February | Ishvara Pranidhana

Each month in our core classes (Open Yoga, Gentle Yoga and Meditation) we explore the first 2 limbs of yoga as laid out in the ancient text the Yoga Sutra. The first limb is the Yamas and the second is the Niyamas, together they offer 10 foundation precepts that guide a skillful yoga practice. This focus gives us the opportunity to expand our point of view and evolve our practice. It brings the yoga we do in class into a bigger context, encouraging us to take it off the mat and into our lives. Exploring together in this way, is also a great opportunity to build community.

The fifth Niyama is Ishvara Pranidhana. The most common translation is surrender to God. This definition brings up a lot of questions. What does God mean to you? Do you prefer to use the word Love? Or Universal Energy? Or something else? Surrender, as it is used in the english language does not seem like something we want to engage in (i.e. quit, crumble are some synonyms that are given in the dictionary). Is faith a more useful translation? Or trust? Maybe a combination of faith and trust? Some questions to contemplate as a way to experiment with Ishvara Pranidhana. The answers aren’t so important, more a willingness to spend time asking these kinds of questions and an openness to the answers that arise.

One consideration, as you explore, remember that each of the yamas and niyamas contain all of the others. For example when you practice Ishvara Pranidhana - the fifth yama, aparigraha (non-attachment) con offer some support.

January | Svadhyaya

This is an excerpt from a Yoga International online article titled Understanding Yourself : The Path of Svadhyaya by Rolf Sovik

The concept of svadhyaya is not limited to the East. In every age and place, East and West, poets, mystics, and philosophers have explored its ramifications. Shakespeare opens Sonnet 53 with these intriguing lines:

What is your substance, whereof are you made,

That millions of strange shadows on you tend?

Since every one hath, every one, one shade,

And you, but one, can every shadow lend.

If we interpret the words shadow and shade to mean individual human souls, then Shakespeare is portraying us all as strange shadows—shades who only darkly reveal the light dwelling within us. To paraphrase Shakespeare, then, we might ask, what is the substance in which every individual soul has its existence? As we have seen, this is svadhyaya’s essential question.

Walt Whitman, in Leaves of Grass, also illumines the concept of svadhyaya, but with a different kind of imagery. Whitman speaks in the first person, and in a voice that bridges the finite and infinite. Here are some lines from “Song of Myself”:

I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you. . . .

Myself moving forward then and now and forever,

Gathering and showing more always and with velocity,

Infinite and omnigenous. . . .

I am not an earth nor an adjunct of an earth,

I am the mate and companion of people, all just as immortal and fathomless as myself,

(They do not know how immortal, but I know.)

In his characteristic style and with unguarded innocence, Whitman proclaims here that his is a soul whose compass is universal. He speaks of himself as if he were both wave and sea—simultaneously embracing both. This is the vision of svadhyaya.

December | Tapas

The third Niyama is tapas. The literal translation of this Sanskrit word is fire or heat. The interpretation, in the context of the Yoga Sutras (an authoritative ancient text on yoga, filled with aphorisms outlining the eight limbs of yoga), is self-discipline… dedication… or a fiery determination. Because the aim of a traditional yoga practice is Supreme Awareness - the fiery determination we are talking about here is in relation to elevating awareness.

This aim takes tapas far beyond your yoga mat and into every part of your life. Tapas could be the self-disciplined repetition of a loving-kindness mantra every morning when you wake up. Tapas could look like a dedication to paying attention on purpose when you are listening to your children or husband. Tapas could also be the fiery determination it takes to commit to a regular meditation practice. What does your tapas look like? Take some time this month to ask and test out some possible answers to this question.

One consideration, as you explore, remember that each of the yamas and niyamas contain all of the others. For example when you practice the third niyama, tapas - the first yama, ahimsa (non-violence) is also meant to be there. This keeps our tapas practice dedicated and determined without crossing over into rigid and punishing.

