Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Second Limbs of Yoga - Niyama

The trunk of the tree corresponds to the principles of Niyama.

Niyama can be defined simply as the internal dialogue of enlightened beings. Whereas the Yamas are about how conscious beings behave, the Niyamas are about how they think. As with the Yamas, it’s important not to get trapped into a rigid sense of morality, thinking that there is a right or wrong way to think. To a great degree, the Niyamas are about cultivating self-acceptance. From an early age, most of us received messages about how we “should” be and most of us have tried so hard to squeeze ourselves (and others) into these molds. When we finally stop trying to be how other people want us to be, we can experience our authentic self, which is perfect exactly as it is an expression of the divine. In this expanded state of consciousness, our thoughts and words spontaneously resonate at the highest level of expression. As we progressively allow ourselves to be authentic expressions of the is, of the divine presence, then our Niyamas naturally come into alignment with the experience of awakened beings. 
According to yogic philosophy, there are five main qualities that emerge as a result of living an authentic, balanced life:

1. Saucha - purity
Focusing on purity adds little value to life if it encourages a judgmental mind-set, but it is of great value if we see our choices in terms of nourishment versus toxicity. Our body and mind are constructed from the impressions, sensations, experiences, and food that we ingest. Yoga, and the cultivation of saucha, encourages us to consciously choose those things which are nourishing to our body, mind, and soul.

2. Santosha - contentment - bliss of presentmoment awareness
Through the practice of yoga, our experience of the present moment quiets the mental turbulence that disturbs our contentment – contentment that reflects a state of being in which our peace is independent of situations and circumstances happening around us. When we struggle against the present moment, we struggle against the entire cosmos. Contentment emerges when we relinquish our attachment to the need for control, power, security, and approval. Keep in mind, however, that contentment doesn’t imply acquiescence or passivity. Yogis are committed in thought, word, and deed to supporting evolutionary change that enhances the well-being of all sentient creatures on this planet. Santosha implies acceptance without resignation.

3. Tapas - discipline or austerity
The word tapas means fire. When the fire of a yogi’s life is burning brightly, he or she is a beacon of light radiating balance and peace to the world. The fire is also responsible for digesting both nourishment and toxicity. A healthy inner fire can metabolize all impurities. While people often associate discipline with deprivation, it can actually be extremely nourishing. For example, people who have established a yogic lifestyle may arise early, meditate daily, exercise regularly, eat in a healthy, balanced way, and go to bed early because they directly experience the benefits of harmonizing their personal rhythms with those of nature. Tapas is embracing transformation as the pathway to higher consciousness.

4.  Svadhyana - self-study - spiritual exploration
Traditionally this is interpreted as being dedicated to the study of spiritual literature, but at its heart, self-study means looking inside. There is a difference between knowledge and knowingness. Yoga advises us not to confuse information with wisdom, and self-study helps us understand the distinction. Svadhyana encourages self-referral as opposed to object referral. Our value and security come from a deep connection to spirit, rather than from the things that surround us. When svadhyana is lively in our awareness, joy arises from within, rather than being dependent upon outer accomplishments or acquisitions. 

5. Ishwara Pranidhana - surrender to the divine
The final Niyama, ishwara pranidhana is often translated as faith or surrendering to the Divine. Ishwara is the personalized aspect of the infinite. Even when considering the boundless, the human mind wants to create boundaries. Ishwara is a name that makes the infinite and unbounded field of intelligence more familiar or approachable. We could just as easily substitute the name God, Allah, Jehovah, Source, Universe, or any of the other names for the divine. Ultimately, ishwara pranidhana is surrendering to the wisdom of uncertainty. When we relinquish our attachment to the past and embrace the unknown, we are established in present moment awareness – the only place where transformation, healing, and creativity can unfold.

These five principles of Niyama control organs of perception: the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the skin. The effect of āsanas is to keep the skin, cells, nerves, arteries and veins, respiratory and circulatory systems, digestive and excretory systems, mind, intelligence and consciousness, all clean and clear. This involves all the aspects of Yama and Niyama, which are the roots and the trunk of the tree of Yoga.

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