Friday, 16 November 2012

Thank God for Philosophy Wednesday….

If you’ve been keeping an eye on this blog, you’ll know that when it comes to studying the yamas of the Yoga Sutras, I’ve done better with some than others.  Aparigraha (non-hoarding)?  I’ve done pretty well at evaluating what I do and don’t need in my life, including reflecting on negative thoughts and emotions that I can let go of.  I’m not saying I’ve actually LET GO of these things, but I’ve recognised that I need to, so that’s a start.  Brahmacharya (energy moderation)?  I’m working hard at NOT staying up late, and drinking too much, and eating too much, and going out too much.  It’s not easy, but with a recent bout of poor health, I really forced myself to stop, turn down that dinner invite, take a couple of days off yoga, and stay at home in bed.  Ahimsa (non-violence)?  I totally suck at that one.  Even just saying so is violence towards myself. 

Now I have to burden that self-improvement work load with the five niyamas;

Saucha ~ Purity ; or often referred to as cleanliness, refers to body, mind and surroundings;  

Santosha ~ Contentment; not to be confused with satisfaction, which is dependent on certain circumstances, whilst contentment is independent of circumstance;
Tapas ~ Self-discipline; closely tied to Brahmachayra, I really like the description of this as ‘burning enthusiam’;
Svadhyaya ~ Self-study;

Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender; or dedication/devotion to the Highest.

In Meditation from the Mat, Rolf Gates says, “The yamas are the fundamental renunciation of a life based on fear.  They are the change.  The niyamas are the fundamental practices that sustain a life based on love.  They sustain the change… The niyamas are practices that we can bring into our daily lives to foster stillness, to bring us ease of heart.”

Okay… that’s great, but where the hell am I going to start with all this without my brain exploding?  The mat – I always have to remind myself to go back to the mat and how to apply the Yoga Sutras to the mat first. 

Saucha on the mat; If saucha protects the sanctity of the energy around us, then the physical concerns of the practice are fairly easy.  Obviously the biggest element is looking after and putting away mats, props and blankets carefully, cleaning them where necessary and making sure they’re ready for practice next time. I’m good at this at the studio, but often don’t look after my mat at home, ie. leaving it rolled out for my housemate’s evil cat to chew.  Another point I was reading about for saucha on Yoga Journal is refraining from stepping on other yogis’ mats during practice.  YES!  This is one of my biggest pet peeves in group practice.  Not only is it unhygienic to walk on someone else’s mat (whether it’s their own, or it belongs to the studio), you also disturb the energy of their space. 

Santosha on the mat; Can I practice contentment on the mat?  I suppose so.  Maybe I need to stop working so hard.  If I can accept where I am in a pose, and stop striving beyond that place, maybe I’ll be content with where I am. 

Tapas on the mat;  I don’t always feel ‘burning enthusiasm’ for yoga.  Some days I can’t wait to get on the mat, while others, I would rather be at the movies, or out for drinks, or simply just sleeping.  I often find that if I go a few days without practicing, I fall out of the habit and lose enthusiasm.  So I guess I need to be ON the mat to find it. 

Svadhyaya on the mat;  It’s all about self-observation, right?  When I first started practicing I was in Bikhram studios (lots of mirrors, every time), then I was doing Ashtanga in a gym (naturally, lots of mirrors in a gym), and then I was living in LA (mirrors everywhere!).  So, when I finally started going to studios without mirrors, I had to relearn how to self-adjust.  I could no longer look in the mirror to see if my arms were in alignment, or if one hip was higher than the other.  With my kinky back, I often find it hard to really know if my body is doing what I think it’s doing.  Now I have to feel what’s going on inside my body, observe the changes, and hope that a teacher will point it out if I’m really out of whack.  I’ve been onto this one for a while now.   

Ishvara pranidhana on the mat;  Surrender to…being stuck in Pigeon for three minutes?  To the itch behind my right ear?  To the fact that I am probably too old to learn how to do the splits again?  I was reading a blurb about the fact that ishvara pranidhana is accept that the results of our efforts rest with the Divine, and acknowledging that it’s our intention that matters.  Rolf Gates claims that this niyama “tells us that we do not have to reinvent the wheel.  We simply have to follow suit with every other living being on the planet”… I’m going to struggle with this one, I can tell. 

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