Swami Kripalu once said, “The highest form of spiritual practice is self-study without judgment.” Yeah, good luck with that one, buddy. I mean, aren’t they the same thing? Self-study and judgment? How can we hope to change if we don’t fault ourselves for our humanness?
Self-study and judgment are cousins it would seem, but they are not the same. Let’s take a look.
Self-Study v. Judgment
· Curiosity with a side of awareness v. shaming or smugness
· Change is possible and gently encouraged v. the need to be right or wrong, no room for change
· Fluid, exploratory v. static, rigid.
So then, how do we encourage the practice of self-study without judgment? It’s a process and a practice. (Isn’t everything?) It begins with awareness. The power rests in the moment a less than acceptable behavior is caught. Once there is awareness, there can be change.
There comes a point at which it is easier to witness one’s own behavior from a non-reactive place. Instead of berating, there is curiosity,...more
Frank de la Cruz
We have reached the fourth of the Niyamas. Again, the Niyamas are part of our personal practice and therefore recommended for our yoga journey. The fourth niyama is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya is the study of oneself. This can take several forms, whether it be the recitation/reading of sacred texts, or our own sadhana (spiritual practice), or a combination of both.
Let us travel back in time together for the sake of this discussion. Try to remember the first time you practiced yoga. Think about the feelings and sensations that you experienced during your initial class. Maybe it was your first time ever doing anything physical in many years. As you moved your body, did you feel tense or at ease? When the instructor guided you through the poses, did you already know how to engage specific muscles to achieve the desired result? Did you even think about the muscles at all, or were you totally immersed in the experience. There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. You were studying (knowingly or unknowingly) your body’s (physical and/or mental) response to the stimuli...more
Discipline is one of those fully loaded words. As I contemplate how to describe discipline in a fun, happy, upbeat way I internally roll my eyes and audibly ugh. But it’s really not all that bad. Really.
What comes to mind when you think of discipline? I’m guessing one of your first thoughts may be, “I know I need more of it.” And that statement is always followed by a but… Again, I’m just guessing. But here’s the thing, discipline is not negative or even really all that hard. It’s more the story you tell yourself around that word. That it’s going to be hard.
Discipline is the box we build to create structure and a foundation in our lives. It gives us a place from which to expand and a place in which to contain our whims and distractions.
Discipline leads to liberation. It allows for contentment. It keeps you moving forward.
Think about the promises you make to yourself on a daily basis. “Tomorrow morning,” says totally committed you, “I’m going to get up at 5:30 and walk three miles.” You feel it, you’re going to do it, you know it is the best...more
Frank de la Cruz
We have now come to the third of the Niyamas, those observances that are part of our personal practice and recommended for our yogic journey. The next Niyama is Tapas. This may conjure up a spread of small plates containing delicious Spanish foods. I’m sad to inform you that in this context, it is not. Tapas is Sanskrit for ‘to burn’; but it is meant to describe ‘austerities’ or ‘self-discipline’.
One of my favorite quotes from Deborah Adele’s book ‘The Yamas and the Niyamas’ is: “Tapas is our determined effort to become someone of character and strength.” There is a lot to unpack in that statement, so let’s start with the first half of that statement. ‘Tapas is our determined effort’. It’s important that we look at the word ‘determined’ here. It is consistent, applied effort. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ‘determined’ as ‘decided, resolute’. It is effort with intention and focus. This is an important distinction. Tapas does not come from ‘accomplishing’ whatever it is your working toward. ‘Tapas’ is the process. We must hold this in our hearts, because in the...more
Is contentment a noun or a verb? Is it a thing to be mastered, or an ongoing practice? Can it be both?
Our second Niyama Santosha, translates to contentment. In our Westernized culture, contentment is decidedly a noun. It is an achievable outcome. Once you lose the weight, buy the house, retire, pay off the student loan, have 2.5 kids and a golden retriever – or maybe it’s a golden doodle now or a French Bulldog – you will be content. It’s a place to get to and you’ll know it when you arrive because there will be no more struggle, no more worry.
How’s that going for you?
Once you get the thing, there’s a slicker marketing campaign out there for a better thing you must now go for. THEN you’ll be content. This is not contentment this is achievement and satisfaction.
The dictionary describes these concepts like this:
· Contentment: noun. 1. The state of being contented; satisfaction; ease of mind.