November | Santosha

Santosha is the second Niyama. It’s translated as contentment. A definition of contentment is, a state of happiness or satisfaction. If your interested in experimenting with santosha, you can keep unpacking this definition as a way to create your own understanding and relationship to contentment… What does happiness mean to you? What does a state of satisfaction feel like? In my experience, these questions are not easily answered. And sometimes just asking the questions are enough. Simply asking the questions - with sincere interest and a willingness to be open to the answers - can begin to break open old habits and patterns that stand in the way of contentment. Test it out and see…

October | Saucha

By David Rinaldi

Saucha is the first of the Niyamas from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and is usually translated as ‘Purity’ or ‘Cleanliness’. This can be one of the trickier Niyamas to nail down due to its subjective nature. What is pure? What is clean? How is this measured? This is especially true in Tantra, where all things are viewed as divine. If dirt and clutter are simply different forms of supreme consciousness, how can they be “bad” or “impure”?

Instead of trying to apply arbitrary universal rules of cleanliness and purity, it makes more sense to look within when contemplating Saucha. Rather than things being inherently “good” or “bad”, it’s more appropriate to look at how they affect each person individually.

During yoga and meditation, we are working to detoxify our system and this process goes much faster if we are careful about what we take in on a daily basis. This includes the environment that surrounds us – our home, our workspace, the people we surround ourselves with; our diet – what we eat, what we listen to, what media we consume, the conversations we take part in; and our thoughts – are we constantly thinking negative things about ourselves and others?

Saucha is about creating a sacred environment that supports your spiritual development. As you contemplate your home, your work space, the things you consume, and your thoughts; consider how you can make each one more sacred. Take baby steps. Make the intention to make one thing in your life more sacred every week and commit to keeping it that way. Take the time to observe the effects of each change and use those observations to encourage future changes.

September | Aparigraha

Aparigraha is the last of the five yamas of Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga.

The practice of non-attachment. This is the experiment of the month at Yoga Lab.
As far as I’m concerned this is the practice of circulation and exchange. How often do we hope for something new and fresh to come into our lives without thinking of how we’d clear space for it? How often do we crave change without loosening our grip on expectation?

We can feel how futile this is in the simple act of breathing. Go ahead; take the deepest breath you can. Hold it. Now try to inhale some more. No room.

Now, exhale as completely as you can. Every last bit of air. A fresh inhale avails itself effortlessly. The work was in letting go.

Attachment is sneaky. It can take the innocent form of “preferences,” or more obvious forms like actually holding on to material objects, circumstances, and relationships. In both cases this clutching blocks movement. The natural state of all living things is movement. Come breathe and move with us this September as we do an in depth study of non-attachment and moment-to-moment awareness.  - Cory Nakasue

August | Brahmacharya

The fourth Yama, Brahmacharya, is often translated as abstinence. Abstinence is defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as the practice of abstaining from something the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable. This begs the question, what is the benefit of staying away from something that brings me joy?

When we add another popular translation of Brahmacharya, skillful use of energy, into the picture it helps us answer this question. It's may be less about totally abstaining from things that bring us joy and more about bringing mindfulness to our actions so we don't get confused about what brings us true joy. And caught up in actions that do not. So if I'm practicing Brahmacharya, I'm not mindlessly eating a quart of ice cream, mistakenly thinking it will bring me joy. Instead maybe I'm mindfully taking a walk out in nature? Maybe this would be more skillful use of my energy?

Brahmacharya can be an invitation to pay attention enough to know what actions in our lives bring us true joy. What does true joy look like? This question is a good place to start exploring...

July | Asteya

Asteya commonly translates as non-stealing. Similar to Ahimsa that translates as non-violence, I have a hard time relating to the "non" language. It's easier for me to work with the teaching if it is switched into the positive. For example, Ahimsa as loving kindness instead of non-violence.

As it turns out, non-stealing is not quite so easy to turn into the positive. During our group discussion in class, we talked about compassion and respect being positive aspects of non-stealing. These are both close, but we all agreed, they don't really capture the spirit of non-stealing. When one of our Yoga Lab teacher's Clara Diamond came up with a beautiful and simple definition - a commitment to maintaining balance - most felt like this hit the mark. 

What does non-stealing - a commitment to maintaining balance look like? Some examples are when I'm doing all the talking in a conversation without tuning into the other person in the conversation. This is out of balance. In a way I'm "stealing" this person's time. Or in relation to how I use my own time. If I am always striving to get things just right, I may be missing out on what is happening in the present moment. Reaching for some unattainable goal. Robbing myself of enjoying what's happening right here right now.

Test it out. See what non-stealing means to you.


June EOM | Satya

Satya or "Truth" is the second Yama, or ethical/behavioral obligation.  The five Yamas from Yoga Sutra of Patanjali can support and ground our entire practice through the way we live.  

