One of the niyamas, or observances, of yoga is Ishvarapranidhana, or surrender. To many the idea of surrender is distasteful. We think of it as a weakness. When we talk about surrender in terms of yoga, though, essentially we’re talking about surrendering our egos to something greater, which takes courage. When we surrender our egos, we surrender the need to be in control, surrender to the moment we’re in. Control isn’t real anyway, it’s an illusion. We don’t invite all of the thoughts that run through our minds, they just come. We don’t control aging, it happens whether we want it to or not. We don’t even control the outcomes of our actions; we have good intentions for our actions, we think we know what the outcome will be, but so often it’s completely different. All we can do is take steps toward our dreams and surrender to the outcome. The results are likely exactly what we need.
When we are able to take our egos out of the equation, we start to notice that the obstacles that arise in our lives are there for a reason. We begin to learn from what’s put in front of us and can more easily move on. In contrast, when we allow our egos to take the lead, when things don’t go as we planned, we fight against what’s happening. And the fight makes us unhappy. How can we have peace of mind if we are fighting a losing battle? The universe always has the first move, and I would venture to say the last as well. If we are able to surrender, we can start to look at what’s happening with an eye of wonder. We start to trust that the universe is putting the people, situations, and obstacles in our path because they’re needed to get wherever we are intended to go in this life. This isn’t to say that we don’t make plans for our future or that we should just wait for things to land in our laps; life isn’t like that. But when we make plans, we need to okay when they take a different turn. Perhaps we thought that we’d end up with situation A, but the universe has the much more fabulous situation B in mind for us. How many times in our lives have we been brokenhearted to end a relationship only to meet someone else who is so much more suited to who we are? Or we don’t get the job that we thought would be perfect but then get a job that is so much more rewarding. Surrender to whatever is happening now and just wait to see what comes up next, you may be pleasantly surprised!
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word or group of words that are repeated to bring about some sort of transformation. There is a physical vibration, an energy, associated with all sound and we can use that energy to create a change in ourselves. Since energy follows intent, the intention behind a mantra is paramount. Quantum Physics has proven that everything that we think of as solid matter is actually vibrational energy arising from consciousness. When we really consider this, then being able to change one’s circumstances through thought becomes very real. Mantra is a way of doing just that.
Man in Sanskrit means ‘think’ and tra means ‘free,’ so a mantra is meant to free us of thinking. Using a mantra gives your mind something concrete to focus on so that the mind doesn’t start wandering. It keeps us focused on our intentions during a meditation practice. It can be very difficult to slow our minds down and to stop the constant chatter and a mantra truly helps with this.
I believe that any word or sound that resonates with you can be used as a mantra. For example, if you were trying to become more loving you might use ‘love’ as a mantra. Your intention would be to create love. If there’s some quality that you wish to attain, you could meditate on that quality while using a mantra.
Hindu yogis define japa, or mantra, as a mystical energy encased in a sound structure. A Sanskrit mantra is constructed from a combination of sounds derived from the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet. These sounds have a definite and predictable effect on the human psyche and body. It is believed that Japa is a way to channel consciousness from the lowest to the highest level of pure thought. It’s a very direct way to self-realization according to yogis. We can’t really define these sorts of sounds, they’re something we experience. They can be very beautiful and meaningful on a deep level. We may not even be aware of why we’re drawn to a Sanskrit mantra, it just feels right.
This website familiarizes us with of some of the Sanskrit mantras and has recordings of them being chanted so people can learn the pronunciation of these words: http://www.true-enlightenment.com/sanskrit-mantras.html
Try it out and see if any of these ancient sounds appeals to you.
Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning truthfulness, referring to truth in thoughts, words, and deeds. As is typical in a journey with yoga, we need to start by being truthful with ourselves; which means we need to get to know ourselves completely. Practicing satya begins with observing our own thoughts and psychological patterns. When we are able to see the beliefs and patterns that we hold, we can start to think about how they influence the choices we make. As we observe our thoughts more and more, we are able to differentiate between what we are projecting and what is truth. What we’re projecting might be in line with what our friends, coworkers, society and families want us to be, but is it who we really are? Is what we’re projecting true? Once we can figure this out we can choose to come from our core integrity and abandon actions that come from projection; essentially we start to act more authentically.
If you think about a teenager who acts out to fit in with a crowd that he or she thinks is cool, this becomes more clear. We can see how he or she might have a core value of honesty, a desire to do well in school or to please his or her parents, etc, but their actions tell a different story. They are projecting what they believe their peers want. It’s not quite as obvious in someone with more maturity, but may still exist. Maybe you’re a person who values hard work, but you’re in a workplace that doesn’t support that. What changes can you make so that your actions are in line with your values, your truth?
