Articles

Isvara Pranidhana - Relinquish of Free Will, Surrender to Divinity
April 30, 2023

Ishvara Pranidhana is the fifth and highest niyama. In order to understand it, first we must examine the word Ishvara. The root of the word Ishvara comes from īś meaning "most capable" or "owner, ruler, chief"[12], while vara means (depending on context) "best, excellent, beautiful", "choice, wish, blessing, gift", or “one who solicits a girl in marriage".[13] Thus, Ishvara literally means “the most capable owner & ruler” or “the one who solicits life”. Ishvara in Indian philosophical thought really translates as “Lord”, as in, the personal, lordly aspect of God almighty. Isvara is the controller, the personal deemer of the universe.

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Svadhyaya - Scriptural Study, Self-Study
April 27, 2023

Svādhyāya is a compound Sanskrit word composed of sva + adhyāya. Adhyāya means “lesson, lecture, chapter; reading", and svā means "one's own self, the human soul". Therefore, Svādhyāya literally means "one's own lesson", or “the study of one’s own self”. Generally, svadhyaya is translated as the discipline of sincere inquiry into the nature of our own existence and our fundamental purpose of life.

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Tapas - Self-discipline, Austerity
April 23, 2023

Tapas means “discipline” or “austerity”. It also literally translates to “heat” or “fire”. One common meaning of tapas is self-discipline, in the sense of deliberately resisting the natural urges of the body and mind in order to build heat and gain power in a certain aspect of life. For example, resisting the urge to snooze your alarm and instead get up to have a cold shower and meditate is an example of tapas. Resisting the path of least resistance, which is not always good for us, builds heat in the body and mind, and creates power and strength to enforce a positive, healthy habit. This heat burns away the impurities and weaknesses in body and mind and makes us strong, much in the same way that adding fire to clay makes it hard and strong. Tapas is the fire which burns all of the impure desires, greed, hatred and delusion that cloud the mind from realising one's true nature. Thus, in yoga, tapas is highly recommended as the sole catalyst of all spiritual growth. In some way or another, growth only comes from tapas, the internal purification born from the fire of self-challenge, of living out of our comfort zone, expanding our boundaries and opening our awareness.

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Santosha - Contentment, Inner Satisfaction
April 20, 2023

Santosha is the second of the five niyamas, and literally means “contentment”. To practise santosha means to be content with whatever is given to us, with whatever may be happening, be it pleasant or unpleasant to the mind and senses. Santosha means “satisfaction” or “fulfilment”. This word ‘fulfilment’ really does it justice, with this sense of resting in fullness, in wholeness, completeness, devoid from any lacking. Santosha is to realise that every moment is always complete, nothing is ever lacking. Rather, it is the mind’s habit of comparison that generates a feeling of lacking. The Buddha often referred to this reactive habit of mind. He said “I can not help you with the first arrow (what the world gives you), I can only help you deal with the second arrow (the suffering that we impose from our reaction to the first arrow). In this way, he taught that we will take knocks from life, that is inevitable. The first arrow will come. But what we can change is how we react to the first arrow, being the second arrow. He taught that the second arrow is really the killer. The first one is not that bad, and it also passes quickly. The second arrow is what leaves the deepest impression.

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Saucha - Cleanliness, Sanctity, Purity
April 16, 2023

Saucha is the first, and possibly the most important niyama. It translates as “purity”, “cleanliness” or “clarity”, referring to the purity in body, mind and spirit required to attain yoga. On a gross level, saucha refers to proper cleanliness of the body and surroundings, regular bathing and removal of stagnant energy from one’s body and environment. In the famous Hatha Yoga text called Gehrand Samhita, a seven-limbed system of yoga is expounded, which is slightly different from Patanjali’s yoga sutras in the sense that it begins with shat-karma, referring to the six physical cleanses of the body. Some examples of these are flushing the bowels with water, cleaning the tongue, irrigating the nasal canal etc. These practices are all physical, and are prescribed before any other practice, even prescribed before doing asanas. So, as you can see, even in other systems of yoga, cleanliness (an external form of saucha) is first and foremost.

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The Grace of Exhalation - Giving in Order to Receive
April 13, 2023

To be a yogi means to focus on what we can give, not what we can take. The world is obsessed with what we can get, what we can take from nature, and this is why nature is so burdened at the moment. She is not burdened because of overpopulation, but because of greed and ignorance. There are too many suckers, trying to extract happiness from nature’s resources. The world is trying to inhale more, while exhaling less. This is the cause of disharmony between man and his environment, and this is the cause of disease within us. We are trying to inhale, to take, before we have given, before we are empty. Actually, we can only receive when we are empty, when we have surrendered, and not before that. To be a yogi means to exhale more, and surrender the inhalation to nature.

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Aparigraha - Non-covetousness, non-possessiveness
April 9, 2023

The final yama is aparigraha, coming from the sanskrit roots graha meaning, to hold, to receive, to collect, to amass, and pari, meaning around, about. Thus, a-pari-grahameans not holding, clinging to or collecting objects, possessions and gifts. In yoga philosophy, aparigraha is commonly translated as “non-receiving”, referring to the virtue of being entirely self-sufficient and not receiving gifts, loans or favours from anyone. Another understanding of aparigraha is non-covetousness, which means not desiring objects for the sake of possession.

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Brahmacharya - Divine Conduct, Control of the Senses
April 6, 2023

The fourth yama is commonly known as brahmacharya, coming from two sanskrit words; brahma meaning the highest God, our true nature, the Self, and acharya, meaning someone who is steadily moving forward on the spiritual path. “Acharya” is also commonly used as a respectful title in India for one who is clearly in the process of mastering their self-discipline, in the fields of yoga, meditation and scholastic studies. An acharya is a practitioner and teacher. Thus, the term brahm-acharya means the practice of self-mastery. It is a virtue, as well as the name for a spiritual aspirant who practises certain types of abstinence and self control. Put simply, a brahmacharya is someone who does not stray outside of their true nature. A brahmacharya is one who is in control of the mind and the senses, one who is balanced and concentrated on their goal of self-realisation.

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Asteya - Non-stealing, non-covetousness
April 2, 2023

Steya is a sanskrit word which means “stealing” or “theft”. Thus, asteya means “non-stealing”. We can all understand the ethical importance of this; most of us were raised with this spirit; not to take what does not rightfully belong to us. Mostly we were exposed to this principle in the realms of the physical, while the deeper psychological importance may not have been explained or even understood by our teachers.

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 Satya - Divine Truthfulness, Integrity, Authenticity
March 30, 2023

The second yama is satya, coming from the sanskrit root sat, which means “truth”, “existence” or simply “that which is”. In fact, the word sat is deeply rooted in eastern religious thought, as the one truth, the eternal, underlying field of existence, beingness, pure is-ness itself. Sat as that which is beyond the distinctions of time, space and personhood, that which is independent to the distortions of mind and matter, that which is aloof from transformation, that which is permanent & unchanging. The little suffix ya, as in sat-ya, means “as a result of”. Thus, satya means “the result of truth” or “adhering to truth”.

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