Swami Satchidananda was once asked by a student, “There are times when I feel very deep loneliness that no friend, family member or lover can seem to satisfy. Do you ever get lonely like that?”
Satchidananda replied, “If you depend on anything or anybody outside you to be a companion, it is impossible to have that companion always with you. Even if another person wants to be with you always, he or she cannot. We come alone, and we go alone. Don’t depend on outside company. Even as you are coming and going, there is always another there—your own spirit, your own Self or the God within you.”
When we rely on things, people, or experiences outside of ourselves to make us happy, we are seting ourselves up for failure. True equanimity comes from being independent of the comings and goings of the outside world. The minute we cling to something or someone we create little mind fluctuations that cause suffering. The key to gaining control over those fluctuations is to understand what lies underneath those thoughts.
Our thoughts may be pure, positive, and virtuous, and move us toward enlightenment.
Or, as is the case for most of us mere mortals, our thoughts can impede our path toward enlightenment by creating a mental field of suffering caused by the Kleshas (obstacles or afflictions of the mind).
So What Are The Kleshas?
The five Kleshas are:
Some of the Kleshas afflict us on a daily basis at a subtle level and others can be overwhelming and cause great suffering. The Kleshas stop us from fully enjoying life, from being truly present in the now, and from having a sense of freedom. Unlike pain—an uncomfortable physical, mental, or emotional experience—suffering is the state of being caught up in your situation and identifying with it as an aspect of your being. Therefore, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.
All of human suffering can be attributed to one of the five Kleshas. All causes of suffering are contained within the first Klesha (Avidya). When you remember your true identity as pure spirit (and not as the physical body):
How Do We Overcome the Kleshas?
This is where meditation comes in. In meditation, the mind can be fixed on one thought. That concentration on one thought or one point literally transforms the mind by allowing it to flow undisturbed from thought to thought. Once the mechanism that produces the detrimental, harmful or damaging activities of the mind is eliminated, your thoughts are no longer afflicted. The underlying obstacles, the Kleshas, are removed and we realize our true nature.
To transcend the first Klesha and, thus, the remaining four, the Yoga Sutras give this guidance.
Sutra 2.10 states, “In their subtle form, these obstacles can be destroyed by resolving them back into their original cause.” This means if we eradicate the first Klesha (Avidya) we can become self-realized/liberated. Through yoga the Kleshas become less and less active until they reach the subtle form. However, remember even the subtle form can be triggered back to the active state-think about all the fallen gurus in recent memory whose Kleshas came back roaring.
Sutra 2.11 states, “In the active state, they can be destroyed by meditation.” Think of it this way-Sutra 2.10 is for the already “advanced” meditating yogi and Sutra 2.11 is for the rest of us-the yogis that are embarking on the path to liberation. Meditation is moving away from a life of suffering and is the key that unlocks this prison by returning you to the state of knowledge of who you are.
Everything in the physical world is impermanent and ever changing. Friends are not permanent. Our physical body isn’t permanent. A job isn’t permanent. Money isn’t permanent…and the list goes on.
What is permanent…your True Self.
Swami Satchidananda. The Golden Present. 1987. Integral Yoga Publications.
As many of you know, I’m a big Yama-s and Niyama-s fan. They totally ROCK!! I personally think that if more people practiced them, the world would be a better place for it.
So here is my brief take on them.
Once upon a time, in land far away Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras. They are 196 aphorisms or “threads” that form the foundation of Raja Yoga. According to the Yoga Sutras, the end goal of yoga is the liberation from all worldly suffering, habitual conditionings and the cycle of birth and death. Liberation occurs by removing the clouds of spiritual ignorance by cultivating practices that bring contentment and non-attachment. Through this process, the individual comes to know the pure consciousness of his/her/their being.
It’s in the second book of the Yoga Sutras (Sadhana Pada) that Patanjali lays out all the details on how to actually do this whole attaining Liberation thing. It’s called YOGA and there are two forms.
It’s Ashtanga Yoga that most of us mere mortals practice. Since most of us can’t jump right into Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga is the step-by-step method. Think of Kriya Yoga as a marathon and Ashtanga Yoga as one of the those “Learn to Run” apps. Baby steps!!
The first two limbs of Ashtanga are the Yama-s and Niyama-s.
So, what is a Yama?
These are the codes of conduct or moral restraint. They are the attitudes towards your environment. They are oriented toward public behavior and allow us to exist harmoniously with others. They are the principles outlining how you treat others and the world around you…and there are 5 of these principles.
A. Ahimsa (non-harming). To apply Ahimsa to daily life is to practice non-harming of any creature in feelings, thoughts, words or deeds/actions. According to T.K.V. Desikachar, Ahimsa is “consideration for all living things, especially those who are innocent, in difficulty, or worse off than we are”.
