What is Yoga philosophy and why should we care? Honestly Yoga philosophy is telling us what every other major religion has since the beginning of time.
Do the right thing. Be a good person. Try. Just try in life.
The Do’s of Yoga are really simple. And straightforward. They set us on a path toward physical and spiritual development.
Let’s dive into these gentle reminders about how we’d all probably like to live anyway!
1. Shaucha–Purity (keep your body and mind right)
~Sanskrit शौच (purity, cleanliness)
Purity or cleanliness in environment, body and mind is the goal of the Yogic life. Keeping your living environment organized and visually calming is more IMPORTANT than some realize.
I know this might be shocking to some, but not everyone grows up learning that cleanliness is an important part of life. If you’re growing up with a single mother or a situation where the family is in turmoil (ex: sickness, alcoholism, mental illness) details get missed.
I didn’t learn until well into adulthood some key factors of running a household. One example of this is how often you are supposed to wash your bed sheets.
It’s embarrassing admitting that, but that’s the truth.
Our home growing up was the opposite of Fung Shui and it does affect your well being. Like I stated above there are a lot of family dynamics that can hamper the cleanliness of a household. Some view it as not as important as other pursuits. I get that too! But research HAS proven that cleanliness calms the psyche, especially in children.
Cleansing the body is also of utmost importance in Yoga and can be done through the Shat Karmas (6 processes). These 6 processes are:
Dhauti (stomach cleansing)
Neti (nasal cleansing)
Trataka (eye cleansing through gazing)
Nauli (abdominal churning)
Basti (bowel cleansing)
Kapalbhati (lung cleansing)
I’ll admit these concepts are hard to understand, let alone practice. Because of that, I personally rely on Kundalini yoga when I feel a need to purify my body. Kundalini yoga already incorporates most of the Shat Karmas.
It’s like a one stop shop to clean shit out. It literally escorts toxins out of the body and welcomes in fresh cleansing air. And you feel high afterwards. #winning.
A plain ole shower can also do wonders for the body AND mind. Don’t you feel pretty damn refreshed after a shower? Many have suggested using the time in the shower to meditate.
And honestly allowing yourself 10 minutes to REALLY feel the water rolling over your body while at the same time giving yourself permission to not think about ANYTHING is kind of amazing.
Purity of mind can be a little more tricky though can’t it?!
My Yoga teacher training in India suggested utilizing the Parikarmas (4 processes) to “polish the mind.” Parikarmas fight the negative tendencies that we all experience towards ourselves and others.
All of the Parikarmas point to thought management. First becoming aware enough to IDENTIFY what the thought is, and then redirecting the mind back to neutrality or even positivity.
When I first started thought management I was like an unrelenting security guard. I thought I had to monitor EVERYTHING going on in my mind.
Well it turns out that is harmful and obsessive! And frankly it over identifies the self with thoughts. And really thoughts are just noise. It’s like elevator music…..always playing in the background, but not substantive and mildly annoying.
Thought “management” was most helpful for me when I would notice a strong emotion emerge. That was my opportunity to get curious about what caused such a reaction.
Example: This is how my day used to go: wake up. feel annoyed that I’m not sleeping anymore. Immediately think that this less than enthusiastic reaction meant that quitting my job to pursue my passion was not the right decision. Shouldn’t somebody who is fulfilling their dreams wake up like someone on speed?
Outcome: feel unmotivated and anxious.
Wow that whole scenario was so unnecessary! SO WHAT that I woke up tired. SO WHAT that there’s resistance to starting work. Hello Jessica that’s called life. That’s NORMAL. It truly does not mean anything.
And once I could identify it, I was able to acknowledge what was happening and know that it was normal.
I was able to then move on to have a productive day with a purified mind.
2. Santosha–Contentment (feeling ok when life isn’t ok)
~ Sanskrit संतोष (contentment, satisfaction)
Contentment does not = happiness. Contentment is ACCEPTANCE of the exact place you’re in. This particular Niyama has been a lifelong process for me.
