Following on from my previous blog, I aim to explore the modern application of the Niyamas (the second, of the eight limbs of Yoga). The Niyamas are five spiritual principles that if followed, allow us to better live with ourselves. This blog will act as a "how to" guide for incorporating these guidelines into your life. I will draw from my own practice, how I apply them in my classroom/studio environment and in the wider community.
The first of the Niyamas is Saucha, this is the principle of purity and cleanliness. In the most literal sense, I apply the principle of Saucha into my life with basic hygiene habits. This is not a challenge, as I am already very hygienic and must adhere to this principle as I am in Lululemon lycra and swimwear everyday. Showering every morning and brushing my teeth is a non-negotiable, not just for my own cleanliness but also for the sake of my students. No one wants to smell morning breath as the teacher hovers over your face for a Savasana head massage. I can thank my Dad, Yannis for this. He is a Dentist and has helped me form impeccable teeth brushing habits. Yannis also taught me the saying “I’m going to shower, shit and shave”…brilliant. I feel as if this sums up Saucha to a T! But apart from the obvious practices mentioned above there are other ways to purify the body and the mind.
The principle of Saucha (cleanliness and purity) is achieved through my own personal Yoga practice. The Asanas (postures) tone my body and release toxins and impurities, Pranayama (regulation of breath) cleanses my lungs, draws in fresh oxygen and releases carbon dioxide and lastly Dhyana (meditation) cleanses my mind of disturbing thoughts and helps me to focus. I ensure that I “do a little bit, a lot” (Kirsten, 2015) to purify and cleanse my body regularly but still practicing Ahimsa (non-violence) and not over doing it, a lesson it has taken me a very long time to learn.
Saucha can also be applied in my personal practice by regulating what I consume or ingest. Mum and I try to cook up a mostly vegetarian diet and now having learnt a little more about the traditional Indian natural health system, Ayurveda we are keen to eat a bit more consciously. B.K.S Iyengar (1918) states “food should be taken to promote health, strength, energy and life, it should be simple, nourishing, juicy and soothing. Avoid foods which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy and unclean” (p.37)… so FML it says “burning” in there, we all know this means Chilli… and I’d go through all the ring sting in the world to keep eating Chilli, but I guess if that’s the worst thing I put into my body then I’m doing ok.
What I found most interesting and life changing was regulating what I injest intellectually, and purifying my mind. In my own practice this refers to what I watch on TV, what I listen to and what books and magazines I read. I know my brother Ntouma would kill me if he knew I was watching “Georgie Shore” or “Keeping up with the Kardashians” I love them, they’re hilarious and who wouldn’t want to watch a program where the girls confess that “all of a sudden ‘is finger’s were in me fanny” but I must admit I do always feel guilty afterwards. I have now made a conscious effort to not consume any “junk” of this kind. I don’t read fashion magazines or gossip magazines unless they are at the Dentist…I shall have a word to my Father about the Junk he is feeding his patients (intellectually).
If I do watch TV, it is only ever the Lifestyle channel or the Food Channel. They fuel my creative fire and give me idea’s for cooking and building my dream of fully self-sustainable farm and wellness retreat down the south west of WA. For those interested in where I draw my inspiration from here is a list of my favourites:
Portrait artist of the Year - http://www.lifestyle.com.au/tv/portrait-artist-of-the-year/)
The Cook and the Chef with Maggie Beer and Simon Bryant - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/the-cook-and-the-chef/
River Cottage - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/river-cottage-autumn/
George Clark’s Amazing spaces - http://www.channel4.com/programmes/george-clarkes-amazing-spaces
Rick Stein - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/rick-steins-food-heroes-xmas/
Jamie Oliver - http://www.lifestylefood.com.au/tv/jamie-at-home-christmas/
On the road to reducing the junk that I consume, I made it a personal goal of mine to not listen to any commercial radio stations as of Decemebr 2013, the music is in my belief nonsense and the advertisements are infuriating. Now a year down the track I have stuck to my goal and am now a huge Triple J fan and haven’t looked back since. I often look forward to Thursday mornings with Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki; I listen to “hack” in the afternoons and very much look forward to “like a version” on Friday mornings.
