Happiness in the Here and Now – 10 Principles that Turn Every Practice into Yoga Practice

Written by Philip Walter on Jul 25 at 2:35 pm in iSPIRITself, weMINDculture

Editor’s Note – The translations referenced in this post are from Godfrey Devereux. I feel his translation is more practical than some of the others out there. If these differ from your previous exposure, please take them for what they are – interpretations.

photo credit: bitshaker

Alright, first things first – yoga is not all mirrored rooms packed with sweaty Gumbies stretching and oming. In truth everything you do can be yoga practice … if you approach it with the right intentions. Yoga is all about getting to the point, cutting through the fluff, and seeing things for what they are. At the root of any yoga practice is that inalienable human right to pursue happiness – happiness in the form a life lived free from the blame and guilt that arise from the pesky human ego.

Think about it. Most of our lives are spent running ourselves ragged trying desperately to calm our neurotic egos, satisfy the often unrealistic expectations of others, and convince ourselves we have things under control. This business of always trying to stay one step ahead of the curve, separates us tragically from the absolutely stunning beauty of the moment.

These ego games we use to define what’s mine and what’s yours are useful in many ways, but they fall short of providing us true joy and lasting happiness. We know there is something else, something beyond the roles we’ve learned to play in our everyday lives. Sites like this one, integralnaked.org, zenhabits.net, and many others are a testament to this realization. It is this pursuit of genuine happiness that underlies all authentic yoga practice. It is nothing more than a great cosmic sigh of relief, which erupts naturally as we embrace and explore that Something Else.

So how exactly do we turn every practice into this graceful sigh of relief? Well, I believe we can learn a bit here from the father of yoga himself, Patanjali. His Yogasutras lay out an eight-limbed path (Ashtanga Yoga) to what we might call enlightenment, and enlightenment’s really just a fancy word for peace – everlasting, joyous, ecstatic peace. This peace can only be found through the cultivation of proper perspective. One could also say enlightenment itself is nothing more than proper perspective.

Patanjali’s yoga is framed and informed by the first two limbs, called yama and niyama. These are basically attitudes or orientations that naturally set the stage for yoga practice. They are each comprised of 5 principles. These 10 principles together lay the foundation upon which yoga builds its house. Without them, all we have is some exotic stretching, odd chanting, and weird breathing techniques. I assure you, if you take these principles to heart and begin to infuse them with your daily activities, you will soon start to see the yoga coming out in everything you do.

Yama – to regulate or harmonize

Regulataaaaaz … mount up!

In the cultivation of yama, we begin to see things as they are. The result of the ego running rampant is that shit gets all out of whack. Things seem important when they really aren’t. We get “caught up” when we really shouldn’t. The 5 orientations of yama help us regulate the BS and reign in the ego that would otherwise have us frazzled in an attempt to pin things down we have no business pinning down. This in turn harmonizes the world. When we aren’t blowing things out of proportion, there is less dissonance, more equanimity.

