Category Archives: Niyama

the tribal mind

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In order to better understand the complexity of human relationships, it is helpful to understand the workings of the tribal mind. All of us are born into a “tribal mentality” of various forms. These include our family unit, religious background, country of origin, ethnicity, etc. The tribal mentality involves our spirit in specific thought forms held by the group; it effectively marinates an individual in the tribe’s beliefs, ensuring that all believe the same. The structure of reality—what is and is not possible for the members of the group—is thus agreed upon and maintained. While the tribal mentality has definite benefits in terms of establishing common ground and ensuring group survival, it is not a conscious agreement.  At a certain stage in our evolution, both personally and collectively, the tribal mentality must be challenged… [One must] begin to recognize the need for a personal honor code independent of the tribe.

Every one of us is plugged into the tribal mind. We finance the belief patterns of the tribe by directing a percentage of our life force into maintaining our affiliation with the tribe. What that means from an energetic point of view is that our individual energetic circuits go into prolonging the life force of the tribe to which we belong. This involves an implicit agreement to think like the tribe thinks, to evaluate situations and people the way the tribe does, and to believe in right and wrong according to tribal values and tribal ambitions. As long as the tribal mentality remains unexamined and transparent to awareness, we unwittingly subject others to our tribal laws.

Edited excerpt from essay Leaving the Wounded Relationship Tribe by Caroline Myss

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the compassionate backbend

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In backbends, we come face-to-face with the boundaries of our flexibility, patience, and equanimity. But learning to practice with our limitations—instead of struggling against them—can make backbending an exercise in self-acceptance.

Most of us come to yoga seeking sanctuary. We realize how important it is to briefly step away from the demands of life and relax into a spacious quality of mind that allows us to be with ourselves as we are, without judgment. Insulated from the racket of demands and from the need to rush, we become quiet enough to hear the stirrings of our hearts. And in the act of accepting whatever we find there, we replenish our energy and inspiration. Accepting the truth of our selves, our hearts, our muscles, our level of energy in any given moment is the height of compassion, and practiced this way, yoga becomes an exercise in equanimity.

How is it, then, that so many of us quickly abandon these ideals when we practice backbends? If we’re not paying close attention, the acceptance and lovingkindness we were working with in other poses suddenly dissipates. Any practice of the yamas and niyamas, those attitudes and behaviors that epitomize the spirit of yoga, falls away. We grasp for a deeper opening, greedy for the glory of a perfect pose. We refuse to surrender to our own body’s wisdom.

Using the breath to control the depth and apex of a backbend offers an interesting encounter with aparigraha, the attitude that’s described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as the ability to accept only what is appropriate. You make a conscious choice not to take all you could, not to move into the fullest backward bend your body can manage, because you see value in holding back; you value the health and integrity of your body more than the glory of a deeper backbend. You value the primary function of the pose—the opening—more than the final shape or form of the posture.

Can you acknowledge your resistance without judging it? Are you able to see weak back muscles as simply that and not as somehow connected to your value as a human being? That might seem easy, but what about when you look at something deeper, such as a protective barrier around the heart chakra? Can you observe that with understanding and equanimity?

But what if you do have the ability to look at yourself closely, compassionately, and with equanimity? Can you then meet your resistance head-on? Well, here’s the interesting thing: A mind trained in equanimity doesn’t push unwanted things away or grasp desired things closer. It honors and accommodates, knowing that such treatment is transformational. Ultimately, it is only in letting go of what you wish you could be, in seeking greater freedom to be who you actually are at any given moment, that the process of your becoming unfolds. Let each arch be an exercise in acceptance and equanimity, an active embrace of the sanctuary that yoga can offer, and a simple acknowledgement of a truth that might just change your whole life.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article: The Compassionate Backbend, by Kate Tremblay


yamas and niyamas

Yamas, and its complement, Niyamas, represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. These are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of “do’s and don’ts”, and the Yamas represent one of the “don’t” lists within Hinduism, and specifically, rāja yoga.

Yama (Sanskrit) यम, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The yamas comprise the “shall-not” in our dealings with the external world as the niyamas comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world.

Ten yamas are codified as “the restraints” and ten niyamas are codified as set of prescribed actions (observances, requirements, obligations) in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.  Patañjali lists only five yamas and five niyamas in his Yoga Sūtras.


the practice of surrender

When I was an Ashtanga student in Mysore, I loved walking the several blocks to Pattabhi Jois’s yoga shala (school) for 4:30 a.m. practice. In the quiet darkness before dawn, the side streets would be dotted with the neighborhood’s sari-clad women kneeling upon the earth in front of their homes drawing rangoli, intricate sacred diagrams (also known as yantras) made by sifting rice flour between the fingers. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, these offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, were always vibrant-and destined to be erased as soon as the streets filled with traffic. I was inspired by the women’s dedication, creativity, and lack of attachment to their beautiful creations. As I became friends with some of the neighborhood women and they taught me a few simple rangoli, I learned that these offerings are not merely duty or decoration, but creative meditations that invoke a connection to the Divine on behalf of everyone. As one mother told me with a smile and an expansive wave of her hand, “These offerings remind me of the big picture, which helps me take care of the small things with love.”

These morning offerings, like so many everyday rituals in India, embody the yoga practice of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara). Ishvara pranidhana is a “big picture” yoga practice: It initiates a sacred shift of perspective that helps us to remember, align with, and receive the grace of being alive.

Yet to many modern Westerners the idea of surrender as a virtue may seem strange. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we’ve confronted seemingly insurmountable problems or in some other way hit the edge of our individual will and abilities. But in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali transforms “surrender” from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice. Patanjali repeatedly highlights Ishvara pranidhana as one of the five niyamas, or inner practices, of the ashta-anga (eight-limbed) path (Chapter II, verse 32) and, along with discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya), as part of kriya yoga, the threefold yoga of action (II.1).

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, The Practice of Surrender by Shiva Rea

My daughter and I made this Rangoli with sidewalk chalk.

My daughter and I made some of our own rangoli (kolam) with sidewalk chalk.


new light on yoga

New Light on Yoga

But while the Sritattvanidhi extends the written history of the asanas a hundred years further back than has previously been documented, it does not support the popular myth of a monolithic, unchanging tradition of yoga poses. Rather, Sjoman says that the yoga section of the Sritattvanidhiis itself clearly a compilation, drawing on techniques from a wide range of disparate traditions. In addition to variations on poses from earlier yogic texts, it includes such things as the rope exercises used by Indian wrestlers and the danda push-ups developed at the vyayamasalas, the indigenous Indian gymnasiums. (In the twentieth century, these push-ups begin to show up as Chaturanga Dandasana, part of the Sun Salutation). In the Sritattvanidhi, these physical techniques are for the first time given yogic names and symbolism and incorporated into the body of yogic knowledge. The text reflects a practice tradition that is dynamic, creative, and syncretistic, rather than fixed and static. It does not limit itself to the asana systems described in more ancient texts: Instead, it builds on them.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article by Anne Cushman


what is yoga

Yoga is chitta vritti nirodhah. . .

You take practice, practice, practice.  That is method.

-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Interview from documentary “Enlighten Up”