B. Satya (Truthfulness). You can demonstrate Satya through right communication-telling no lies and be truthful in your feelings, thoughts, words and deeds.
C. Asteya (Non-stealing). You should not covet what others possess. Most of us perceive the universe as lacking abundance, which causes desire for things that are not ours.
D. Brahmacharya (Continence). We can apply Brahmacharya by having moderation in all actions. Through moderation, you can live your life’s purpose instead of endlessly pursuing fleeting pleasures.
E. Aparigraha (Non-accumulation). Aparigraha is the ability to accept only what is appropriate. It is freedom from “collecting” rooted in jealousy of others.
And that leads us to the Niyama-s…and there are 5 of them as well.
These are the internal commitments, responsibilities and disciplines we make to ourselves. The Niyama-s outline how we treat ourselves.
A. Saucha (Cleaniness). To apply Saucha, you must practice the five yama-s which clear away negative physical and mental states of being and protect the purity and sanctity of the energy around you.
B. Santosha (Contentment). You can cultivate Santosha by finding happiness with what you have and who you are, seeking happiness in the moment, taking responsibility for where you are and choose to grow from there.
C. Tapas (Self-Discipline). Tapas is the removal of impurities that allows your body to function more efficiently.
D. Svadhyaya (Study). Education changes your outlook on life and facilities healthy thoughts that enable you to understand your weaknesses and strengths.
E. Ishvarapranidhana (Surrender to cosmic intelligence). Ishvarapranidhana is manifesting a desire to be less self-centered by aiming at higher goals.
So how do I apply these to my life?
Professionally as a yoga therapist, the Yama-s and Niyama-s play a central role in my scope of practice. I frame all my yoga therapy sessions with compassion for my client because everything else flows from the first one on the list-Ahimsa. I also often have discussions with clients on how to incorporate the Yama-s and Niyama-s into their daily lives in order to help achieve their goals. For example, I may ask a client to journal on how to find and maintain the balance of effort (Tapas) and contentment (Santosha). We’ve all been here-you try to force things (not content with the progress) and end up doing harm (causing an injury or pain).
How do you cultivate the Yama-s and Niyama-s is your personal and professional life?
Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions International: Vermont.
Sri Swami Satchidananda. (2012). The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Integral Yoga Publications: Buckingham, VA.
Swami Karunananada. (2016). Swami Satchidananda-Yogaville Ashram Raja Teacher Training Manual [Lecture Notes and manual].
I was once hired at a recreation center for a class called “All Levels Hatha Yoga”. The core group had been taking this class for a year. I soon realized they had never been taught alignment, pranayama...well, let's just say, they pretty much hadn't really been taught anything "yoga" in the course of the year. They were also all over 60 years old. Not surprisingly, I had to teach with a lot of modifications and props.
After nine months, a director (a non-yoga instructor) takes my class (they develop a performance assessment based on one class) for my yearly appraisal. A week later, we have my performance discussion.
Director: You do this weird breathing thing that I’ve never seen.
Me: You mean pranayama? No other yoga teacher here does pranayama? So, I then explained what pranayama was and why I have the class do it.
Director: We advertise this as a Hatha Yoga class. Why are you not linking breath to movement?
Me: Do you know what Hatha Yoga means? So I explained Hatha, Vinyasa, etc. and the differences between styles.
Director: Why don’t you use modifications like other instructors?
Me: The poses are already "modified" to the level of the students. I don’t show them the hardest version and then modify down-that’s demoralizing.
Director: You need to make the class harder, so more students come.
Me: So, the students you have are not important and you would rather I drive them out of the recreation center in order to increase numbers. It sounds like you want young students and don’t value your older students. You also understand that if I make it harder-your current students will get hurt, right?
And so the discussion went….which leads me lead this crazzzy concept called ETHICS!
There are certain values that informed my decision-making in this particular situation. They include:
What Where My Options:
So What Did I Do?
Based on my professional and personal ethics which are ultimately framed and defined by the yama-s and niyama-s, I could not stay in a place with that type of moral and ethical compass. I gave notice and I quit.
I use the yama-s and niyama-s daily in my professional and personal life. They guide me in developing classes and therapeutic offerings that are non-harming, truthful, honest and informed. I always put the student or client first and meet him/her/them where they are on the yoga journey. This has always included making my services adaptable and accessible both physically and financially.
How do the yama-s and niyama-s frame your daily life?
What ethics or values do you hold dear? Personally or Professionally?
How do you handle a situation when someone crosses those boundaries?
Albert Camus: "A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world."