  1. Sensitivity generates love. (ahimsa) – The more sensitive we are to what is happening around us and inside our hearts, bodies and minds, the more we understand and intuit the impacts of our thoughts and actions. This can come from many sources, such as “placing the shoe on the other foot,” meditation techniques like tonglen and vipassana, and even just taking a deep breath. If we take the time to get out of the knee-jerk reactions of our egos, we become sensitive not only to the state of our surroundings but also to the impact we have on those surroundings. This leads quite naturally to a sense of compassion for others, to a peaceful attitude, and to a deeper sense of harmony.
  2. Honesty leads to fulfillment. (satya) – What happens when you tell an untruth? What a tangled web … right? Lying, whether to ourselves or to others, only ends up in disappointment. The reason for this is fairly obvious: the lie itself was never true to begin with, so when it comes time to rely on the lie, it cannot be fulfilled. It’s like the sub-prime mortgage lenders who sold loans they knew people wouldn’t be able to afford. When it came time to cash the checks, they came back unfulfilled. Thus, being honest with ourselves and others, is the only responsible thing to do. It’s not always easy, but with sensitivity in place, honesty becomes a way of life.
  3. Openness elicits abundance. (asteya) – Why does it always feel like we’re holding ourselves back? Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to sabotage myself at times. It’s this whole business of me being my own worst critic. It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy. I beat myself up too much. As a result, I might back away from a situation in which if I would just stick my neck out, good things would surely happen. I am reminded of a quote – one that until very recently I would have attributed to the German poet Johann Goethe. It reads, “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” So openness is not being overwhelmed by yet-unrealized potentials. It is also about not having a sense of entitlement, or of taking what is yours prematurely. Openness is the process of putting yourself out there and taking the plunge, regardless of whether or not you might fall flat on your face.
  4. Focus confers vitality. (brahmacharya) – When we are focused, we have energy. Think about a beam of light – it has more heat when it is concentrated, less when it is diffused. When we are more singular in our purpose, we are more efficient and more likely to accomplish our goals. Yoga is really about singularity in the end anyway. The word itself means to yoke, to eliminate the distance between the seer and the seen, effectively narrowing our concentration to a single intense laser beam of life.
  5. Generosity leads to selflessness. (aparigah) – Finally, we must be generous in regards to the feedback we receive on our journey. This is really an issue of avoiding self-judgment. If honesty reveals less-than-desirable truths, or if openness leads to conventional failure, you must understand that this is part of the game. I am reminded here of something my mentor, Godfrey Devereux said – “love is the state in which you can live without blame or guilt.” This is generosity. This is checking your ego at the door, this is understanding that there is more out there than the role(s) you have been taught to play as Johnny, Mary, Mark, or Susan. Through generosity, public service, random acts of kindness, and the like, we learn to give of ourselves, which is the core of Karmic Yoga.

Niyama – to regulate or harmonize deeply

Once we are seeing things as they are, thanks to the yamas, orientation becomes direction. So, in the implementation of the yamas, we are gazing toward the goal, but with the niyamas, we begin to walk toward that goal. The understanding gained through a sensitive, honest, open, focused, and generous approach becomes a way of life. The 5 attitude adjustments of yama in turn bear themselves out as the qualities of niyama.

  1. Commitment gives detachment, independence, integrity, joy, presence, freedom, and self-knowledge. (shoucha) – Commitment is purity of action. I can’t help but think about this silly reality TV show I am watching these days, So You Think You Can Dance. The judges are always talking about what commitment these dancers have to the choreography. Even if their technique has flaws in it, they somehow don’t care, so long as the commitment is there. This means that the movements are pure, that they come straight from the source. When there is absolute commitment, there is no second-guessing, there is no need for validation from others, there is only the unadulterated freedom of the moment.
  2. Equanimity generates peace of mind. (santaoh) – Equanimity is the big sigh of relief. It is the cosmic contentment. Within equanimity there is no fear, there is no need for more, there is only what is. This always reminds me of watching the show Dharma and Greg, and how she always used to say, “The universe will give you what you need.” As much as that might seem like glossing things over, that is equanimity. That is the powerful contentment contained in the phrase, “Que sera, sera.” You have relinquished your stake in the outcome, and thusly, you’re able to move through life unhindered by any bumps in the road.
  3. Passion purifies the bodymind. (tapa) – Okay, I know you must be wondering, how does passion function alongside equanimity? How can you be content, yet still passionately pursue that which lies in front of you? Equanimity is merely having no stake in the outcome. Passion is the endurance to maintain the course in the face of any outcome, whether it meets expectations or not. The expectations are not the point when it comes to being passionate. True passion exists for the sheer joy of being, not for the expectation of some specific reward.
  4. Self-awareness reveals the infinite within. (swadhyaya) – The uniqueness of human beings lies in our self-awareness. Yet so few of us are aware of our True Self. It is an enormously difficult task to maintain this awareness while at the same time participating in culture and working a day job and putting food on the table for our families. Virtually everything on television, in the news, and at our workplaces reinforces and encourages the neuroses of our small selves – our egos – while to be truly self-aware is to understand and be intimate with a deeper Self, with a voice that lies underneath our personalities.
  5. Selflessness gives the highest realization. (eshwar pranidhan) – Finally, we are ready for complete dedication. All these principles move eventually toward a complete surrender to the flow of existence that leaves no room for holding back. This is the whole notion of “going with the flow,” only in HD. This is going with the flow while not giving a damn that we have no control over it. Moreover, this is total revelry in having no control, not wanting control, not being connected personally to one outcome or another, just being completely dedicated to flowing with it, to going with it, to being just who it is we are in any given moment. This is the point at which every practice becomes yoga practice.

Hope you enjoyed yourselves.

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