The principle of Sauca can be applied in my classroom by providing my students with a clean and clear space that helps them feel at ease and calm. Cleaning the floors, stacking equipment and making sure shoes and bags are left outside the studio ensures the space is safe and clean. In terms of applying Sauca to the larger community, I would lead by example and walk the talk. I have made it my intention to pick up any rubbish I see on the street. By doing my bit to clean up our wider community, hopefully this catches on. In saying that, I saw a used Bandaid on the grass at Cottesloe beach today and couldn’t pick up…working progress.
The second of the Niyamas is Santosha and I believe this one to be the most challenging. It refers to inner contentment, where one no longer feels anything lacking in their life; they have no wants or desires. In my own practice I use this discipline to help me accept where I am right now and not wishing to be somewhere else. I feel like I am on a huge spiritual journey to find my Dharma (passion in life/calling), however I constantly feel hamstrung. For example, I am half way through my University degree in Secondary Education and Drama studies. I find myself in a state of impatience as I constantly wish for it to be complete so I that I can start to live and breathe it NOW. When I voiced this with Mumsy earlier this week she said to me that my impatience has always been an issue, and was the main reason for dummy spits when I was younger…“But I want an Oomper Loomper NOW DADDY” (Dahl, 1964). So for me, I can practice Santosha by setting my intention every morning to “be content with where I am, for I believe that I am in exactly the right place at the right time, and I will open my heart up to the loving energy of the universe to guide me where I need to go, when I need to go there”. And funnily enough, this settles my anxieties.
I recently had a session with our Philosophy teacher Swami Pujan at Byron Yoga Centre. We focused on the principle of Santosha and my hamstring injury. I have so much anger towards my injury, “I hate it” when really I should love my body and show it compassion. I also should be grateful for it. It is my body telling me to slow down, so thank you body I know and I am trying! It also means I now know everything there is to know about sciatica, the sciatic nerve, tendinopathy and tendonitis, every adjustment and contraindication for every pose that stretches or works the hamstrings. So, in my class I can show empathy to students who have an injury in the hamstring. A more positive application of Santosha would be showing gratitude for every other part of my body that is working brilliantly. My beautiful strong legs still get me from A to B, and if a ferocious Lion came running down the street right at me, I’d still be able to run away, so I am bloody grateful for THAT!
The principle of Santosha can be applied in my classroom environment when I communicate to students that they need not look at what others are achieving in the class and wanting or longing for that strength or flexibility. Allowing my students to be content with their own practice, their own levels and where they are. Santosha refers to self-love and being authentically content with exactly where you are now.
Applying the principle of Santosha to the community would be living by example, showing self-love and compassion to myself hopefully will encourage others to do the same. I’m not sure if this is the right space to put this in but I am going to go for it anyway, boys read carefully, you’ll LOVE this. I recently learnt about Menstruation and Yoga, and why in certain poses they contraindicate for women menstruating. Many of us I am sure are confused as to why, what will happen to me if I do? Of course it makes sense that if you are menstruating you don’t want to tip upside down incase your uterus falls out…obviously??? HAH! But seriously, from what I understood, standing on your head, inverting, twisting and working the abdominals from a scientific level won’t cause any disruption to your body or your menstrual cycle. BUT, many of us will agree that when we are on our “moon cycle” (we shall call it today) we don’t feel like doing a dynamic class, tipping upside down or working our core. When we are menstruating “Relaxin” is released into our bodies which literally gives us a back ache, we feel weak, we’re emotional and it’s the perfect time for us to practice Santosha by listening to your body and honouring the downward flow of energy (Apana). Empowering yourself to make your own choices about how you practice at that time is an example of practicing Santosha. If women have around 350 periods in our whole lifetime would you rather feel self-loved, content and empowered or let it be the bane of your existence? Disclaimer alert: There is the exception for those of us who have extremely painful periods or endometriosis, this of course is a different story and I am blown away by your strength.
The third of the Niyamas is Tapas, this is a wide variety of appetizers, or snacks, in Spanish cuisine. In Greek culture we call it “Mezze”, they may be cold (such as mixed olives and cheese) or hot (meatballs, or fried seafood). Tapas however in Yogic philosophy relates to a burning desire to achieve a definite goal in life. In my personal practice I can apply Tapas quite easily as I have a huge drive to get out of bed and “GET SHIT DONE”. However, there are often times when I go into sloth-mode and want to re-watch Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone all the way through to The Deathly Hollows Part II and I mean, even to achieve that requires some serious Tapas. Alas, this is not what the principle is encouraging.
