Monday, June 01, 2009

The Time to Study

Hello All,

Last week I told you I would report back on my foray into tapas.  I did get a lot of stuff done in my master bedroom.  The summer/winter clothes are switched and I reorganized my master bathroom.  Hey, accountability works!

This week we will discover svadhyaya, self-study, taking the time to know ourselves.  The better we know ourselves, our own minds and hearts, the better we can know our own minds, hearts, moods and emotions.  One way of practicing svadhyaya is meditation.  One benefit of meditating is that we learn how to respond, rather than react, to situations.  For example, if someone pushes our buttons, we have the "mental space" to realize we need to take that deep breath or count to ten before reacting.  We can respond in a way that might create more peace and harmony in our families, and by extension, in our world.

Usually meditation is seen as sitting quietly, focusing on the object of the meditation.  But, meditative activities can also give us the "mental space" needed to learn about ourselves.  What feels meditative to you?  Do you like gardening, playing an instrument, or knitting?  Do those things!  Part of realizing our own spiritual nature is to learn to see spirit in the mundane activities of our lives (yes, even doing the dishes or cleaning the toilet).  (Yuck!)  But, seriously, people are so different from one another.  What inspires or causes one person to discover him or herself may not do the same for someone else.  You will have to discover what makes you tick your own way.

There are still more different ways to practice svadhyaya.  One important, and traditional, way is the study of sacred texts, such as the Bhagavad Ghita, the Upanishads or the sacred texts of your chosen religion, if you have one.  There are other types of "sacred texts," as well.  Any writing that inspires YO U is a "sacred text."  Reading gives us a chance to investigate different possibilities, to see things from different perspectives, and to reflect on our own beliefs, assumptions, and mental boundaries.

Your yoga asana practice can help you learn about yourself, as well.  During asana practice, you might learn about ways you resist, different urges and tendencies, your competitive nature, about your ego, your insecurities and fears, or how you deal with boundaries, your own and others. 

However you choose to learn about yourself, svadhyaya means being committed to the process, even when the going gets rough.  It can be a bit rough when you learn of your faults and foibles, your delusions, addictions, and the parts of yourself you'd rather not know about.   But you will also learn how you can overcome some of these faults and which ones we can let go of; this can only happen when you know and learn to understand yourself.  You will also learn self-acceptance, which I think is the greatest lesson of all!  The greatest reward is that you discover who you really are, the essential, eternal you, your true spirit and your true worth.  When you discover who you really are, nothing can stop you!

I like what Swami Kriyananda says in "Raja Yoga."

Self-study begins with the careful observation of one's thoughts, feelings, and motives.  As one advances in this practice, he discovers that central reality of his being which is beyond thought, form, and substance, which cannot be observed and analyzed, which cannot even be truly defined, though it is sometimes described by its essential quality: JOY.

Your assignment this week is to learn something about yourself that you didn't know before.  Writing/journaling is a good way to learn about yourself, so write about what you discover.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Rising to the Top with Tapas

The niyama tapas, austerity or discipline, is a difficult idea for many of us.  I thought I'd look at the dictionary to see what it says about austerity and discipline.  New World Dictionary says "austerity" implies "strict self-discipline" and "discipline" implies "training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency."  I like "discipline" better and it seems to fit the yogic meaning of tapas.

Tapas is from the root word "tap," which means heat.  It's not a temperature type of heat, it's a kind of a "fire in the belly," a desire to meet your goals type of heat.  From B.K.S. Iyengar, in "Light on Yoga,"

Tapas...meaning to blaze, burn, shine, suffer pain or consume by heat.  It therefore means a burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life.  It involves purification, self-discipline and austerity.  The whole science of character building may be regarded as a practice of tapas.

Tapas is the conscious effort to achieve ultimate union with the Divine and to burn up all desires which stand in the way of this goal.  A worthy aim makes life illumined, pure and divine.  Without such an aim, action and prayer have no value.  Life without tapas, is like a heart without love.  Without tapas, the mind cannot reach up to the Lord.

Wow.  That says it all, doesn't it.

In our American culture, discipline has gotten a bad rap.  We think of discipline as punishment.  But in the time of Patanjali and his codification of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, discipline had a connotation of self-care.  Doing even mundane chores can be self-care, too.  For example, you will have much more inner peace if you just do your dishes, rather than having them in the back of your mind saying "wash me, wash me."  Think of all the peace you will have if you stop procrastinating?  It is truly helpful to think of discipline in this way.  Think how much better it would be if you thought of sticking to your eating plan or exercising regularly as taking care of yourself.  When we are disciplined, we build our character and have pride in ourselves, just by taking care of our daily business.