· Achievement: noun. 1. Something accomplished, especially by superior ability, special effort, great...more
Frank de la Cruz
We continue our journey studying the niyamas, Sanskrit for 'observances.' These observances are part of our personal practice and recommended for our yogic journey. Though the niyamas are more for individual practice, they can and will seep into our surrounding world. Our next niyama is Santosha Sanskrit for contentment or acceptance.
Our lives in the Western world are quite hectic and filled with constant striving. We are conditioned to be continually seeking. How often has a favorite food of yours been repackaged? How many times have you gone to the store to see these items emblazoned with "New Package," "New Flavor," or "New Recipe." How often have you heard that someone has "re-invented themselves" or the like? In our culture, we applaud constant striving, and we have disdain for contentment. This is a potent force to counterbalance and attempt to diminish.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that "By contentment, supreme joy is gained." We are so accustomed to viewing happiness as one end of the spectrum with depression at the other end. However, by staying in...more
Frank de la Cruz
Over the last few weeks, we have discussed the Yamas. The Yamas are the yogic rules for ethical living and proper conduct put forth by the Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Although the Yamas focus on our relationships with others, we also applied some of those concepts internally. Now we come to the Niyamas. The Niyamas are observances recommended by the Sage Patanjali to help us along our yoga journey. They are Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara Pranidhana.
The first Niyama, Saucha, means ‘purity’ in Sanskrit. Purity is a very loaded word and can take on many varied meanings. Some take this command literally and practice the emptying of their bowels and showering before practice. Still, others invoke Purity in their postures, declaring one pose promotes Purity in some form or the other. My belief regarding this Niyama is that we should summon the concept of Purity in our practices through life. Deborah Adele, author of ‘The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practices,’ applies the idea of “lightening our load.” Unhealthy habits (whether internal or...more
There was a time when I thought I needed something - a better job, more information about food, a new hobby, I didn’t know what – and I cast about for answers. Which one of these things would create the peace that I longed for? Which one would solve everything? Which one would bring everything into alignment?
By now, you surely know that peace is an inside job and none of those things would complete me. But I don’t really think I was looking for any of these specific things, I believe I was really searching for clarity. Clarity of purpose, maybe. Or a clear path, a direction. I was looking for the neon sign in the sky that said, This Way to Fulfillment.
Clarity creates this amazing space for all possibilities to arise and the discernment to choose wisely. How does one come to this magical place of clarity you may wonder? In my experience, clarity is a result of our first Niyama: Saucha, a Sanskrit word that translates to Purity.
In various interpretations of the Yoga Sutras you will find that purity is not possible in the human form. The very vehicle for...more
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think or hear the word “love?” Compassion? Romance? Familial? Food? The family pet?
Words have meaning, but when a word’s meaning becomes so broad that it takes more time to figure out its nuances than to appreciate that it was even said, the intention of it can get diluted. Or lost. But perhaps we’re putting too much emphasis on the word itself. Isn’t love more of a feeling? An emotion?
I mean, yes. It’s all of all of that. It’s the stuff, the people, the events, the pets, its emotion, its intense feeling, its compassion, its empathy, its kindness. It’s so big and so vast it may just be impossible to define.
But I have some thoughts anyway.
Romantic Love. Perhaps this is more about passion, that giddy, hungry urge to be so close to someone else that it hurts when separated, even by a few feet. I’m not discounting this type of love, not by a longshot. It is so important to have this sort of strong and healthy emotion so that the heart opens. This is vulnerability at its finest. It hurts...more
Frank de la Cruz
So far this year, we have discussed the five Yamas, or restraints espoused by the Sage Patanjali. Hopefully, you have found practical applications to put these Yamas into practice in your daily life. I thought it would be nice to take a break from the Yamas this week and, in deference to Valentine’s Day, discuss the topic of love. Love is such a loaded word; it can bring about all sorts of emotions depending on the effect of love in our life. Part of learning about the Yamas and Niyamas is to reflect upon on our behaviors and actions as we apply yogic principles to our life. Again, the ultimate goal being to bring peace and equanimity to our lives.
So, lets step away from our study of the Yamas and Niyamas for a moment as we discuss the topic of love. Instead, I will offer a primer in the chakras. The chakras are a deep well of information and study and can certainly fill up a calendar year of reflection. So, for the sake of this post, lets discuss only the seven, most studied, chakras that are present within our bodies. Starting at the base of the spine as we move up, they...more
Frank de la Cruz
For the last few weeks, we have been exploring the Yamas together. Hopefully, these short posts have given you a foundation in these essential practices for our yoga journey. My sincere hope is that you view these Yamas not as “restraints” or “tenets.” Such words can evoke loaded imagery that is the opposite of what we want to achieve. I hope that you view the Yamas as guideposts along your journey. As guideposts, we can use them to make slight corrections with love and kindness toward ourselves and others. I always say to my students that when it comes to Yogic Philosophy, none of these teachings matter if it causes pain and disruption in our journey.