How can you be content when you’re NOT where you want to be in life? Your career is not “there” yet. You look at your marriage and think “huh, it could be better?” And inside you’re STILL dealing with the same bullshit problems of insecurity and anxiety! How the fuck can I be content when things aren’t perfect?
And then you know what happens? Something really bad. Like someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. Or your infertility might not ever allow children. That changes you. It also changes your definition of what it looks like to be happy. Because those are forever situations where it will never be perfect or ok.
You live every second during that time knowing that things really are not ok.
Eventually some of this intensity passes. And then some more. You begin to breathe again. You notice the sunshine. And the birds chirping. It’s really amazing how that happens.
Life really does go back to some form of normalcy. You get back into a routine and life just continues on.
But since life is one big circle, the bad comes again. Because well…that’s life. But it’s not something to fear or be sad about, it’s just a cycle.
It’s kind of like the weather as Pema Chodron explains in “The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving-Kindness”:
“The first noble truth says simply that it’s part of being human to feel discomfort. We don’t even have to call it suffering anymore, we don’t even have to call it discomfort. It’s simply coming to know the fieriness of fire, the wildness of wind, the turbulence of water, the upheaval of earth, as well as the warmth of fire, the coolness and smoothness of water, the gentleness of the breezes, and the goodness, solidness, and dependability of the earth.”
She goes on to discuss how we can survive the changing weather:
“I’m not talking about turning a hurricane into a calm day. I’m talking about realizing hurricane-ness, or, if it’s a calm day, calmness. I’m not talking about turning a forest fire into a cozy fire in the the fireplace or something that’s under your cooking pot that heats your stew. I’m saying that when there’s a forest fire, don’t resist that kind of power–that’s you. When it’s warm and cozy, don’t resist that or nest in it. I’m not saying turn an earthquake into a garden of flowers. When there’s an earthquake, let the ground tremble and rip apart, and when it’s a rich garden with flowers, let that be also. I’m talking about not resisting, not grasping, not getting caught in hope and in fear, in good and in bad, but actually living completely.”
And how exactly can we be content through all this heartache? How can we feel ok when we know the bad will come again. By accepting and KNOWING THAT YOU WILL BE OK. No matter what.
Because YOU ARE THE FIRE.
The bad times don’t last. And neither do the good. So we might as well learn some form of contentment through either one.♥
3. Tapas–Burning discipline (purify through routine)
~ Sanskrit तपस् (to heat)
I love the definition given by my teachers at The Yoga Institute Mumbai:
“According to Maharshi Patanjali, the meaning of Tapas is to maintain fortitude in the pairs of opposites, to bear opposites (pleasure and pain) with the same equanimity. Tapas strengthens the will.”
They also compared the practice of Tapas to heating gold. The more gold is heated the purer it becomes. Indians love their gold so they would know!
So what exactly is burning here? I think most of us have at least an idea about what gets us excited in life. Our passions.
What are those things that you KNOW make you feel better? Just thinking about these passions helps you continue on in your depressing job. BUT you aren’t that consistent in actually DOING any of them.
Let’s say you meditated last month and afterwards you felt SO DAMN GOOD that you didn’t do it again for 2 months! I’ve totally been there.
There’s a weird phenomenon that happens in that the things that feed our souls have the ability to sustain us for long periods of time. So, we don’t feel like we HAVE to do it everyday. Or every week.
But if it feels THAT GOOD, why wouldn’t we? Imagine how much more awesome all of us would be!
So we blow on that little fire every so often, and the embers burn bright and expand. Then we feel so good that we hop-skip-and jump away to our daily lives.
And by the time we return to that damn fire it’s nearly cold! Then we have to work and work to build up that excitement and strength again until the flames burn bright and hot!
And this is where discipline enters. In Steven Pressfield’s book “The War of Art” he talks about showing up and doing the work. Everyday. No matter if you feel like it or not (bearing those opposites). Whatever that work may be for you.
For me it is yoga, reading, writing and meditating. For my husband it is music and lifting weights.
Pressfield’s book title is appropriate because it truly is a WAR.