Sadhana (Spiritual Practice) means "methodical discipline to attain desired knowledge". Sadhana encourages the practitioner, known as the sadhaka, to use self-discipline in order to achieve power over the ego (to find relief from suffering). Sadhana enables the practitioner to attain peace and maintain a connection with universal oneness. In other words, Sadhana is our personal, daily yoga practice.
With a personal, daily yoga practice, we continually realign the inner self, slowly progressing toward Samadhi. Although Sadhana is centered around a spiritual "goal" (Samadhi), achieving Samadhi is not the intent. Sadhana is used to cultivate discipline and non-attachment. If we focus on the end goal, we bring the ego into the practice which creates suffering--What, I didn't achieve Samadhi? WTF?
Instead the key way to control a restless mind/ego and reduce suffering is to do the right action (Sadhana) for the pure sake of doing the right action. Sadhana is practiced for the sake of maintaining a practice.
Once again the Yoga Sutras explains it!! Patanjali writes about Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya (non-attachment) in Sutras 1.12-16. "These mental modifications are restrained by practice and non-attachment (1.12)". More specifically, "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break, and in all earnestness (1.14)."
So how do we get to Samadhi? Practice, Practice, Practice!...but with non-attachment. Easy Peasy! Yeah Right!
Ideas For Developing A Personal, Daily Practice
Your personal practice time doesn't need to be long. Start with 15 minutes a day. When and if you have more time, you can practice longer.
You Do You
What type of practice speaks to you? Meditation, asana (postures), malas, chanting, pranayama (breathing techniques), prayer, jnana yoga, guided visualization, Yoga Nidra, etc.
Pick one! Pick them all!
Show up at the same place and the same time every day. If you miss a day, don't fret. Start where you left off and reboot the next day.
Make It Special
Think about where you practice. Will it:
Props and Apps
Have props handy. Everyday is different and our bodies will need different support. One day you may be meditating on a floor cushion and the next day, as Shakira would say, the "hips don't lie"-it's all about meditating in a chair.
You can also check out my Guide on Yoga Props for helpful ideas.
Having an Accountability Buddy may be helpful of using a Meditation App like Insight Timer.
As you age, evolve on the path, and are exposed to different teachings, your practice will likely change. What needs to stay and what needs to change?
As you develop a personal, daily practice consider:
But It Doesn't End There
Because Sadhana is the surrendering of the ego, anything that is practiced with awareness, discipline and the intention of spiritual growth can be considered Sadhana. After we leave the yoga mat, we can continue to do the right action for the sake of doing the right action.
How do we do that? According to the Bhagavad Gita, there are Three Paths of Yoga:
Karma Yoga (hands) Action: Volunteer Time and Money
Bhakti Yoga (heart) Devotion: Attend Kirtans or Pujas
Jnana Yoga (brain) Knowledge: Read or Attend Lectures
What ways to incorporate Karma, Bhakti and Jnana Yoga into your life?
How I Incorporate Sadhana Into My Life
As a yoga instructor, Sadhana is my "walking the walk." Sadhana makes me a better instructor as well as empowers me on my path of self-realization. Currently, most mornings I roll out the ol' yoga mat, and do some pranayama and meditation. I like to keep it simple. Sometimes in the evenings, I might do Yoga Nidra. My goal this year is to incorporate more asana into my Sadhana since in recent years I have strayed away from it (and once again-the ever widening HIPS don't lie!).
I also incorporate other elements into my personal, daily practice. They add stability and grounding to my routine. They include:
Additionally, I volunteer as a yoga teacher for a local church and military base (COVID has put a damper on my Karma Yoga, unfortunately) as well as donate money, resources, and time to various community organizations (a local Montessori school, animal welfare organizations, homeless support organizations, and food banks). These activities are a huge part of my Sadhana because they keep me grounded, and remind me of what is truly important in life. I may not reach Samadhi but at least someone will have a warm meal tonight with their family.
Over time, my Sadhana has evolved and I expect it to continue as I age and as the world around me changes. Showing up for my practice, doing my Sadhana, is showing up for myself and others. Swami Satchidananda said it best, "Spiritual practice is not what you are doing, but what you are thinking. Remember that."
What are some ways you can take Sadhana out into the world and make it a way of life?
Jack Benny-"How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, Practice, Practice"
Swami Satchidananda The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Integral Yoga Publications 2012
Eknath Easwaran The Bhagavad Gita Nilgiri Press 2007
Shakira, Omar Alfanno, LaTavia Parker, & Vinay Rao "Hips Don't Lie" 2006
I AM Boundless Bliss Yoga. Just me. I'm a one-lady band. I'm a yoga therapist. I didn't start out to be a yoga therapist, I just wanted to learn more and SHAAAZZAMM...here I am.