Finally, we arrive at Aparigraha, the last of the Yamas. Aparigraha translates to ‘non-possessiveness’ or ‘non-grasping.’ Some consider it simply as the ability to “let it go.” Maybe Elsa from the movie Frozen was actually a Yogi, in addition to a Snow Queen (yes, I’m a Disney fan, don’t judge me). It’s quite easy to say that we are not “attached” to certain things. It’s quite easy to detach ourselves from material things...more
Frank de la Cruz
I hope you are enjoying our journey together through the Yamas and that you may have encountered a new perspective on your own excursion of them. For the most part, up to this point, we have discussed Yamas that are very much in line with the West's Judeo-Christian values. Non-harming, truth, and non-stealing are very much a part of our lives and are legislated (to one extent or another). Now we come to brahmacharya. The literal translation of brahmacharya means to 'move towards Brahman.' In Hinduism, Brahman is considered to be 'the creator' or 'the divine.' So brahmacharya calls us to walk towards the divine.
Let's take a moment to address the fact that some folks may not believe in a deity figure or may have negative emotions regarding figures in organized religions. You do not have to be a religious person to observe brahmacharya.
Another common interpretation of brahmacharya relates it to celibacy. Some surmise that the misuse or overuse of sexual energy may bring about disruption to your yogic journey. This interpretation is troublesome given the sordid history...more
Frank de la Cruz
As we continue our journey through the Yamas, my wish is that you have been able to make some connections and apply these concepts. Yoga philosophy is useless unless we can find practical applications to help ease the load upon our own lives. We have now arrived at our third Yama, Asteya, or non-stealing. Again, much like the previous Yamas that we have discussed, it seems like a no brainer. Since the beginning of our lives, we have been instructed not to take things that don't belong to us. We even have laws to make sure that we comply with this. As with the other Yamas, let's look at some different ways in which we steal that may not immediately come to mind.
In the last few decades, we can see a refocus on the self, by the self. To me, this phenomenon began in the decade of the '80s. We got great music, but in turn, we became more selfish and self-centered. The use of social media has promulgated this selfishness. Sure, there are good aspects of social media, but it comes at a price. So, what does this have to do with stealing? Selfishness is a two-pronged offender....more
Frank de la Cruz
As a child, I can remember distinctly the emphasis placed on telling the truth. Add to that being raised in a southern-Baptist household, and telling the truth became a matter of eternal life or death. It’s amazing what the threat of eternal damnation does to your willingness to tell the truth. Luckily, as I’ve stated in my previous blog post, there is no threat of eternal damnation in our practice of Yoga.
Satya, Sanskrit for truthfulness (or as Stephen Colbert would say, truthiness), is the second of the Yamas. The Yamas being the five restraints described in the Yoga Sutras. Here we are asked to think, speak, and act with integrity, with truth guiding us through our life. For some, this may seem easy enough. Some may even rationalize that their lives are only little white lies, meant to keep the peace or save face.
First, let’s look at what the goal of this Yama may be. Why should we observe Satya? What is it about truthfulness that we should follow it in our daily life? Remember that the goal of Yoga is to achieve a calm mind. What happens when we lie? We create...more
A few days ago I had a super full plate. I was preparing for a training, company was coming to my home to stay and I had the regular business of living with grocery shopping, errands and work. I had it all planned out. If I could get the training prep done by noon, I could grab a quick bite, be on my way to drop off an Amazon return, then on to the grocery store, then home in time to clean the bathrooms and vacuum and prepare for dinner.
How do you think it all worked out?
I’ll spare you the stressful details but suffice it to say the training prep wrapped up around 3. The rest of the day could have unfolded in several ways. One you may be imagining now with a slow shake of the head, that familiar stress rising knowing you’re not going to be able to do it all. But what about the alternative? What about just going with the flow?
Seems impossible. But that is a big part of Aparigraha, the last yama in our first limb of yoga. Non-attachment.