Your assignment this week is to think of discipline as self-care, not punishment.  What is something you've been putting off?  Is there a goal you want to achieve on which you've made no progress?  Pick something this week to finish.  When you complete it, sit down, close your eyes and experience the peace of a job well done.  Of course, journaling about your experiences is a good idea.

We all choose where to be disciplined.  I'm disciplined when it is fun to be disciplined; I like doing yoga, hiking, knitting and reading. I choose the fun stuff! I'm going to do this week's assignment with you, and report back to you next week on my own results.  (Accountability never hurts!)  I have been putting off some work in my master bedroom.  So, I will put away all my clean clothes and switch my winter and summer clothes.  I'll let you know how it goes!


Monday, May 18, 2009

Being Content with Santosha

Santosha, contentment, is my favorite niyama.  If we can't be truly contented with our lives, our bodies, our "whatever," we can't find true and lasting peace and our ability to concentrate suffers.  With contentment, we can rest in a place of peace without desire or attachment.  When we practice santosha we are happy with what we have and what happens in our lives, rather than being unhappy because of what we don't have or what doesn't happen.

In our culture, it can be difficult to find contentment.  Our culture is quite concerned with competition and comparison, keeping up with the Jones', for example.  We are assaulted by advertisements that promote the desire for material wealth and possessions and sensual experience.  If we don't have the material possessions, money, or the body on the magazine cover, or we don't drink a certain drink or eat a certain meal, etc. etc., we feel inadequate.  We are led to believe that if we have those things we will be happy and worthy.  Those feelings of inadequacy, due to competition or comparing ourselves to others, block our ability to feel peaceful.  This is even though, logically, we know that happiness is not gifted to us because we have the right "things," lots of money or because we have the perfect body.

Feelings of inadequacy are the work of the ego.  Santosha gives us the ability to accept things as they truly are, rather than forcing ourselves to achieve the desires of the ego.  Then, we have the ability to see which desires are from our heart and spirit and which are created by the ego.

As a teacher, I sometimes see my students thinking they have to go further into a pose than is best for their bodies, sacrificing alignment and causing undue stress.  This is due to the struggle of the ego wanting to do the pose "right."  If you are in the alignment that works best for your body and provides your proper balance of effort and ease in this present moment, and you practice with a joyful spirit, you are doing the pose "right."

Santosha is a choice we choose to make.  We choose santosha by being content with what we have and what happens in our lives.  We choose peace.  When we practice santosha, we develop an emotional maturity.  While we may have powerful feelings, loss or the inability to attain a certain thing or state does not devastate us.  We could lose our job or relationship and, while we might have intense feelings around the situation, we can have the ability to move past the situation and continue to live our lives without causing ourselves undue pain and suffering.  Being overwhelmed by our feelings, desires and attachments serves no one.  With santosha we have the ability be courageous and find solace in the face of an otherwise miserable event.

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar says:

Contentment and tranquility are states of mind.  Differences arise among men because of race, creed, wealth and learning.  Differences create discord and there arise conscious or unconscious conflicts which distract and perplex one.  Then the mind cannot become one-pointed (ekagra) and is robbed of its peace.  There is contentment and tranquility when the flame of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire.  The sadhaka [spiritual aspirant] does not seek the empty peace of the dead, but the peace of one whose reason is firmly established in God.

This week's assignment is to keep a gratitude journal.  Every day write down five things for which you are grateful.  (Of course, you can write more if you wish.  It is your journal.)  Often, what we really need to feel contented is to be grateful for what we have.

I wish you contentment and peace!


Monday, May 11, 2009

The Next Limb of the Tree

The next limb of Ashtanga yoga philosophy is niyama.  Niyama is comprised of five personal observances: sauca (purity or cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (disclipline or austerity), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishvarapranidhana (devotion).

Sauca is concerned with keeping ourselves pure and clean, inside and out.  Outside sauca is pretty straightforward, good grooming and keeping ourselves clean and presentable.  Keeping ourselves clean inside means caring for our mental and physical health, keeping our internal organs functioning well and our minds clear and clean.  We can attend to inner sauca by practicing pranayama and asana, as well as by meditating.  A clear and clean mind is free of disturbing emotions like greed, hatred, anger, delusion, pride, and the like.

Practicing sauca brings radiance and joy to the body and mind, and banishes mental pain, dejection, sorrow and despair.  Not too bad for just taking care of yourself, is it?

The purity and cleanliness of our food, and where we eat it, is another aspect of sauca.  We feel and perform our best when we eat well.  We don't feel our best when we eat fast food and candy.  B.K.S. Iyengar, in "Light on Yoga" says,

Character is moulded by the type of food we take and by how we eat it.  Men are the only creatures that eat when not hungry and generally live to eat rather than eat to live.  If we eat for flavours of the tongue, we over-eat and so suffer from digestive disorders which throw our systems out of gear.  The yogi believes in harmony, so he eats for the sake of sustenance only.  He does not eat too much or too little.  He looks upon his body as the rest-house of his spirit and guards himself against over-indulgence.

