The First 2 Limbs Of Ashtanga Yoga- Spirituality
The practice of yoga embraces every moment of our lives, and so our ethics — our guiding principles of conduct — are of course essential to reflect upon and study.
The way you conduct your outer life compliments your meditation. With a balance of inner development and outer restraint, a sense of strength, of peace and clarity, stays with you all the time. Right conduct is the foundation of spiritual practice. Meditation without morality is useless; morality alone, though admirable, is not the goal of life. Because right behavior is often a struggle, the strength of mind afforded by regular meditation is a necessity.
The guidelines of Yama and Niyama are thousands of years old, developed by the yogis as a way of bringing spiritual realization into a social context. They are not so much “commandments” as guides that should be deeply contemplated and rationally adjusted.
Yama refers to ethics regarding the outside world, and therefore is particularly important in social contexts. It comprises non-harm, truthfulness, non-stealing, universality, and greedlessness.
Niyama refers to ethics regarding the inner world. It comprises purification or cleanliness, contentment, service, education, and surrender or devotion to something greater than oneself. As such, the ethics suggested in yoga are devoid of religious connotation — they are not based on moral value judgments of right and wrong — but are rather seen as actions that help to quiet an overactive mind, regulate emotions, and enhance prosocial and skillful behaviors.
Healthy Practices- Niyama
5. Spirituality — Iishvara Pranidhana
Iishvara Pranidhana (pronounced: eesh-war-uh pra-nee-dah-na) is a mouthful; let’s use the term spirituality. The literal meaning of the Sanskrit is “to take shelter in the Supreme.” This, to me, connotes a joyful surrender — a decision to make spirituality the point and purpose of our lives. Spirituality is both a value and a result of choosing kindness, simplicity, honesty, acceptance, responsibility, unity, clarity, sacrifice, and understanding in our everyday lives.
Spirituality can be expressed in many ways. In the yoga system, spirituality is both a practice and a sense, or feeling, about who we are that comes out of that practice. Time-tested techniques include yoga postures, which refine the body; healthy food, which calms and strengthens both body and mind; meditation, which refines the mind and nurtures the heart; and ethical behavior which brings our hearts and minds together in relation to others and our world.
When spirituality is the core of our lives, it is as if a loving parent is watching over a growing child. It is said that the mind (and its outward expression, the ego) is a terrible master, but a wonderful servant. The only way to appropriately use the mind is to put our hearts in control of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. In this context I equate the heart with what we may call soul or spirit: the aspect of our being that is in harmony with unconditional love, and which never dies.
Setting aside time each day to pry or meditate in solitude helps us bring awareness to the rest of the day. Quieting the mind and directing its flow toward oneness with the inner Self allows us to re-experience the peace and joy that is the heart of all existence. Accessing this inner connection helps us to behave in ways that reflect our values, and thus our impact on the world around us is positive and profound.
One of the most useful project I have undertaken is to write a “mission statement” for my life. I did this many years ago, and every year on New Year’s Day I review my statement and make any changes I need to make to bring it into alignment with what I understand to be my chief purposes. I also review the past year and evaluate what I have done and how I have expressed my stated mission in my everyday life. If there is an area that is being neglected, I try to understand why and figure out how I might address that aspect in the coming year.
My mission statement consists of my guiding principles: statements, in my own words, about how I wish to be in every area of my life. Throughout the year, as I plan my activities and goals, I review this statement and ask myself, “Does this project, plan, or goal resonate with my mission in life?”
You may already have an overall statement of purpose about being a good person, or realizing God, or serving humanity, etc. Breaking that general purpose down into specific behaviors can be very helpful. You will find yourself doing more thinking, less reacting.
We are pressured, cajoled, manipulated, and maneuvered into doing countless things that don’t necessarily move us any closer to our goals, and that may, in fact, pull us away from our fundamental principles. Stating these principles can be the first step toward gaining the inner strength and courage to be what we really, truly want to be, deep-down in our souls.