However, the first Yama is Ahimsa, non-harming.  Have you ever found yourself in a situation where the truth seemed to conflict with desire to "not harm"?  How do we negotiate that conflict?

hope you agree that we need an open mind and heart for this question.  Krishnamacharya said that a yoga mind is a young mind, always questioning always learning.  And there's a lot to learn!  As an old Indian metaphor for truth-seeking has it, we're all like three blind men touching an elephant: one blind man says all elephants are warm and squiggly (like a trunk); the other blind man (at the side) says they are all big and heavy; the last says they're thin and sharp (like a tail).

We're all blind, and yet we're all capable of touching into truth.  Let's just pause and make room for a "slow reveal".  Before we react we may want to pause and remember that we may not be seeing the whole truth just this second. Please notice and take a breath right now.  There. That's a piece of Satya, a small, beautiful piece.  Your own aliveness.

The mind can't fix this problem of only seeing a part, when it longs for a wholeness, a truth that is authentic, broad and embracing.   A big step in our learning in yoga is when we discover that what we're hunting for is not a truth to impose on others, but a personal truth through the "slow reveal" of embodied awareness.  This embodied, authentically experienced truth can bring us as close as possible to purusha, the witness part of our awareness that can see everything and everyone in our life with compassion (karuna) love (maitri) and equanimity (upeksha). When we tap into purusha more and more, we're seeing the whole elephant, and we can support people to tap into their own awareness just by being fully present with love, and with compassion.

So maybe there is no Satya for everyone, except the embodied sense of our inner and social reality, right now, and to act from that place.  To see and be seen as truly as is possible with the context of our own process and other people's process, all held lovingly within our awareness.

-Susanna Nicholson 



May EOM | Ahimsa

One way to explore yamas is to apply the framework as a way of approaching, interacting, and moving throughout the world. We can use yamas as gentle reminders to bring awareness to how we are approaching challenges, situations, and people. Ahimsa is the first yama.

April EOM | Ishvara Pranidhana

Ishvara Pranidhana can be defined as surrender to the Divine. A good starting point is simply to consider surrender without adding the element of the Divine in just yet. When I first began studying the Yoga Sutras I can remember being averse to this teaching of surrender.

March Experiment of the Month | Svadhyaya

Svadhyaya | Self-study

In any given day we have countless thoughts that cross the mind.  Many times for me they are so rapid that the individual thoughts merge into a pattern and these patterns can play on repeat. 

February Experiment of the Month 2 | Tapas

I started off this month’s experiment knowing that I don’t want to repeat my usual pattern of setting up a rigid expectation for myself. In my experience, all changes must come from within. Internal shifts and rearrangements then ripple outwards - my task is to allow myself to be moved, to be changed.

February Experiment of the Month | Tapas

Our Experiment of the Month for February is the third Niyama, “Tapas.” Literally, this word means “to heat” or “to cleanse,” and is sometimes translated as “austerity” or “discipline.” For our experiment, we can also look at this principle as “Determined and Consistent Practice.”

January Experiment of the Month | Santosha

January’s experiment of the month at Mudita lab was Santosha, which can be translated as contentment. Santosha is deep stuff! A blog post can’t truly do it justice but if you didn’t get a chance to take part in the exploration with us, perhaps this bite will inspire you to check it out for yourself. I highly recommend it.

July Focus of the Month | Ahimsa

In July we begin a 10 month study of the Yamas and Niyamas. There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas, so we will spend a month on each.

June Focus of the Month | Expansion

    When you meditate you realize we all belong to one single space. The space is home for all of us in which all the worlds exist, no matter how many worlds exist we don’t know.

June Focus of the Month | Expansion

We just started talking about EXPANSION and already so many questions and thoughts have come up. Things like... considering the balance between expansion and contraction... is empathy expansion or contraction or both?... If I am going to expand, first I need to locate myself... Is meditation expansive? This month is going to be interesting!

April Focus of the Month | Mind Your Own Business #2

We covered a lot of ground with this FOM. Starting with some resistance to the mantra "Mind Your Own Business". Many people had a reaction, feeling like it was harsh or scolding based on their past experience with this phrase. After some time I got reports of this old pattern dissolving and an opportunity for thoughtful contemplation arising.