Note: Iyengar doesn't say you can't like your food, only to not like it so much you overeat.

This week, take good care of yourself.  Reflect on how you can take even better care of yourself.  Eat well (on a clean, presentable table), exercise well, meditate well, and start making some new habits.  Journal about your experiences.

Next week, we will talk about santosha (contentment), my favorite niyama.


Monday, May 04, 2009

Hold On to Aparigraha

Aparigraha means non-hoarding and is another facet of asteya (non-stealing).  We are to receive only what is appropriate, no more.  If we take more than what we have earned, we run the risk of exploiting someone else.  There is no need to get greedy.  When we collect or hoard, it implies a lack of faith in God or in ourself to provide for our own future.

B.K.S. Iyengar in "Light on Yoga" says,

By the observance of aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything.  Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.

Swami Kriyananda, in "Raja Yoga" says aparigraha "leads one to become non-attached even to his own body.  It is by such perfect non-attachment that the blindness of temporary identifications is overcome..."   Aparigraha prompts us to learn to let go and surrender, and not hold on to, or identify with, the past and that which is not for our highest good.

This week, your assignment is to look at your life.  Is there anything you are holding on to?  Have you been greedy?  Look at your physical environment first, then your emotional, mental and spiritual environments.  Try journalling about it and make a plan to let these things go.  I assure you, you create a vaccuum by letting go of your "stuff."  It allows space for even better things to come your way.

This concludes our discussion of yama, the first limb of Ashtanga yoga philosophy.  The next limb is niyama.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sensing Brahmacharya

I hope you are enjoying these short articles about Yoga philosophy as much as I am enjoying writing them.  It is helpful for me to review these philosophical points, looking at my own life and behavior, and seeing my own spiritual progress.

Brahmacharya has gotten a bad rap.  Traditionally, brahmacharya has been associated with chastity and celibacy.  EGAD!  But at the heart of brahmacharya is the idea of contolling our desires or non-lusting.  It doesn't mean that to be a good yogi or yogini you have to let go of sex.  It means being responsible with your sexuality, and forming relationships which foster spiritual growth.  Our behavior should move us, and our partner, toward Truth.

In Teaching Yoga, Donna Farhi says,

The fourth yama, sexual propriety (brahmacharya), tells us to use our sexual energy in a way that makes us feel more intimate not only with our partner but also with all of life.  When we are connected to our Divinity, how can we use another for our own selfish desires or hurt another through our inabiity to contain our desires?

By practicing brahmacharya, one retains continence of the body, speech and mind.  Additionally one sees Divinity in all beings, and in the Universe as a whole.  This allows one to move about peacefully in the world, but not have his or her heart in it, thus seeing the world as it really is.

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar says,

When one is established in brahmacharya, one develops a fund of vitality and energy, a courageous mind and a powerful intellect so that one can fight any type of injustice.  The brahmachari will use the forces he generates wisely: he will utilise the physical ones for doing the work of the Lord, the mental for the spread of culture and the intellectual for the growth of spiritual life.  Brahmacharya is the battery that sparks the torch of wisdom.

Your assignment is to review the history of sensual lusting in your life, and be aware of your current sensual lusting, and think about how has affected, and will affect, your body, mind and spirit.  Journal about your personal investigation.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Take on Asteya

This week we look at the yama asteya, or non-stealing.

Asteya means more than simply not taking something that doesn't belong to you.  It means not desiring, or coveting, that which is not yours, while realizing that whatever is rightfully yours will come your way.  Your happiness is not dependent upon what you possess, material or otherwise.  Swami Kriyananda in Raja Yoga says,

Covetousness is like a rope that ties the balloon of consciousness to the ground, preventing it from soaring into the free skies of spiritual bliss.

Asteya is not limited to material objects.  Remember, we practice the yamas in thought, word and deed.  For example, we can steal someone's spotlight when we interrupt him or her.  If we talk "down" to someone, or speak unkindly, we might make someone feel small, only to make ourselves feel taller.  We can do these things in our mind when we think negatively of others, or if we are secretly jealous, envious or hateful.  When we think these things, our actions can follow our thoughts.  Even if we do manage to keep these thoughts to ourself, we steal our own peace.

Here is your assignment for this week.  Think about all the ways you steal, by not practicing asteya.  We all do it.  I'm not trying to insult you; I don't think of myself as a thief, either.  But what about the pen from work you put in your purse?  What about the extra napkins or ketchup packets from the restaurant you put in the glove compartment of your car?  What about the time we steal from others when we are late?  You might try journaling about these ways and note how you feel when you don't practice asteya.

Have a wonderful week.  Next week we will talk about bramacharya, or non-lusting.


