea of Svadhyaya: How does the study of scriptures – and their history or application – help you understand yourself and grow?
Svadyaya practice is combining study and physical practice, which includes the rest of the Niyamas and the Yamas.
What do you believe?
Ishvarapranidhana – Accept and surrender to the wheel. You are not in control of all things. Accept the responsibility of what you are in control of and let go of what you are not. Isvara literally translates to God, Brahman, or Universal Truth.
Part of yoga is the belief that there is something bigger than ourselves. What we learn through our practice – our Svadyaya – IS the truth of the world. We learn that our “true selves” is the same from person to person… that our “true self” and the universe as a whole are the same thing. A raindrop and the ocean are the same water.
To practice ishvarapranidhana is the quintessential letting go. Allow the universe to be as it will be and focus on how your can behave within it.
Who are you?
The niyamas are often considered observances. In each observance is an experience. And in each experience is wisdom. The wisdom we obtain from the purifications and perspectives of our mind create a sphere of who we are in the world. This is the gateway between our outside world and our inside world.