Discipline takes strength of will to push through resistance. Those people who train to keep at it are the ones who succeed.
They show up for themselves and for their legacy.
Those are the people who’s impurities are burned away and all that is left is pure gold.
4. Swadhyaya–Study thy Self (but it’s not THAT serious)
~Sanskrit स्वाध्याय (‘swa’=self, “adhyaya”=to study)
Pema Chodron, the American Buddhist nun suggests that the journey of self discovery should always be accompanied by curiosity, laughter, and gentleness.
There is the tendency during Swadhyaya to become super critical and to put yourself under a laser focused microscope. And once under this microscope, you can pick at that unhealed wound using your already established skills of perfectionism and self degradation.
I don’t know if you’ve ever fallen into this trap during self study, but I have. And I can report back that doing this is NOT super helpful. In fact if you already struggle with just being ok with yourself on a daily basis, this will be downright harmful.
BUT when you bring a curiosity to what’s going inside, it brings the distance need to study yourself without harshness. You can become the “observer” of your life as Michael Singer puts it. You can sit from a place of awareness that notices the tornado going on inside of you without being swept up into the vortex.
You don’t HAVE to be caught up in the constant narrative of your life.
Laughter and gentleness are needed because we really can be ridiculous. Why laughter? Because we all tend to get sucked into the drama of our minds.
I mean my god I have gone over and over the same hurtful situation with a coworker for years. Why?! And then I feel shame admitting that I do this. That’s even more unhelpful!
So let’s usher some gentleness in. We’re all hurt souls trying to do the best we can. Shame is not needed. Rather compassion is desperately needed.
One might ask WHY it is necessary to even study the self. For me this self “study” or self “observation” is step ONE to not only successfully implementing the rest of the Yamas and Niyamas, but also for a fulfilling life.
And I don’t mean this like some hokey self help coach would say it. This is how I mean it:
“Am I going to be controlled by my very own mind for the rest of my god given life?” “Am I going to continue to struggle for the next 30 years with anxiety?” “Will I have the balls to go after what I really want or will my insecurity keep holding me back?”
It’s not a good feeling knowing that you are controlled by these forces inside you. I mean your very SELF is in the way! How ludicrous. Time to step into that fire of self study, with curiosity, laughter and gentleness.
Gain mastery over thy self!
5. Ishvarapranidhana–Surrender to God (i.e. the Divine within)
~Sanskrit ईश्वरप्रणिधान (‘Ishvara’=Divine, “Pranidhana”=to surrender)
I’ve never enjoyed the word “surrender.” And I suspect that I am not alone. Too many Christians have harped on that word for far too long. “Surrendering” is used primarily when quoting a single Bible verse instructing women to surrender to their husbands.
Um no thanks. We’re in a PARTNERSHIP. But nice try.
It’s just icky to think of “surrendering” to anyone really, let alone a man in human or godly form!
But Eckhart Tolle describes surrender as this:
“The simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life”
Now THAT’S a definition of surrender that I can get on board with. And isn’t that the key to all this “god” stuff anyway? Finding the wording and connection to a higher power that FITS you. That feels right. That is not shaming, judgmental, harsh, or feels icky?
And although I used the term “God” here, interestingly enough Patanjali only referred to Ishvarapranidhana as “the Divine.” There is NO religious or cultural connotation to it.
Anytime I need to understand one of these vague concepts like Ishvarapranidhana, it helps me to look at nature. The image of water flowing…..in between rocks, over waterfalls, and along an unforced route exemplifies how I’d like my life to be.
I would like to follow the path of least resistance like water does. Not because I’m lazy and don’t want to break barriers, but because life, like nature, has a natural order.
All of nature works seamlessly together. And my life will too if I can learn to detach, open to what is happening NOW, and flow.
I want to be flexible and to treat life like an experiment. Like a grand adventure. Because that’s exactly what it is.
Release the ego. Release the need for “my way or the highway!” And SURRENDER to the divine order of life.
You can fight against it~kicking and screaming. I’m sure we’ve all tried that and failed.
Or we can all relax and float down that gentle river.