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The Niyamas

     Much of the practice of yoga actually occurs off the mat.  The practices on the mat or the meditation cushion are to give us experiences that help to reinforce our ability to be in the world with a peaceful mind.  Last week's post discussed the first step, the yamas, in the practice of Classical or Raja yoga.  This week we will look at the second step of an eight limb yoga approach to obtaining fulfillment and freedom in an imperfect world.  To recap the five yamas are  restraints in terms of non-harming, non-lying , non-stealing, not over indulging the senses, and  not being attached to our possessions. This week we will look at the five niyamas which are observances consisting of cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, and the recognition of something which is greater than ourselves.  

     Cleanliness is both external and internal. This include the cleanliness of the environment, as well as our bodies and minds.  Do we litter our earth, our home, our bodies? Do we litter the internal world of our mind with trashy thoughts and comments? If we are to reach fulfillment and freedom from the suffering in this world the path needs to be clear of our own trash and clutter.  We want our daily lifestyle to support the inherent pristine state of our bodies and minds.  We need to feel good within ourselves.

     Contentment is to be free of desires.  Contentment reflects the knowing that we are enough in our own right.  When we know that we are enough we can cease the endless striving arising from the sense of not being enough. Obviously, if one is a refugee from a war torn region it would be difficult to not be desirous of peace and safety. Yet, if one is in comfortable surroundings then to have continuing desires is a sign of dissatisfaction with one's place in life. This lack of satisfaction agitates the mind from a sense of fulfillment.

   The last three niyamas are the foundation for kriya yoga, or yoga in action.  Austerity, self-study, and recognizing something greater than oneself  empower the yoga practice towards the ultimate goal of fulfillment and freedom in the world.  

   Yoga recognizes that over time we can accumulate negative impressions that negatively influence our thoughts, speech, and actions which only lead us further away from the goal of fulfillment and freedom.   To disarm these negative tendencies kriya yoga engages tapas, or austerity, not as a punishment but as a way of refining. Tapas is the Sanskrit word meaning to heat.  Much like forging metal goes under fire to be molded, refined, and highly polished our being is refined to our essence. Through tapas our negative tendencies are recast to expose our more luminous essence. 

     Self-study is the increased recognition of our negative tendencies. We see how and when they arise.  Then, we add the study of the teachings of past or current enlightened souls  who can guide us to our greater potential as spiritual beings.

     Recognizing a greater power than ourself brings humility and less clinging to our self-identity as the all knowing.  In this humility there is opportunity to let grace in to uplift us.  What a wonderful feeling grace can give - to experience that there is someone/something else that has our backs!

     These three niyamas, austerity, self-study, and the acknowledgement of something greater than ourselves keep our eyes on the prize when tiredness, dullness, busyness, or lack of time try to impede the yoga practice.  The yamas and the niyamas can be practices to last many lifetimes! Even still, yoga has more steps to show us  toward our fullfillment and liberation. Next week we will look at the third limb of Classical yoga which has to do with the yoga postures.





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