Because most communication in relationships is sustained through speaking and writing, it’s important to be honest in these forms of communication as well. Remember ahimsa (nonharming) here though. It’s about speaking only what we know to be true, not embellishing or exaggerating or leaving out an inconvenient detail. Pujari suggests that before we speak we ask two questions: 1) is it true; and 2) is it useful? Judith Hanson Lancaster suggests a third question – is it nonharming?
When practicing asana, we must be mindful and respectful of our body’s capabilities. Know that today’s class might be very different from yesterdays and be okay with that. Practice as if it’s the first time. Sometimes we are not truthful in our asana practice because we’re being a little lazy- we can do more but are choosing not to. Other times we aren’t being honest about what we are capable of and end up hurting ourselves, causing harm.
When we get to know our truth, our integrity, we think and act in ways that support them and we become more peaceful with ourselves and those around us.
When I logged into facebook this morning, I saw a quote from Swami Sivananda:
“You should clearly understand the aim of life. Then you should chalk out a line of work that is congenial to your aim. You should work hard to realise the aim. You should try every second to live up to that ideal. You can realise the ideal this very moment, or after ten years by walking with faltering steps.”
It seems to me to me that Swamiji was talking about dharma here. Everyone has a dharma, a purpose in life, and when we find our purpose we tend to love what we do. We align ourselves with the universal laws so we are in harmony with the universe. When we are in harmony in this way, there is always a demand for whatever service we are here to give and we create abundance in our lives.
Some people find their purpose, their dharma, very early on in their lives. For others there is vague notion of what we want, but no clear vision. And then there are those who have absolutely no idea. If we can become very clear on what it is that we wish to accomplish and discard anything in our lives that doesn’t point us in the direction of that intention, we can’t miss. Deepak Chopra says we must ask ourselves “how can I serve?” or “how can I help?” and that the answers are within us. When we get quiet we can hear those answers. We do need to be definite in what we wish to accomplish, and be unwavering about it. It’s then that we don’t allow others to sway us from our purpose, we don’t allow negative thinking to enter the equation and we trust that the universe will provide whatever we need to make it happen. We keep taking the steps needed to get there and then we find that situations, people or things that support our dharma just start to show up.
A few questions that we can ask ourselves to get started in finding our dharma are:
Once you’ve developed a vision for what want to do, ask yourself what you can do today to get closer to your vision.
In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Deepak Chopra outlines three commitments that we can make to apply the law of dharma:
If you’ve found your dharma, what advice can you offer someone who is still searching? Do you have any insightful questions that a person can ask themselves to find their life’s purpose? Share them here!
Vairagya is the Sanskrit word for detachment. This is sometimes a very difficult concept. When I first started learning about detachment, I wondered if it meant you were never passionate about anything or excited by the things that are happening. The idea of letting go of the pain or negative emotions that were associated with the events taking place in life was appealing, but I didn’t want to let go of happiness. I’ve come to realize over the years that to be detached doesn’t mean that we no longer experience emotions. Rather we experience everything in our lives fully and completely in the moment without trying to hang onto the experiences we’re having. The hanging on creates fear or insecurity which detracts from the experience. When we’re feeling fear in this way we aren’t living in the present moment and we can’t experience anything fully.
We form attachments to our things, relationships, and our bodies and even to our connection to the divine. We then become afraid of losing them and then can’t really enjoy them or even feel them anymore. Through our fear we sometimes set up the conditions to bring about whatever it is we are fearful of, breeding more discontent. In our connection to spirit, when we become attached we lose our present moment awareness because we’re trying to get somewhere and we fail to notice that we’re always connected.
When we are able to detach from outcomes and just do what we’re doing for its own sake, we start to get lost in the doing and it becomes effortless. The founder of Taoism, Lao-Tzu puts it this way: “By letting it go, it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try the world is beyond the winning”.
Your yoga mat is a great place to practice detachment. There have been many times that I’ve been trying to master a pose and struggled to get it. When I’ve been able to relax and just do what I can the pose just comes to me. All of a sudden I can just do it without effort. Life can be like that too, find the way to flow with whatever is happening and the next thing you know something great happens…and then it’s gone too and you’re on to the next great adventure.