If you’re reading yoga texts, like the sutras, this particular tenet of yoga seems way more severe than letting your...more
Frank de La Cruz
Whether you are new to yoga, or a long-time practitioner, you will inevitably come across the word ‘Ahimsa.’ Ahimsa, Sanskrit for non-violence, is probably one of the most recognized Sanskrit words in yoga not related to a pose. Ahimsa is also the first of the Yamas. The Yamas are yogic rules for ethical living and proper conduct put forth by the Sage Patanjali sometime in the last 2500 years.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll present all of the Yamas; Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. Let’s continue with Ahimsa, meaning ‘do no harm.’
At first glance, the precept of ‘non-harming’ or ‘do no harm’ seems like the easiest of all guidelines to follow. I wouldn’t call them commandments, and lucky for us, there is no yoga hell to contend with (other than having to hold chaturanga or chair pose for more than a minute). Most of modern culture in the west, teaches us not to kill, hurt, or maim other people. Ahimsa, however, is so much more than refraining from physically hurting living things. We should seek to bind Ahimsa to our thoughts, words, and deeds....more
Here we are at our fourth yama: Brahmacharya. In the old texts that were meant for those men seeking monkhood in yoga, this word was translated as celibacy. Today, with so many people of varying backgrounds practicing yoga and immersing in the yoga philosophy, we’ve sanded the edges and broadened the meaning to encompass moderation of all appetites.
But the principle behind celibacy is still valid.
When one is studying to become a holy renunciate, the goal is to devote one’s entire being to God or that higher power, bigger cause, the Universe, etc. And to that end, sex is a distraction. Along with a whole host of other behaviors.
Here’s how this all rolls out.
When we engage in anything beyond its purpose - sex for procreation, credit cards for emergencies, food for sustenance, exercise to keep fit, social media to stay informed and connected – we are wasting valuable energy (known as prana in Sanskrit). This energy that we are giving away willy nilly could be harnessed and used for higher purposes. Maybe going after an advanced degree, starting a...more
The third yama (restraint) of the Yoga Sutras is Asteya. It is asking us not to steal. Simple enough, just don’t take other people’s stuff. Right? But you didn’t really expect it to be that easy, did you?
This is a little story about abundance and gratitude. It is less about non-stealing than it is about the lack of desire to take from another.
Let me explain.
Stealing comes in many forms, if I threw a few questions out there I bet you could answer them without even thinking. Let’s play.
Here are a few categories in which one may find themselves purloining from another:
· Energy – how might one steal energy from another?
· Time – in what ways do we steal time from others?
· Joy – is it possible to steal someone’s joy? How?
· Happiness – what are some ways you can rain on someone’s parade?
Did you come up with some good answers?
Let’s unpack a few.
Energy: We deplete the energy of another by complaining, by telling our same tired, worn out story over and over again. We take...more
There’s this yoga tenet called Satya that asks us to be truthful. Sound advice, but what does that mean exactly?
Perhaps unbelievably, there are many definitions of truth. Truth can be defined as conformity with fact or reality, or a verified indisputable fact, or actual existence. But there are holes in those theories. Facts change. The world is flat, for example. Facts are a place holder until newer facts come along to bump them out of the way.
But truth is also defined as honesty and integrity. That feels like something to work with.
Satya is the second of our yamas (restraints) just after non-harming (ahimsa). It is typically translated as non-lying which, flipped, would mean truthfulness, right? Maybe. So many gray areas surrounding such a simple concept. When we compound non-harming with truthfulness we walk a delicate line. Should I be honest, or should I tell a little white lie to be nice?
There is a way out of the cloud of confusion.
The deeper meaning of this yama points toward living authentically, having no secrets, an open heart....more
Tucked into the pages of the sometimes daunting, oft confusing, but ultimately aha-worthy, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 10 little directives call the Yamas and Niyamas. There are five of each.
The Yamas are five restraints, or things we practice NOT doing, while the Niyamas are five observances that would serve us well if we did them. The very first of all of them is Ahimsa. Non-harming. Or to put another way, compassion. But it’s a little more than that too.
Ahimsa asks us to look first at our place in the world. What we believe is our place. If we are coming from that teeny tiny seed that was planted maybe forever ago that “I’m not enough,” then Ahimsa and all the ones that follow will be challenging. But, maybe, that’s kind of the point. It’s work. It is THE work.
Do you practice self-compassion? Do you love what you see in the mirror? Are you comfortable with your family of origin and your place in it? Do you see every opportunity as a gift? No? Then, welcome, let’s get to work.
This non-harming business encompasses thought, word and deed. Negative...more