With the last couple of Yoga Sutra discussion meetings, we covered the Yoga Sutras that list and give the definitions and results of developing the Yamas and the Niyamas, the first two limbs of the eight-fold practice of yoga. The Yamas are known as the “moral precepts” – nonviolence, truth, abstention from stealing, moderation, and absence of greed. The Niyamas are known generally as “personal observances” – cleanliness (inside and out), contentment (in all things), zeal and austerity, self-study (also study of scriptures), and a surrender to your personal higher power.
Through discussion of these items with others, I am always hit again by the depth and the importance of each one. To list them and call it a day is not what is asked of us or our practice. Delving a bit deeper, we uncover all the layers and intricacies we may carry even when on the surface it seems we might have done “enough”. The sutras I want to cover next take us back right after the lists of the Yamas and Niyamas are given and urge us to develop discrimination and introspection to uncover and deal with even the most deep-seated of each of these aspects of ourselves.
Yoga Sutra II.33 : (translation from Ravi Ravindra) “When negative thoughts and feelings arise, the opposite should be cultivated”
Yoga Sutra II.34 : (translation from Ravi Ravindra) “Cultivating the opposite is realizing that negative feelings, such as that of violence, result in endless suffering and ignorance – whether these feelings are acted out, instigated, or condoned, whether motivated by greed, anger, or delusion, whether these are mild, medium, or extreme.”
Yoga Sutra II.33 explains that as we look at each of the Yamas and Niyamas, when we come up against an obstacle, developing some discrimination and knowledge about its opposite is helpful. BKS Iyengar and many other translators refer to the terms paksa (the current position or feeling) and pratipaksa (the opposite position or feeling) bhavana (reflection or understanding). Discrimination and understanding between paksa and pratipaksa ultimately will bring balance to our mind and consciousness. If we are quick to anger, but develop a deeper understanding of compassion and kindness, over time the development of that opposite will overturn the negative. This takes practice and introspection, just like our physical postures.
Yoga Sutra II.34 reminds us that we can’t just stop at our gross level actions and even our OWN actions alone. Just because we haven’t hauled off and hit someone or killed, does not make us nonviolent. We have to look at our mental intentions, our cellular level urges, and even at our willingness or ability to stand by and let others do “the dirty work” while we on the surface look “holy”. In yoga, it all comes back to the disturbance of our own pure consciousness. Even at a mild, subtle level, under delusion or denial, we have to weed out the negatives that keep us from our final goal of ultimate peace and freedom.
In a reading by Prashant Iyengar (Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali), he mentions a translation of the Bhagavad Gita (another yogic text, Chapter 6 sutra 23) where the practice of yoga is described this way – “Yog is disjunction of conjunction of sorrows in our life.” I loved this tongue-twisting way of voicing the struggle with the Yamas and Niyamas in life. They feel “conjoined” with our nature, our very being. However, the whole use of all the limbs of yoga in our lives is to untie those knots, disconnect even the deepest of connections that these disturbances have within our soul.
For the next few blogs, I will give you some more contemplation work and questions on these Yamas and Niyamas to develop some discrimination and introspection in your own life, leading us up to our discussion at the end of this month. I also hope you will consider joining us in 2021 as we continue to delve into Chapter Two of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is a great time to begin in our monthly discussions! As you can see we have only just touched the surface of the foundations of the eight-limbs of yoga.
BKS Iyengar even reminds us in his commentary on Sutra II.33 that “yama and niyama are not only the foundations of yoga, but the reflection of our success or failure at its higher levels.” What a great way to start a New Year with a new commitment to Yoga!!!