Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Niyamas in Korea

Last week, I talked about the Yamas using examples from my recent trip to Korea...or if you prefer, I talked about my recent trip to Korea as it relates to the Yamas.  It's the same blog post, guys.  Regardless, that leaves me with only one...well, two, things to do:

Talk about the Niyamas using examples from my recent trip to Korea, or talk about my recent trip to Korea as it relates to the Niyamas.  it's the same blog post, guys.

Just like Patanjali's Yamas, there are five Niyamas.  The first one is,

Saucha: This one means cleanliness, or purity.  Here is a hint on how well I do with this one: I remember the Sanskrit word for it with the phrase, "I'm saucha dirty hippie!"  Seriously, I lie like a rug when hairdressers ask when I last showered.  It's embarrassing.  But if Patanjali thinks it's important, then he must be onto something.  My new game is to throw my clothes in the wash the second they show even a hint of cruddiness, even if I'm just dying to wear it somewhere later in the week, and I'm pretty sure I can spot clean whatever it is I slopped on it.  If I can see something, or if it doesn't pass the sniff test, it goes in the hamper.  And, lo and behold, I find myself wearing a lot more of my clothes, and having a lot more fun experimenting with different outfits, because my old standbys are in the hamper kind of a lot.  BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KOREA?  If you guessed Saucha isn't just about not stinking up the yoga studio, you're right!  This word has to do with keeping different energies where they belong: cosmic organization, not just bodily cleanliness.  When you're operating in a foreign country, where you won't have an easy time explaining yourself if you violate a custom, you find yourself behaving much more by the book than you do at home, or at least I do.  I stayed to the right going down stairs, even if they weren't crowded, avoided walking between people and what they were taking a picture of, used 'please' and 'thank you' with considerably more hyper-vigilence than I do at home (which may have had to do with the fact that those were the only words I could say in Korean), and in all ways sought to respect and follow their way of doing things: their energetic categories.

Samtosha: This one feels like a bit of an onomatopoeia to me.  Just say it out loud: Samtoshaaaaa...doesn't it just make you heave a sigh and let go?  It means 'contentment', as in, everything's ok the way that it is.  This is an easy one to get under the right circumstances: you're home from work, dinner is taken care of, you're feeling comfortable, pain free, and thankul for the ease you're feeling.  Yeah.  Try cultivating it when things aren't so awesome.  Maybe you're running late for something important, or your back is really bothering you, or you're trying to get some information out of a company and they keep giving you the run around.  Not feeling that sigh and release feeling now, are you?  But this is when Samtosha comes into play.  Just remember: there's not a problem until you decide there's a problem.  Yes, sometimes there genuinely is a problem, and getting upset about it gives you the energy needed to solve that problem.  But, for most of us, the vast majority of the time, there is no solution, or at least not one that's worth the trouble, and if that's the case, where's the benefit in deciding there's a problem and getting all worked up? To put it another way, "If there is no solution, it is because there is no problem" (thanks, weird French cartoon).  There's just a situation that is.  Whether you accept the situation or fight it is up to you, but it's pretty indisputable that fighting it won't make you happy, but accepting it will.  Do I even have to explain how I was living this one in Korea?  I respected and appropriately expressed my negative feelings when I had them, but I also kept reminding myself that this was what was going on.  Whether it was how I imagined it, what I wanted, how I was told it would be, or not.  I could resist it if I wanted to...but why?

Tapas: Nope, sorry guys, this is not Patanjali endorsing restaurants that serve you tiny amounts of delicious food, but charge the same amount as normal restaurants charge for a big plate (Curse you, tapas restaurants!!!).  Tapas can be translated as heat, and one of it's meanings is that by working up a sweat doing asana, you can burn your less helpful tendencies right out of your body!  You don't have to buy that; Tapas also means dedication, diligence, determination...whatever it is you need to keep sticking to your practice consistently, no matter what.  Whether it's fun, or crappy, making a big different in your life, or zilch, tapas is the promise you make to yourself that you're going to power through.   This one came into play toward the end of the trip, when my eczema was flaring up along with my temper because of all the processed flour and white rice I was eating. I didn't have the option of ending my trip early, but I could have eaten all my meals at the Brooklyn Kitchen, a restaurant located in the basement of a department store a few blocks from where we were staying.  I did totally order onion rings there one time.  But, for the most part, I stuck it out and kept my mouth shut...except for one minor meltdown over salt...I tapped into the tapas I had built up over years of practicing yoga to see the saga through to the end.

Svadhyaya: This one is my favourite, and not only because it's so fun to say.  Svadhyaya means to draw near to yourself.  It's often translated as 'self-study.'  Svadhyaya, ironically, cultivates an attitude of taking a step back, and enjoying an objective viewpoint of your daily patterns, and reactions to stimuli.  That's because that stuff isn't really your 'self', at least not according to yoga.  That's your ego, and your samskaras (which means ruts, and refers to our mental habits, and how we react to one situation based on other situations we've experienced before).  Your self is the part of you that has no trouble at all with samtosha, because it's here, and its now, and it's just riding the waves of what is, without trying to row against them.  One of my favourite things about yoga is that it doesn't tell you to make all these crazy dramatic changes in your life so that you can be a better, happier person.  It tells you to just start observing your life.  Patterns will start to emerge, and just how much of your unhappiness is self-caused will become obvious.  Once it does, the changes will happen on their own.  You don't need to rush, or force anything.  Just start with Svadhyaya, and let the rest follow.  Which is why I was being so easy on myself when my ego started being a whiny ugly American on our trip.  I just sat back and watched.  I noticed how one thought along those lines quickly multiplied until my mood was in a tailspin, and worse, I watched my mood interfere with my friends having a good time.  That was all it took for me to find a balance between expressing myself when I needed to, and keeping my chin up and my attitude positive the rest of the time.  My trip went back to being a fun adventure in just a couple days!

Ishvara Pranidhana: This is a tough one.  It means to surrender to the divine, or if you prefer, to life.  It's a reminder that we can't control all factors, no matter how hard we try, and that means we can't control the affects or results of our efforts.  You can be the most patient, kind person in the world, and someone could still walk away from an interaction with you unhappy.  You can kick ass, and work your fingers to the bone for a client or boss, and still come up short.  You can stretch your legs every single day, and never manage a full split.  So don't worry about it.  Patanjali tells us we're entitled to our actions, but we're not entitled to the fruits of those actions.  Those we have to leave up to a higher power, or to chance.  On one hand, that's insanely frustrating.  No one likes to think they might be putting in lots of work for nothing.  On the other hand, it's liberating.  You don't have to worry about it.  The results are not your problem.  I repeat, the results are NOT YOUR PROBLEM.  You can do the best that you can, and then you can kick back and be proud of the work you did, regardless of the final outcome!  We're graded on effort, kids!  That's one hell of a curve on life!  This one came into play every time I tried to speak Korean or Japanese.  I did my best, but the results were laughable...literally, we got laughed at.  By ten year olds.  But that was ok.  The outcome didn't matter, because I tried.  Yippee!

What do you think?  Did this mini series clear up what the Namas and Niyamas are all about for you?  Are you confused on any in particular?  Let me know!

Live Omily,

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