“Continuous effort- not strength or intelligence- is the key to unlocking our potential.” ~ Winston Churchill
The Ancient sage, Patanjali, created a guideline for living that is the basis of yogic tradition. His Eight Limbs of Yoga are still considered to be the very foundation on which contemporary yoga is taught. In my last column, I outlined the root of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs, called Yamas. The Yamas teach us Universal Morality, or ways we can collectively coexist with all living creatures here on earth. By practicing non-harming, non-stealing, truthfulness, self-control and letting go of attachment, we are better equipped to live peacefully in the world. In this column, I’d like to introduce you to the Second Limb of Yoga, according to Patanjali, known as the Niyamas.
Where the root of the Eight Limbs is universal, the Niyamas are personal. What can I do as an individual to follow the yogic path toward a life free of pain and suffering? How about cleanliness to start?
Yoga looks at cleanliness both inside and out. Outwardly, we might think of the first Niyama, as good hygiene, but being clean on the inside probably takes more effort for most of us. I’ve heard people talk of body cleanses or detoxification. Through the consumption of food supplements, or fasting, the body is essentially flushed of impurities. But if we’re careful about what we put into our bodies to begin with, purging becomes unnecessary. And how about the cleanliness of our minds? How challenging it can be to rid our minds of destructive thoughts of anger, jealousy, greed, pride and ego? Yoga helps us to achieve cleanliness naturally. Through the yoga poses, through mindful breathing, and through the practice of meditation, we can naturally eliminate impurities, creating space for limpidity of mind and body.
Contentment is another of the Niyamas. It’s likely that at one time or another we have felt that someone we know “has it all” while we have somehow “come up short” when we score ourselves in the game of life. I can think of two tragedies recently where someone who appears to “have it all” decided in their tortured mind that it wasn’t enough: Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. These two highly successful, high profile individuals had fame, fortune, and family but what they didn’t have was contentment. If our mind tells us we’re happy, then we are happy. If our mind proclaims misery, we experience dark devastation.
There is a story of an Indian chief speaking with some of his devoted tribe members about the power we exert to control our minds. The chief said he has two dogs that fight inside his head. One dog is peaceful and loving and the other is angry and mean. A tribesman asked the wise leader which dog wins the fight. The chief responds, the dog that I feed the most will win.
Contentment must be practiced and fed through acceptance. We can be happy with what we have if we decide that what we have makes us happy. The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence if we learn to be satisfied with the depth of color in our own back yard.
The third of the Niyamas is the disciplined use of energy. This rule of Patanjali, written thousands of years ago reminds me of Newton’s first law of motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion…” With discipline and effort, we learn to keep our body fit in order to sustain the challenges of daily living. We can direct our energies toward keeping a fire in our belly that will incinerate negativity and create the inertia to keep moving forward with a zest for life.
Self study is another of the individual responsibilities known as the Niyamas. I often refer to this in our yoga practice on the beach. We can go through the motions of the yoga poses as they are called out, or we can be in the poses in our yoga practice, exploring what sensations we experience there. Yoga is an observation. It’s a way of learning about our body; it’s likes and dislikes, its subtle nuances, where there is freedom and where there is obstruction. Learn something new every day that feeds your mind and/or your body. Education is power. To be educated in the science of yourself is invaluable.
Finally, Patanjali encourages us to recognize a spiritual presence in our lives. Spirituality, in its simplest form is just relating to a belief or a presence that cannot be seen. Spirituality is as individual as DNA and should not be shamed or criticized from one person to the next. To be spiritual, is to discover a force that motivates you as a loving and compassion piece of the whole. Find words that resonate with you; uncover practices in your daily life that encourage you to love yourself and others with equal importance and you will know the meaning of spirituality.
To practice cleanliness of mind and body; to create an inner fire of energy; to commit to learning about ourselves and believing in a force so powerful it can be felt without being seen, positions us on a path toward life devoid of suffering and pain. This is the practice of yoga in its most primal form and it must be nourished in order to flourish.
The next edition of Mind, Body and Spirit will address the most common of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, the poses and breath.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.