Practicing with the Niyamas YOGA INTERNATIONAL

Yoga encourages us to practice diligently, listen carefully, and stay open to the outcome.

Some ancient teachings even advise to “practice as if your hair is on fire!” This kind of abiding perseverance could certainly make one break a sweat!

Yoga teaches us that body heat is the primary ingredient needed to release the tightness that prevents us from performing beneficial asanas, such as deep backbends, bound twists, or even a fully manifested forward bend. This is the heat B. K. S. Iyengar refers to in Light on Life as “the purifying fire of action.”

Luckily, Patanjali didn’t abandon us at tapas. He reminds us that yoga is much more than just discipline and willpower. It is also svadhyaya, the yogic method of paying attention to what you are doing, how you are doing it, and why you are doing it. Usually translated as “self-study,” svadhyaya mandates precisely that: read yoga teachings and then reflect upon and integrate what you’ve learned.

Svadhyaya helps us recognize when we are getting caught in goal-oriented activities and missing out on the journey. For example, when we kick up into handstand with so much desperation that we end up bouncing off the wall, without svadhyaya to temper the tapas, we never manage to catch the moment when we’ve actually arrived in the inversion.

Svadhyaya challenges us to be honest about ourselves. Doing that takes courage and commitment—which is what we get from tapas. These two niyamas bring us to a place of mindfulness and clarity, of power and healthy confidence.

Patanjali understood that a balanced cocktail of hot tapas and cool svadhyaya would take us to a point of balance between action and reflection. But if we stop there, we run the risk of becoming self-absorbed. So the third and final step is to let go and open, a process outlined in the fifth niyama called Ishvara prani-dhana—surrendering to the Divine.

We move toward Ishvara pranidhana once we’ve done all we can do. After we have worked hard with ardent attention and balancing focus with the cool composure of a mind that knows itself, we come to a place of clarity. We know there is really nothing left to do, and so we start to let go and open.

Ishvara pranidhana balances the work of tapas and the focus of svadhyaya. It is the exhale to the inhale, the stretch to the strengthen, the shavasana to the tadasana. Connecting to the Divine sounds esoteric, but it can be very ordinary because it is something that is with us all the time. We just have to open to it.

Read More:

Practicing with the Niyamas


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