When you have finished your statement of purpose, you may want to frame it and put it where you can read it for inspiration each day. Whenever you plan your year, your month, your week, or your day, review your statement first, to be sure all of your activities contribute to your personal mission in life. When you have stated concretely what is most important to you, it is a lot easier to say “no” to things that are extraneous to it.
It is important, when doing this exercise, to be completely honest with yourself; forget about what you are “supposed to” feel, think, and do. This mission statement will be of no use to you if you do not write it in your own words, from your own heart, reflecting who you are and what you want.
If “selfless service to humanity” is a life purpose for you, how can you express that in words that make sense to you right now? What are you doing right now that reflects that purpose? In what specific ways can you express this purpose in your behavior toward others who are closest to you? If you are not expressing this purpose, Why not? In some cases, you may discover that you have been given a purpose by someone else and you have never really mad it your own. This is a time to reevaluate those preprogrammed ideas and discard what doesn’t resonate deeply with you right now.
Choosing positive energy, we empower ourselves to find healthy solutions. Because we believe in love, we can face hatred. When we are no longer controlled by fear, we enter a new reality, where joy is an everyday feeling. We begin to notice all the beauty around us. Expressing and receiving love and support, we become accustomed to feeling safe and cared for.
We move swiftly through sad feelings and problems as we become successful at negotiation life’s terrain. Like expert sailors, we learn how to handle the storms and dangers — and we learn to love the sea. Pleasure, fun, enjoyment, laughter, intimacy, and spiritual joy — all become the reality of life for us.
Honesty makes room in our hearts for ourselves and each other. Once a week, we can take time to make a personal inventory of our lives and look bravely at our mistakes and behavior. An art teacher once said to me, “There is no such thing as a failure. Rather, we are successful and learning what we don’t want to repeat.”
Admitting we have behaved in a way we regret, or that we have made a mistake or unintentionally hurt someone help us move into healing and joy. This can be threatening to our egos, which are fearful of being vulnerable. If we were shamed as children, feelings of shame may arise when we make mistakes. Instead of the healthy remorse out of which comes healing and change, we struggle with self-hatred.
Shame breeds anger as the ego strives to protect us from the pain of self-annihilation. We put ourselves and others out of our hearts and the damage remains. Looking at our mistakes with kindness and courage, we become truly human. How often have we wished that someone who hurt or disappointed us could just acknowledge our pain and sincerely say, “I’m sorry”?
Regular self-analysis teaches us appropriate humility and makes room in our lives for growth. We can use Yama and Niyama and our Personal Mission Statement as a guide for our inventory, discovering where we have unconsciously chosen fearful reactions when we could have chosen love.
We can look for the ways in which our feelings, thoughts, and behavior have reflected trust, faith, courage, self-esteem, honesty, unity, and understanding. Self-analysis is not to punish ourselves for wrong-doing; rather, it is a way to lovingly parent ourselves into wholeness.
COUNT THE BLESSINGS
Consciously noticing all the good things empowers our lives with healthy positive energy. Each night before we go to sleep, we can take an inventory of all the good things that happened during the day, no matter how small.
We can ask ourselves what is right, what is good, about our behavior, other people, our work, our relationships, our world. Wouldn’t it be great if the evening news included at least equal time for good news? Since it doesn’t, we can provide ourselves with good news each evening, and go to sleep feeling blessed. Melody Beattie, author The Language of Letting Go, writes about this beautifully:
“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos, to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. It turns problems into gifts, failures into successes, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events.It can turn an existence into a real life, and disconnected situations into important and beneficial lessons. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”
My spiritual teacher, Shri Anandamurti, said:
“Spirituality is not a utopian ideal but a practical philosophy which can be practiced and realized in everyday life. Spirituality stands for evolution and elevation, not for superstition or pessimism. All divisive tendencies and group or clan philosophies that create shackles of narrow-mindedness are not connected with spirituality and should be discouraged. Only that which leads to broadness of vision should be accepted.”
Affirmation for Iishvara Pranidhana
May all beings dwell in the heart. May all beings be free from suffering. May all beings see the bright side of everything. May all beings be healed. May all beings be at peace.
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