[I wrote previously that, as part of our YTT course, we’ve been asked to study an area of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and report back to the group. I decided on an experiment in living his yamas and niyamas (abstinences and observances – the building blocks of his yoga) and so here I am, taking on one of each every five days from the end of March to the beginning of May.]
So we’re five weeks down the line now, which means it’s time to finish up this exercise and give you the final (and somehow shortest!) post in the series. Thank you for joining me on the journey – it’s been an illuminating and sometimes overwhelming experience but ultimately I’ve enjoyed it immensely, and learnt an awful lot to boot.
With which said, off we go…
Aparigraha – “When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why of one’s birth comes.”
Reading through the various interpretations of this yama, the translation ‘non-greed’ doesn’t really seem to cut it for me, as it’s actually a multi-faceted statement about a) not coveting what you don’t have, b) not being possessive and c) not taking advantage, whether of people or situations.
And yes perhaps you could argue that, if all of these things (coveting ‘stuff’, being possessive and taking advantage of things) are about getting more out of a given situation than one should, then they absolutely are about greed. It’s just I don’t think translating it in this way makes it particularly easy to understand – which is why I’ve moved forward this week with it firmly positioned in my mind as having the three dimensions I describe.
First things first then – not coveting what you don’t have (yet another biblical parallel…).
Of course there’s a direct relation between this and one of the niyamas – that of samtosa (aka contentment). Because, really, not coveting things is contentment isn’t it? Being satisfied with what you have, and not looking outside for happiness?
It’s an idea that I wrote a lot about in the earlier post on the subject, and that I’ve been continuing to practise ever since. This week it’s manifested itself in the quelling of unnecessary insecurity about where I live (and what others might think of it) and resulted in the non-purchase of a variety of different things that I simply don’t need (but in times gone by might have convinced myself I needed!). Ultimately it remains hugely comforting to me and provides much-needed perspective when the world becomes just a little too much.
And so onto the second strand of this yama – not being possessive. Which, again, directs us back to another of the previous principles, this time that of asteya (aka non-stealing).
Swami Satchidananda himself describes aparigraha as a “form of stealing”, and you can see the link quite clearly – particularly if you reflect on the parts of asteya related to ‘not imprisoning possessions’, and going about the appropriate living of our lives with no expectation of reward.
Interestingly on this point I have been teaching lots of free classes in the past months, both to get some experience under my belt but also to spread the word of yoga. And just last week I was able to put the final pieces together for one additional free class, for various members of CDF Runners – the club that I run with on a weekly basis. Literally all I’ve ever asked for in return has been honest feedback, but then come Saturday morning something magical happened.
I was up getting ready to go to class at mandayoga when I received a message asking if I could sub instead, my teacher having been ill overnight. After a bit of panic, I said yes – but just to help out. I had zero expectation of any return.
It was terrifying to teach a ‘real’ class but ultimately it went really, really well. And you know what? Since doing it I’ve been offered some more cover work in May, a course of my own come September (to run through to the end of the year – hopefully beyond) and perhaps an additional class per week too. Which is CRAZY. And beyond my wildest expectations. So maybe, just maybe, Patanjali was right when he said “to one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes”.
Which brings us to the third strand of aparigraha – not taking advantage. Or in other words, only taking what has been rightly earned, not engaging in bribery and not accepting gifts if they’re given with the expectation of getting something back (or indeed if we ourselves associate receiving such a gift with an obligation to deliver something in return).
All pretty clear cut. Though unfortunately I don’t have any examples of it from this week!
In sum then this yama has been, all in all, a great success – keeping me grounded, (mostly) free of desire and true to my Self (see how it always comes back to this Self…). Which makes it’s time now to turn to the very last niyama on the list, the biggest mouthful to date – Isvarapranidhana.
Isvarapranidhana – “By total surrender to God, samadhi is attained.”
[Samadhi meaning a meditative consciousness or, in Swami Satchidananda’s words, a “tranquility of mind”]
Desikachar explains Isvarapranidhana as “to lay all your actions at the feet of God”, telling us that if we commit to doing only our best in life we can leave the rest to a higher power.
God though is a troublesome concept for many of us and thankfully Swami Satchidananda uses his interpretation of this niyama to tell us that God can also be read as humanity, and explains that “when we dedicate our lives to the benefit of humanity, we have dedicated ourselves to God”. All of which helps…a lot!
Except in this last week I’ve been thinking a bit more about the idea of God and, if I’m honest on some level it’s beginning to feel more accessible. Which is exceptionally confusing to someone who’s never believed. Though perhaps it’s not ‘God’ as such that I’m thinking of, but a greater Consciousness or Connectedness such as we’ve discussed before. Either way there’s something going on with this right now, that I don’t yet understand.
Putting that to one side for now though (it’ll resolve itself when it will), what does total surrender to God/humanity mean for our behaviour?
It seems to me like a putting into action of all of the yamas and niyamas we’ve looked at in this series, all at the same time. In other words, a dedication to living life with one eye on how this impacts the wider world and/or benefits the greater good. Which therefore means, though these posts are now complete, I’ll be continuing to live their principles for some time to come…
This is the final post in the ‘An experiment in yoga’ series – thank you for joining me! Other posts are available as follows, or you can access them all in one go via the related tag #yamasandniyamas: