Sutra 2.32: shaucha santosha tapah svadhyaya ishvarapranidhana niyamah
In the light of intelligence illumining the life-style, arise the following observances: purity of body, mind and environment, contentment, psychic fire that simplifies life and purifies the heart, self-study or constant vigilance, and surrender to or worship of the indwelling omnipresence. Translation and interpretation by Swami Venkatesananda
Earlier this year when I was in my weekly meditation class, Alan (one of my teachers and co-founder of ISHTA Yoga where I study) was describing a yoga practice that “one should do…” –and there he stopped himself and rephrased. “Not should, but if you do these practices, you will come to experience stillness…” (that’s the gist of what he said).
Yoga isn’t about right or wrong, what we should or shouldn’t do. It doesn’t ply us with explicit rules, judgments, and values. Yoga has no morals. Yoga is a state of being and the process of setting up the body and mind to experience that state of being. The mind, ever analyzing, ever looking to justify and explain what it experiences, adds value (and morals, and judgments, and expectations) to practices that do not, on their own, burden the practitioner with that weight.
You may not want to experience yoga. So then the practices of yoga may or may not have a place in your life. There isn’t room for “should” in your relationship to yoga (or yourself). There’s just room to open yourself up to the practices (yogic or not) that help you live your life the way you want. It’s a simple cause and effect relationship. I am curious about the experience of yoga, so I’m working through the practices of yoga –not all at once, mind you, and not with an attitude that I should, but with an understanding that if I want to experience this thing defined by the ancient yogis, it will probably help to explore the practices they laid out to lead anyone there.
That’s why I love (LOVE!) Venkatesananda’s explanation of the niyamas. It honors cause and effect, and celebrates the process by which choice leads to awareness (and vice versa).
One’s practice of the niyamas arises, perhaps from one’s experience or from the experience of a teacher, or from other practices that lead to the “light of intelligence”. Observing (practicing) the niyamas simplifies life. It doesn’t make it “better”, just “simpler”. Though, I gotta say, simpler sounds delicious to me. But just because I like the sound of it doesn’t mean that you should. And no matter how much I like the idea of simple, it doesn’t change the fact that the practice of yoga doesn’t carry that value judgment.
It helps me to step back regularly (daily!) and remember that. Remember that what I love about yoga keeps me in my waking, interacting-with-the-world-around-me mind. I need that to live (so I’m gonna call it good). At the same time, I, like you, am no more than a “bag of particles acting out the laws of physics”* (or so I believe), and my particles don’t know good or bad, just being.
The yamas and niyamas are often labelled the “ethical” practices of yoga. The “do’s” and the “don’ts”. I prefer to think of them as just another set of tools to lead the mind to quiet so I can become conscious of my particle nature (or whatever it is you think yoga lets you experience!)
Hari om tat sat!
Experience your true self and bring it into every moment of your living!
* quote from physicist Brian Greene in conversation with Robert Krawlich on Radiolab.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a classical text on yoga–a guidebook of sorts.
Each week, 216 teacher Esther Palmer dives into one of the sutras and we let it take us where it takes us.