Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fourth Niyama - Swadyaya (Self-Study)

For the month of March we were contemplating the fourth of Patanjali's niyamas: Swadyaya which can be translated as self-observation or self-study.  In simplest terms we attempt to do this consciously throughout our yoga class - observing our breath, our alignment, our self-talk, and our vibrations and energy ignited by our practice.  We go deeper when we work with different breathing practices to see how they effect the body, when we investigate our alignment for safety and stability so that our body can open up to a greater flow of energy, when we look deeper into our self-talk to see what habit energies we carry, what stories we continue to repeat that may or may not serve us well.
One of our yoga sisters shared this quote from Marianne Williamson: "Are you whining about a painful yesterday, or preparing for a joyful tomorrow?  Whatever your choice is will determine your day."  This was an especially helpful spark for self-study to look at what we reinforce in our mind.  If we keep repeating the negative stories, we don't have the space to be open to receive joy and love.  Not to say we shouldn't honor the difficult feelings when they arise.  But the key word seems to be "whining."  Though it may sound harsh.  It seems to serve a key distinction about whether we are processing our difficulties to transform them or repeating the story and the sub-text that may be an old record we play repeatedly that just keeps us stuck in suffering.
"Yesterday is already gone, tomorrow is not yet here. Today is the only day available to us.  Today is the most important day of our lives."
Thich Nhat Hanh
Our chant for the month was Om Mane Padme Hum, to honor the jewel inside the lotus.  We used the lotus as a metaphor for our own challenges and growth since we know a beautiful lotus flower grows can only grow out of the mud.  In our self-study, we notice our difficulties, where we get stuck, and when we act unskillfully so we can learn from those moments and transform our pain and suffering to shine our light ever brighter.
Thich Nhat Hanh says: 
"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby.  To suffer is not enough.  We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.  They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time."
"All the wonderful things that you are looking for -- happiness, peace, and joy -- can be found inside of you.  You do not need to look anywhere else."
One of our yoga sisters shared a quote from Wayne Dyer which impacted her and by her sharing it, all of us:   "Be independent of the good intentions of other people's opinions."  Sometimes we give away our power or our freedom when we allow other people's opinions to effect our peace.  This is an important part of self-study.  How are we impacted by the energy, behaviors, and words of others?  Can we strengthen our practice to maintain our equanimity even when those around us are not being kind or compassionate?  It can be as simple as coming back to your breath and body in a difficult moment.  Breathe deeply.  Become aware of your breathing.  Notice the energy or feel of your body.  Is there tension? shakiness? a volcanic eruption waiting to happen?  Can we make a space for a moment to pause and change course? change the self-talk? change the vibration in the body?
May we remember to breathe deeply, mindfully.  May we remember the impermanence of everything which helps us endure difficulties and celebrate joys because neither lasts forever.  When we get in touch with the deeper place inside that knows calm, peace, equanimity; that knows how to navigate through this life; we embody our true nature: boundless peace, love, and compassion for self and all beings because as Thich Nhat Hanh says:  "I am not superior to you.  I am not inferior to you.  I am not even equal to you.  I am you."

And, I'll close with a poem written by a dear friend.

Lotus Flower  
    by Yasmin Haut

Only from mud and moist underneath potential 
    can this proliferation of green spring.
So too for you and me.
Reconciliation requires reaching down thru
    the dark waters where the lotus sends
    her roots.
Only then (by rooting around in the bottom
    of the pond) can life flow again.
Petals sweeten and peel back.
Sun, senses and sensibilities sharpen,
    soften, merge.
Only modesty is difficult in this brillance.
Om Mane Padme Hum

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