Ahimsa is one of the yamas or restraints of yoga. It means non-harming. Doing no harm is very important to a yogi, and really underlies all of the lessons that yoga teaches. When we practice ahimsa we set the intention to create respectful and loving relationships with our fellow beings- animal, plant, earth, sky, water. As with most lessons in yoga, it begins with our relationship to ourselves. If we are harmful to ourselves, can we really be non-harmful to others? One way of practicing ahimsa is to note your self-talk – negative or positive. Negative self-talk can be extremely harmful. It’s important to catch yourself when you do this and reverse those thoughts. If you’re a person that habitually refers to yourself as unimportant, for example, reverse that thought each time you notice it by simply stating “I am important”. Once we start making changes in our own thought patterns and stop harming ourselves, we are less likely to cause harm to others, whether in our thoughts or actions. Accepting all parts of ourselves is key to cultivating compassion for others.
In his book Wishes Fulfilled, Wayne Dyer speaks of the power behind “I am” statements. He says that any time you say ‘I am’ you are manifesting whatever follows. So be very careful how you use this statement. Start noticing if you use ‘I am’ in positive, uplifting ways. Are your ‘I am’ statements consistent with what you want to manifest in your life?
Some ways you can bring ahimsa to your daily life are:
– Notice if you reflexively kill insects. Can you trap it and escort it out instead? Is it really causing any harm?
– Look at the products you buy. Depending on your resources, can you purchase cruelty free cosmetics, fair-trade coffee, clothes not assembled in sweat shops
– Is it feasible to eat a meat-free diet? If not, can you purchase from a source that does not engage in cruelty to animals? Can you honour the animal that gave up it’s life prior to eating?
You can bring ahimsa into In your asana practice first by observing the judgments you make about what you can and cannot do. Notice the thoughts that arise, are you making positive ‘I am’ statements while practicing? Also, relinquish the goal of physical accomplishment. If we’re forcing ourselves into poses that we aren’t ready for, we will likely hurt ourselves.
Practicing ahimsa means making sure that what we think and do is in line with our ethical principles and our intentions. So give some thought to what you really believe and what you really wish to accomplish in your life and ensure that your thoughts and actions support them in a non-harmful way.
One of the niyamas, or observances, of yoga is santosha. Santosha is a sanskrit word meaning contentment. The goal of the yogi is to practice santosha in all areas of their lives. One way to practice santosha is to be fully present in each moment which brings about this deep feeling of contentment. Contentment, or bliss, isn’t a fleeting thing; it’s in your core, no matter what’s happening in your life. Deepak Chopra differentiates between happiness and bliss, saying that happiness is always for a reason- it relates to something outside ourselves. Bliss is that feeling that all is the way it should be. We keep coming back to it no matter what’s happening. This isn’t to say that we don’t feel anger, frustration, sadness or any other feelings. We are human, so we feel a wide range of emotions. What we do with those emotions matters though. In her book Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, Charlotte Bell says that what arises is not negotiable, but how we respond to it is. We can accept or resist. This sows the seeds for contentment or suffering. We often think that we’ll be happy when we have more money, get a better job, or find a relationship. Fulfilling these sorts of desires makes us feel happiness for a moment, but it doesn’t last. That’s because santosha or contentment doesn’t depend on external things, it comes from an internal response to our experiences. We always have a choice about how to respond to the situations that arise in our lives. I’ve been known to go to a very dark place when something very stressful is going on, but over the years I’ve become better at managing my own responses. And I’m sure that as I keep practicing santosha and keep living in the present, I will become more skilled. Because, really, in this moment, is there anything that I’m lacking?
When practicing asana we can also practice present moment awareness. Focusing our attention on the breath as we hold poses and appreciating that our bodies are able to do what they can right now helps. I often ask my classes if they can practice santosha while holding a difficult pose. It usually makes them smile, possibly because they can’t believe how insane I am to ask such a question. But when they smile maybe they find a little ease within that pose, maybe they can relax around the sensations that are coming up and know that this too will end. Remembering this while in asana helps to set the stage for our lives off the mat.
Yoga is a scientific approach to enlightenment. The word yoga means ‘to yoke’ or join. I think that yoga allows you to link breath to movement, to link mind and body, and also to connect to your higher self.
When we practice yoga asana (poses) from a place of acceptance, we are able to make these connections much easier. We are able to flow within the practice rather than fighting our bodies to get deeper into a pose that we aren’t ready for- or even one that we could do yesterday but can’t today. When we can accept our physical limitations and flow we sometimes find that all of a sudden we can do that pose we were previously fighting with. When we practice acceptance of what is on our yoga mats, it prepares us for accepting what is off the mat. Maybe the next time something happens in our lives that we don’t like, we can try to flow with it rather than resisting something that we cannot change. This doesn’t mean that we don’t make change for the future, but when something is happening right now, in this moment, can you accept it? This kind of acceptance can lead us to discovering what the lesson is much faster than fighting. And once we learn the lesson of those situations that we find uncomfortable or even unbearable, they tend to stop showing up in our lives.