15 Mar You’re a Skin Bag Full of Guts and Other Yogic Concepts
Name three things you try to hold true to no matter what; no matter who’s watching or keeping track. Things you care enough about to monitor your own behavior on. Where the motivation comes from within.
Niyama is the second limb of yoga. The five niyamas complete the set of ten yoga values we’re given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Last week we talked about the yamas, the five external abstentions.
This week, we focus on the niyamas, or internal observances. Things to do within yourself to carry on your practice towards wholeness.
Here we go:
Sauca: Purity, cleanliness; recognizing the necessary yuck of being human.
From what I’ve read in the traditional commentaries on the sutras, sauca speaks to recognizing that no matter how often you clean yourself, you still get gross again. You have BO. You fart. Your breath stinks when you wake up in the morning.
It’s the lesson that reminds us we’re human, and to be human is only a step in the process towards unity with pure consciousness.
Remember, the yoga tradition holds reincarnation to be true. There are celestial realms more refined than human to be born and reborn into as well, depending on your karma. But that’s for another day…
Back to sauca. Besides the traditional “you keep cleaning yourself but you’re inherently unclean” translation, there are also New Age and modern interpretations of this and other yogic concepts that you’ll often come across.
I hesitate to cherry pick and modify a deep spiritual tradition for my own convenience. However, as a student of yoga I’ve found benefit in these modern interpretations.
So, sauca can also be looked at as purity, the ways in which we tend to our bodies and the spaces we inhabit with intention and care. I’m able to think much clearer in a room free of clutter. Breathe much easier in a room recently dusted and aired out. I find it more comfortable to meditate in the morning if I’ve first emptied my bladder and bowels.
That’s sauca for you. Maintain cleanliness. Recognize that bodily, we’re a skin bag full of guts. Yes, it’s gross!
Santosha: Contentment. To maintain a sense of okayness.
I have enough. I receive enough. Even contentment in the pain I endure. Through the ups and downs, it is as it should be. To me this feels like equanimity. Gratitude, even.
But beware of toxic positivity. You don’t have to ignore suffering and call it good. You don’t have to gloss over the pain of others with platitudes of light and love (remember ahimsa, non-harming? Toxic positivity is harmful.) You don’t have to fake happiness.
What do you think? Do you see a difference between happiness and contentment?
Tapas: Burn up your impurities through continued effort.
Tapas is something you’ll hear a lot about in yoga classes, since many are asking you to exert a physical effort that requires focus, strength, and a sense of your edge.
Tapas is the effort one needs to keep going when the going gets tough. It’s dedication, fire, ambition. Tapas is doing the thing you don’t really want to do but know you need to do to get where you’re going.
You know the feeling of establishing a healthy habit, or breaking a bad one? At first it’s SUPER HARD. It’s tapas that gets you there. Day by day, tapas gets you there.
Svadhyaya: Self-study. Traditionally, study of spiritual texts.
One of the things I love about yoga is that it’s non-dogmatic. The philosophy doesn’t require you study Hindu texts any more than it suggests you look to Christian documents. It does, however, say that a complete yoga practice includes this type of study.
The yoga sutras ask you to go to the source texts and master teachers (I’m not in this category, to be clear). Going to the source texts is extra interesting as English readers because few, if any, spiritual source documents were written in English.
When you find your English-language source, keep your eyes open for translator bias. Read more than one translation. Better yet, study Sanskrit, Arabic or Hebrew!
You’ll also see svadhyaya interpreted as self-study in the vein of self-help, journaling, and self-reflection. Psychological growth, if you will. There’s actually another yogic concept called pratipaksa bhavana that’s closer to these practices, but still I want to mention this here.
Isvara Pranidhana: Surrender to God, humanity, or something greater that yourself.
It’s probably not surprising that God shows up in a spiritual tradition and here we have God’s appearance in the yoga niyamas. The exact god you surrender to is not specified.
In fact, embedded in the Hindu tradition is a deep respect of the god of the other, that is, respect that you and I might not choose the same godhead to surrender to. This is quite different from Christianity, where God is meant to be Jesus or else there’s a bit of an issue. But nevertheless, even for you atheists reading, there’s a concept to be grasped here.
Think butterfly effect. Your one life’s impact reverberates around the world. You aren’t in complete control of what happens to you. At some point in each of our lives, we all require the help of fellow humans.
Isvara pranidhana asks you to surrender to this reality. None of us are at it alone, and thus none of us are free from responsibility to and for others.
And there you have it – the five yoga niyamas, internal observances.
To complete the first two limbs of yoga, add these niyamas to the five yamas: ahimsa, non-harming; satya: truthfulness; asteya: non-stealing; brahmacarya: moderation; and aparigraha: non-greed.
These values and ethics are a most important part of the practice for everyone, no matter your social stature or mastery of the other limbs of yoga. No one gets a pass from the yamas and niyamas. That is, if one is dedicated to the path of yoga.
Perhaps the three things you listed above fit within the yamas and niyamas. You likely hold your own unique value system.
Either way, know that your values are an important part of your spiritual health and your yoga practice can help you stay true to what you’ve chosen for yourself.
Let’s keep the focus on the yoga niyamas this week in Active, Yin and Gentle classes. All practice sessions are free and held over Zoom. Please join!