Monday, April 13, 2009

What's the Big Deal About Satya?

Hello Friends,

Satya, the second yama, means nonlying or truthfulness and extends to the responsibility of keeping your promises.  We all know the importance of being truthful.  One of the benefits of following the yamas is peace of mind.  Have you ever tried to lie and maintain peace of mind?  It would be nearly impossible!  You can't keep peace of mind when you are trying to remember what lie you told and to whom you told it!

The yama satya is based on the idea that honest communication and keeping promises provides the basis for any healthy relationship, community or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations and untruths harm others.

I believe, most importantly, satya applies to your relationship with yourself.  Everything, satya included, starts with you, moving from our inside world to the outside world.  When you are honest with yourself, you remove delusion and the filters through which you see your own behavior and your world.  Sometimes it isn't easy to be honest with ourselves.  We have had years of practicing habits, patterns of perception, and beliefs which work together to color our understanding of ourselves at any given moment. These are our filters.  By practicing satya, we, over time, eliminate our filters and increase actions which arise from the truth in our relationships with ourselves and others.  We act from a place of truth, not from a place of the fears and assumptions we learned through using our filters.  Then we can think, speak and act from truth and in accordance with our highest goals and beliefs.  When we consistently practice satya, we have no reason to fear our behavior and we have no regrets.  In his book "Raja Yoga," Swami Kriyananda says it all.

An attitude of truthfulness means to try always to see things as they are, to accept the possibility that one may be mistaken in his most cherished opinions, to entertain no likes and dislikes that might prejudice his perception of reality as it is.

We practice satya in the same way we practice ahimsa, with truthfulness in thought, truthfulness in word, or speech, and truthfulness in deed, our actions.

Most of us would agree that it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions.  It could harm someone unnecessarily.  We have to balance satya with ahimsa.  Sometimes, when speaking the truth, we have to consider what we say, how we say it, and realize how what we say can affect others.  At times, when the truth would have negative consequences, it is best to say nothing at all!

This week's assignment is to think before you speak and ask yourself the question, "Is this really the truth?"  Then ask again before speaking.

Next week we will talk about asteya (nonstealing).

Monday, April 06, 2009


Hello and welcome to the Awareness Village Blog. I thought I would do a series on some of the points of yoga philosophy, starting with the elements of the 8-limbed path, or Ashtanga.

The sage Patanjali codified yoga practice in approximately 200 BCE in India, as the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms which, among other things, detail the eight different limbs of the complete yoga practice. The description of the limbs is collectively known as Ashtanga, meaning eight limbs in Sanskrit. (This definition of Ashtanga is not to be confused with the style of yoga practice known as Ashtanga Yoga, developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and followed by his school and students.) Most people in our society are familiar with the limb called "asana." Asana is the physical aspect of yoga, also known as yoga postures. One theory says that asana was created to keep the body comfortable while the yogis sat in meditation. Asana allowed them to comfortably sit for longer periods of time.

The first limb is yama, which is comprised of the five moral restraints, ethical standards which forge a sense of integrity in the practitioner. The yamas are ahimsa (nonharming/nonviolence), satya (nonlying), asteya (nonstealing), bramacharya (nonlusting), and aparigraha (nonhoarding).

In today's blog, we will talk about the first one, ahimsa. Ahimsa is the rule of conduct that means to do no harm, injury or violence to any living being, and, obviously, no killing.

Many people choose to be vegetarian to practice ahimsa, since eating meat and other animal products harms animals.

But there is more than physical harm, violence, or killing, to the interpretation of ahimsa. Being rude, hateful or cruel harms others. So does gossiping and speaking harshly. Not keeping a confidence can be against ahimsa. Failing to relieve another's pain is a violation of ahimsa.

When you think about ahimsa, and the other yamas, think about how living beings can be harmed by way of thought, word and/or deed. If there is any thought in your mind of "oh, I shouldn't have said that" or if you "cringe" because you did something you feel uncertain about, you probably violated ahimsa. If you say anything you wouldn't want to get back to someone, you probably violated ahimsa. But,what if you have judgmental thoughts about someone? Just because thoughts may not be spoken, it doesn't mean they aren't harmful. Those thoughts may affect how you deal with someone or may affect what you say about someone to other people.

It is also necessary to practice ahimsa with yourself. For example, taking good care of your health, or positive self-talk, is practicing ahimsa with yourself. Be kind to yourself!

When we practice ahimsa, we are not at odds with anyone or any being. It is said that if you consistently practice ahimsa, none of the animals of the forest will fear you and you will have no fear of harm from the animals of the forest.

Your assignment this week (if you choose to accept it) is to think of all the ways ahimsa can be violated. What are the ways living beings can be harmed?

Next week we will talk about satya (nonlying).