From time to time, it’s good to ponder and reflect on the core values of classical Hatha/Raja yoga as given from Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. If you are practising yoga for a while you might be familiar with asana (posture), pranayama (breath control/extension) or meditation. The Yamas and Niyamas are considered as the aspects of personality that should be practised along with the above and they are ethical precepts and values. If at some point we ponder where we are in life, who we are or how we can deal best with our present circumstances, yoga tradition helps and find answers and reflect upon our current situation. Patanjali gives a path that one could follow in order to bring more happiness and harmony in life, where joy and well being arises naturally; the smaller or bigger changes in our lifestyle that makes one feel happier are done without an effort, gradually and only by observing and evolving through practice; it might also give an opportunity to transform one’s life. So, there are the Yamas, the actions and attitudes, how we interact with the outer world and the Niyamas describing the actions and the attitudes we should cultivate within, our inner reality in order to avoid suffering.
They are ethical observances and codes of conduct that are applied to anyone today in our day-to-day lives (even hundreds years ago when they were put together..); they have implications not only in a yoga class, but also they have social, environmental and even economic aspects we should look upon. We are all more or less responsible towards a better world, environment, development and the word ‘sustainability’ for our generation and the coming ones is more and more spread out; through movements, conversations, publications, communities etc. Mahatma Gandhi said: ”There is sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed”!!!
Who can argue the fact that we’ve been- and still are -quite greedy in western society, we want more from people, we squeeze the natural resources, we spend more on material things, we want to have more and more…besides, Patanjali again is referring to that…to Avirati (over-indulgence) as an obstacle (it is one of the Antarayas) in order to find peace and become free of attachments. So yes, when the effects of greediness appear and there are very important concerns for our well being, then people, society, turn back to reinforce other mechanisms that were always present in humanity but were neglected the recent years. We hear more and more discussions about ‘sustainability’, so it has become a modern environmental movement which is based on the ethical code of conduct that respects the earth, it’s natural resources and other living beings. Through these discussions and the slow growth of institutions and voluntary organisations, I hope, WE hope that there is a turning point in which governments, private corporations and leaders will follow and they will be increasingly interested in putting into practice social, environmental and economic principles of sustainability…(hopefully!)
I chose to write the relation between the 5 Niyamas and sustainability for a couple of reasons but mainly because transforming our own behaviour to the better precedes to anything else; Below are just a few thoughts about how the context of sustainability can be reflected through bringing mind-body awareness into our actions. From inside out. Cultivating attitudes of the Niyamas, we might re-discover and re-evaluate our relationship with the world, the environment, other living beings.
The 5 Niyamas are: ‘sauca santosa tapah svadhyayesvara- pranidhanani niyamah’ – Y.S: 2.32
Sauca: Purity, Santosa: Contentment, Tapas: The right effort, Svadhyaya: Self study, Ishvara Pranidhana: Remembering/accepting the higher intelligence (God)
Saucha means purity, cleanliness in the outer and inner body, in thoughts, actions and deeds. Being clean, thinking clean, eating clean translates to a desire for a clean environment to live in. Craving a clean house to live in, clean roads and pavements to walk on, clean plant based food to enter the body, clean parks to enjoy nature and the list goes on. From an environmental perspective, impurity means pollution and in that sense polluted air, soil and water can cause direct harm to any forms of life who live there. Environmentally sensitive people today, being that even to the slightest degree, focus on recycling solid waste, use less plastic (plastic bags, plastic bottles), they crave to learn how one can do the least to keep the environment clean.
* One might not know and wish he knew, that a plastic bag in a piece of land can cause greater harm that one could think of. It releases harmful gases as the plastic decomposes, it pollutes soil where the plastic is dumped, it also pollutes water because rainwater carries the harmful substances around.
There is a chain of harmful actions in the environment and we just don’t realise it! So be more cautious and treat the earth well!
Clarity and purity (saucha) in a sustainable society works from an esoteric individual level to social, environmental but also economic-political spheres.
Santosha is contentment. Being content with what we have, with the resources that are available to us without greediness, resentment and jealousy. Unfortunately there is a lot of the latter around, we want more because our neighbour has more; and when our greediness is unfulfilled, then negative feelings arise. Living in peaceful surroundings has an immediate effect to the negative conditions of the mind and then we can enjoy the sense of peacefulness, thus contentment..with what we have….here and now.
In a sustainable society, busy cities should reserve and protect nature areas where one can let go of the stress any time of the day and get a sense of peacefulness, showing respect to the natural resources. The economic scene as it is today geared towards economic growth from over consumption of the natural resources needs to stop, because these resources are not limitless in a long run (fuel, clean air, water and land). So, don’t OVER react, don’t OVER consume, BE content and peaceful, CREATE with less suffering and expectation.
Tapas is austerity, discipline, perseverance. We need tapas to reach a desired goal at some point and many philosophies indicate different tapas to pursue what they praise for. The previous Niyama gives a meaning of contentment, yet not ‘giving up’ in order to create a peaceful mind. This Niyama ‘ gives the meaning of being persistent where needed, in order to get a goal accomplished. So, to live in a sustainable society, we discipline in our efforts and contributions towards eradication of environment pollution, hatred, war and violence. It is our responsibility to do our bit for household recycling for example, or not throwing plastics around. It needs a fair amount of discipline and effort to do that and don’t just leave it up to the state and councils…We need to put an effort as well as them!!! It is up to us to buy organic products where possible…or encouraging and consuming products from small independent companies. When we start behaving into that mindset, we do the best we can in whatever we have chosen to do, we live and work conscientious making a difference in environmental and furthermore economic sustainability.
Svadhyaya means self study, being aware of our actions, self introspection and analysing our mind-body-spirit relation and behaviour. By observing, by ‘looking inwards’ we recognise patterns and tendencies that pollute our inside and outside…these 2 are interrelated in order to for one to be in peace. In yoga, this is a very important aspect of our behaviour and personality because we need to acquire knowledge through scriptures and texts, to self study, to experience ourselves, in order to find that mind-body-spirit link. Nobody else is going to do it for us. In the same sense, how we get accurate and constant information so that we become environmentally conscious? What are our economic choices? How do we use the natural resources? How much do we waste and what do we do with our waste? What do we consume and eat? Where do we get our resources?
This Niyama has religious connotations in yoga but not in a dogmatic way. Ishavara is considered the higher force, God, however it does not refer to specific God. God is whatever one considers a powerful force above oneself and the niyama encourages the practitioner that there is something above and beyond himself. Considering that, one can ponder on moving away from the total egotistic approach of conquering everything…see, technology advances and human feels more powerful; he feels superior from other beings that live on earth with him and consequently gives him the ‘freedom’ to solve any environmental problem with a technological solution without considering the effects of the actions to environment or climate. And by no means I say to stop using any technological innovation that makes your life easier. Just to be mindful about it and use everything with care. We are in a rush for quick solutions and technology can offer that, the mind then wants just things to happen quick. I’m a slow starter and I don’t consider this as an advantage, but on the other hand I feel that the pace we live in needs to slow down..why in a rush anyway? If people slowed down and look more attentively inside and around them, they would spend more time giving, helping, loving, recognising the supremacy of the power above them.
The teachings of Patanjali are applicable to many aspects of life but this of sustainability did a big impact on how I want things inside me and around me to start changing…and they need to change slowly and mindfully but always respecting the limits. There are insightful sites for sustainability on the net, you can do small changes in your home even if you live in big cities, small changes that have a greater effect around and slowly change behaviours, notions, society..~ ❤ ~