For me to generate Tapas in my personal life I require a “to do list”, short term and long-term goals and time to write my intentions. I have set a personal goal to get up at 4.30am every morning, have a shower and make a cup of warm water and lemon, meditate and practice Pranayama (regulation of the breath/vital life force energy) and then do a small amount of necessary Asanas to begin my day. That is already at play, I spent some time in Manly over the weekend to see an old friend and this made me realize that there are times when this practice is inappropriate and darn right anti-social. I am now back in Perth and I am going to “Tapas the shit out of that intention”.
In my classroom I can apply the principle of Tapas by showing gratitude to those who didn’t press the snooze button and got onto their mat for a 6am class. Another way of incorporating Tapas into my class would be to allow my students time to set an intention before their practice, and then when they are moving through their practice talk to that intention. The principle of Tapas must be balanced with Ahimsa (non-violence), you may have an intention and a passionate drive to achieve something amazing, but you must not harm the body or others to achieve it. On the flip side, you may have a driving desire to show self-love, and that in it self is Ahimsa, and awe find the two working in unison.
In the wider community I feel any large group coming together to GET SHIT DONE is an example of Tapas. I have a driving desire to bring the community together to do Yoga (all aspects of it) for charity and interweaving the Philosophy in there with a special guest that Phoebe (@to_yoke) and myself are hoping to bring over. So if you are interested in something like that then let me know and let’s make a big tapas tasting plate of all aspects of Yoga for the community to enjoy!
The fourth of the Niyamas is Svadhyaya, which refers to study of all kinds but in particular, self-study. In terms of my own personal practice I interpret the principle of Svadhyaya as always having a beginners mind, and always being the student. No one has learnt everything, and if you think you have, then you have much to learn! The principle of Svadhyaya resonates with me strongly as I am always enrolling myself into something new. I have completed a degree in Marketing and Public relations, then travelled to London where I completed my Certificate III in Fitness, then back to Perth to complete my Studio Pilates training and Les Mills Body balance training, then enrolled in another 4 year degree in Drama Studies and Secondary Education, and more recently completing my 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training at Byron Yoga Centre, and it won’t stop there.
My mentor once told me;
“In the course of your lifetime you will be tempted to hold on to what is, when in fact what is, is only a temporary phase, that evolves immediately into what was. So we have to bend and flex around each new circumstance; as rigidity robs us of the opportunity to see new possibilities”.
In order to truly embrace our roles as students of life we have to cultivate the ability to move easily from knowingness to not knowingness, which in turn moves us from master to student again and again. Yogaworx in Perth really embody this mentality of a “beginners mind” or “student mindset”. They apply the principle of Svadhyaya to the classroom and the wider community by bringing Yoga instructors from all over the globe to teach at their studio. It creates a space where we are all learning together.
And lastly, Isvara Pranidhana the fifth of the Niyamas. This is a difficult principle to explain but I interpret it as surrendering to the Divine (whatever, or whoever you believe that to be). It could be a softening or acknowledging that all creation and all that is, is in the hands of some greater force, but really it is quite personal and depends on your beliefs. In terms of my own personal practice Isvara Pranidhana encourages me to surrender in Savasana after my morning practice. There are so many people I have witnessed that used to leave class before Savasana, I won’t do this anymore, but I also won’t judge those that do. The principle of Isvara Pranidhana can be applied by observing the beauty of nature and realize that there is so much more out there than your little bubble. I find that time when I am under water and most definitely watching a sunset or sunrise. It is those times that I feel most connected to the Divine and realize I am not the centre of this Universe… who would’ve thought!
To apply Isvara Pranidhana to the wider community and into to my classroom I would use a universal language that relates to us all. Instead of speaking about “surrendering to the divine”, which could mean nothing but a bunch of woo woo to a student in your class, we can explore gratitude instead. Everyone has something to be grateful for.
While there are so many applications and interpretations of these spiritual guidelines, this blog is a way of bringing them to fruition in our modern day lives. I would love to hear any feedback or questions that you have with regards to what I have explored, and if anyone would like to collaborate to bring the philosophy back into our society give me a tinkle!
Kirsten, M.(2014). Yoga for Grownups. Retrieved from: http://www.yogaforgrownups.com/
Dahl, R. (1964). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Penguin Books: UK.