I’m picking up from where I left off in my last article about Navtej, a yogi in Delhi who I shared a conversation with before leaving India to return home. His classical training and deep roots into the philosophy of Yoga are winding around a palpable urgency to ‘turn Yoga on its head’. After 35 years of teaching, he talks about coming to a place of agitation and deep concern. As an activist and spiritual warrior observing the degradation of his country and culture, he claims it’s time for yoga practitioners to become fiercely connected with the earth and interconnected with all of humanity as a way of making positive change. It’s time to feel into our crawling skin, rattling bones, boiling blood, our raw breath and the quaking earth beneath our feet. It’s time to recognize the earth and its inhabitants are suffering, and use what Yoga offers in navigating this reality. I’m home now, sobering up after a ten day binge on island beauty and spring fever and I know what Navtej is alluding to. Outside of this exquisite bubble of a home we live in here, is a world heating up, drying up, and it’s getting gritty. Globally our bodies and our homes are asking for a human intelligence that is good for the organism itself, beyond just surviving.
I’ve been thinking about the ‘wisdom of survival’ these days, and how Yoga philosophy has long since provided the intelligent precepts and tools for facing and surviving aspects of our evolution. Within the eight limbs of Yoga are the Yamas and the Niyamas, the codes of attitude and behavior that are at the core of this philosophical lean into life, providing us with a sure guide to understanding ourselves and the world we collectively live in. And what an incredible, beautiful and mysterious world it is! We move through it in awe with our individual personal mindsets, conditionings, traumas, and confounding capacity for both the vast warm heart and the oddly cold human heart. The Yamas and Niyamas embrace the reality of being physical spiritual beings and are the stepping stones (one step forward, two steps back) on the Yogic path. They were conceived thousands of years ago, in stillness, through the minds of meditative yogis. Following them we receive illumination and an understanding of ourselves within the ever changing faces of life, in the light of eternal aching beauty.
‘The real insight that spirituality offers us, and it’s so liberating if we take it, is that it is precisely within the mess and within the flaws that we get to find meaning. Spirituality is in the elements of my everyday life, not in a corner somewhere, not in a separate experience. Beauty is not all loveliness, because when you talk about anything that’s deep and rich, even beauty has its messy places’. John O’Donohue 1956-2008
Here are the Yamas and Niyamas, in spoken Sanskrit with very brief English definition.
Ahimsa – Non-violence toward all of life
Satya – Truthfulness and honesty
Asteya – Having what is needed and curbing the desire for greed and want
Brahmacharya – Refinement of sensuality and sexuality
Aparigraha – Generosity without grasping or attachment
Saucha – Internal and external purity and cleanliness
Santosha – Contentment, peace, joy, happiness, love, gratitude
Tapas – Right effort in practice, determination and discipline
Svadhyaya – Self-study with the inquiry ‘Who am I’?
Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to Divinity
These two limbs of Yoga are considered universal truths and they lay bare in each soul, in every Yoga practice. These age old guidelines for practice and living can be pivotal in affirming and manifesting what we do want for ourselves in the world at large and in the small worlds we live in. At this point in time, as the world turns, we seemingly need help with this. We stand on the earth and start with awareness of the body and mind.