To wrap up the Niyama theme we have been working with over the past five weeks, students were reminded of all five- Sauca, Samtosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Isvarapranidhana, with a brief description of each. (See prior weeks’ entries for fuller discussions on each.) But when we try to cultivate behaviours to strengthen a particular Niyama, invariably others are drawn in too, as they are different aspects of an overall approach to help us better understand ourselves and our connection to every one and every thing. They help us to polish the opaque lens we often view life through. This in turn assists us in cultivating the Yamas in our daily lives. Both feed into and strengthen each other.
Day by day, very small and incremental changes to our attitudes, reflections, and behaviours have the power to make quite profound changes to our lives- and the lives of those around us. Our capacity to connect to others grows, and with it a greater sense of peace and joy.
It was lovely to observe this in class last night as students worked with Asta Vakrasana arm balance- we have been working with it this term. They have overcome fear and discouragement as they gradually learn where they are going with the pose, and the steps along the way that will bring them there. They repeatedly dusted themselves off and tried again- laughing, helping, and supporting each other. Brilliant!
This week once again returns to Isvarapranidhana, being the last of the Niyamas. (See postings for first two weeks of October for further discussion). It increasingly becomes clear that individual acts we take, perhaps with one Niyama in mind, will also naturally encompass many of the others. Sounds like a good theme for next week!
I found inspiring thoughts for the fourth Niyama, Svadhyaya in a Yoga Journal article by Gary Krafstow- link provided for those interested. http://www.yogajournal.com/article/philosophy/polishing-the-mirror/.
Before class started, a student spoke of the idea of the masks we wear, the issues we can encounter when we face up to this and perhaps the support we need in this process. This was before she even knew of the theme for class, which tied in very nicely indeed! Funny how that sometimes happens.
With the aspect of Svadhyaya as Self-study, we can use this to reveal those distorted images of who we are- masks, if you like- that we and others have created over time, to try to uncover the essence of who we really are and more importantly what we have the potential to become.
The article has interesting things to say about how the behaviour of friends and family can provide a mirror for us- if we are brave enough to look.
Taking Svadhyaya onto our mats for class emphasised trying to find fresh perspective with each and every asana and each breath within it- discovering something new- with the body, breath, mind, attitude. So trying to break the auto pilot mode we can get ourselves into. There were lots of heart opening, back bending asanas where students might be challenged by strength and stamina, by their perception of what they think they should be able to do vs. the reality of what they can do at this moment. The choices are there for them to take responsibility for their practice. I guess in the days that follow, their bodies will let them know if they got it right!
So what do Tapas and forward bending have in common? This week's classes are working with the third Niyama, Tapas. I am using the aspect of fiery determination, to face up to challenges honestly, without ego. Students are encouraged at the start to select an aspect of their practice they find challenging- e.g. strength, flexbility, focus, attitude, stillness, anything else- and try to find ways of challenging themselves in this area without taking it too far. Finding their own edge wth focus and detemination.
And to help them along, I included many forward bends, as generally, these seem to challenge quite a few students. This week straight legs are the priority. The discipline comes in limiting torso movement to keep quality spine alignment, not rounding the back- a real challenge for the ego! We are working with a variety of poses to connect with the sensation of pelvic tilt vs. back rounding, and sometimes working with closed eyes to help FEEL the movement, where your body needs to be vs. where you want it to be. Surely there are some life lessons in there somewhere! Just keep breathing...
This week I am working in my classes with the next Niyama, Samtosha (contentment). Once more, an opportunity for me to do some reading around it and get inspired. I enjoyed some of the comments in http://www.yogaglo.com/blog/2013/01/the-niyamas-samtosha/ which I condensed and paraphrased for sharing with the class. Here is the link to the article in case you are interested.
For the class, I am asking students to consider, when they are executing a challenging asana, where are they carrying unnecessary tension (often face, neck, shoulders) and what mental attitude are they taking with them? What about when the pose is less challenging- what is the mental attitude here, has focus been maintained, what about holding tension now- same, different? All trying to hone that habit and skill of checking in with yourself, and non-judgementally observing what is going on, if it needs changing, and how to start that change. A few things to take away and practice off the mat!
Where has the week gone?! Well, before it is truly, over, just a few comments on this weeks theme. I have turned to the Niyamas, more specifically, Sauca- purity, cleanliness. So the asana work contained quite a few twists, which provides gentle massage and flushing through of nutrient rich blood for the organs, as well as working core and other muscles. Reading through comments on Sauca, I particularly liked those from the following website, which I read from in my classes. Here is the link if you are interested: http://www.karmacology.com/2007/08/sauca-purity-of-body-and-mind.html. Enjoy!
Still finding much inspiration with "Heart of Yoga". This week's theme touches on the many paths of yoga and how they all lead us to the same place- samadhi. Desikachar's closing line in this chapter is interesting.. "If we really follow one direction in yoga as far as we can go, then it will lead us along all paths of yoga.
The focus for classes this week draws from the 3 aspects of Kriya yoga- tapas (e.g. asana, pranayama) together with Svadyaya (inquisitiveness, self discovery) and ... yep, Isvarapranidhana again! Quality of action rather than desire for outcome. So in class we move between dynamic movement, holds, and moments of stillness for self inquiry. Were there moments of union of body, breath and mind? Were we present with the action and not the outcome (or end!)- even during a challenging balance? Observing our mind takes training, especially to do this with equanimity.
New week, new theme...or not! Still immersed in Isvarapranidhana within the Heart of Yoga book. This week touched on the obstacles to yoga mentioned in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Desikachar advises creating space for ourselves and our mind. So this week's classes are emphasing the aspect of space in the asana work as well as in our mind as we work through sometimes quite challenging poses. I am asking students to consider how they may need to modify the full expression of the pose to keep space and retain the spirit of the pose. And as always, what opportunities are there to take this off the mat and into our lives?
I recently dipped into TKV Desikachar's Heart of Yoga, and found myself reading about Isvarapranidhana. I have been using it this week for my class theme, working with this idea of renouncing our desire for the fruits of our actions. Rather, valuing the spirit and quality with which we act, directing our energy and attention there. The rest will simply take care of itself. A great focus for our practice which we can take with us when we leave the mat, and little by little, hopefully start living it.
I recently started to post weekly to Facebook my Yoga theme for the week's classes. This gives students a chance to read through it afterwards as well as making it available to all.
Having now created a Blog Page on my Website, I thought it would be nice to kick off with a catch up of those themes on Facebook to date. If all goes according to plan (which is not a certainty!) then going forward, new posts here should also appear in Facebook. Fingers crossed!
Ruth is a yoga therapist and yoga teacher based in Cheltenham, UK. She emphasises yoga as a tool for well-being, for individuals and in her classes, in person or via zoom.