patanjali’s yoga guidelines
Published: 16-08-2012 - Last Edited: 14-11-2022
Those of us who’ve fallen in love with yoga know full well how it begins to consume our thoughts and our world. And, in the beginning, it can be hard to know how to feed our obsession and bring the joy we feel through yoga into our daily experience. Well, luckily, there are 3 simple guidelines we can follow. These guidelines come from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (sutra 2.1)
1. Cultivating Tapas
The first step in staying engaged as a yogi is to cultivate tapas. Directly translated, tapas means “to burn.” The indication here is that we turn up the fire of our discipline and we engage in our practice on a consistent basis. In several other places in this important yogic text (The Yoga Sutra), practice is defined as something that we do regularly over a long period of time. And discipline, or tapas, is a follow-up on this particular directive that encourages us to allow our practice to simmer until we are fully cooked, like Rumi’s famous chickpea.
The best way to do this is to keep up with a daily practice. This is easy for those of us who have the luxury of rolling out of bed and into a yoga studio on a daily basis, but what about those of us with limited time and budgets? Well, there are a myriad of resources out there to help us successfully stay engaged with yoga on a daily basis. There are YouTube videos, podcasts, DVDs such as Sadie Nardini, Ashley Turner and Kino MacGregor and many more you can find on line. All of these outlets are designed to support you in bringing your practice home and turning up the flame.
2. Knowing yourself or Svadhyaya
The second step in becoming a yogi is getting to know yourself. In the text, it’s called “self-study” or svadhyaya. But, we have to be clear about what part of ourselves we’re studying! This isn’t an intimate look at the ego or what we project out into the world. And it isn’t a way to start making excuses for ourselves by saying things like, “Oh, it’s just the way I am.” In fact, this is just the opposite. This kind of study entails taking a look at the substrate underneath the ego and the mind and discovering the foundation, or core of our being. What a yogi might call the higher self, soul or atman. The study of this actually gives us ultimate freedom to transform our outer trappings so we can be any way we want to be and walk in the world from a place of authenticity.
A good, simple way to engage in svadhyaya is to start training yourself to listen to the still, small voice inside. Not the one that speaks in sentences or raises it’s voice in protest to challenges, but the one that says “yes” to what you know is right, or what you feel lights a spark in your soul. It’s the voice that will sometimes speak only in a subtle feeling of clarity or relief… the voice we rarely pay attention to. When we give it more credence, then we’re really living our yoga.
3. Give it all away
The third step is to give it all away. Yep, all of it. I don’t mean your gold watch and your summer house… though, I suppose you could if you were feeling particularly generous for some reason. Rather, I mean your weakness, struggle, doubt and self-loathing. The term for this is Isvara pranidhana and literally translated, means “to give your life-force to a higher power.” There is no investment on yoga’s part as to what your higher power is – you could be a devotee of any faith, a believer of none or a lover of the earth. All that is fine, but whatever makes your heart tick – whatever you pray to at night – that can also be a receptacle for all that holds you back from the true freedom that is your birthright.
If we can follow these three guidelines, we can live like a yogi in the modern day world. It can be (as Mark Whitwell would say) “a non-obsessive, daily practice.” Like brushing our teeth or writing a thank-you letter, we engage in our yoga practice in order to make our world, our mind and our hearts more peaceful.
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