In chapter 2 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we learn about practicing yoga. More specifically, how to practice. The first sutra in this section introduces three important disciplines that can help us deepen our yoga practice. The disciplines are three of the five niyamas.
Sutra 2.1 says: Austerity, the study of sacred texts, and the dedication of action to God constitute the discipline of Mystic Union. (from sacredtexts.com)
Later in this chapter, more details about practicing yoga emerge. But first, Patanjali concentrates on the foundation we can build with the niyamas, specifically tapas (using challenges as opportunities for growth), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishwara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).
According to Reverend Jaganath Carrera, we can use tapas to transform pain. Yoga is a means for understanding and transforming struggles and challenges we face in life.
Practicing Yoga Helps Us Overcome Suffering
All spiritual disciplines agree that suffering is part of life. Yoga teach us that spiritual practice is not about living without pain or suffering. Instead, we seek to transform pain and suffering. Tapas is the fire of self-discipline that moves us past pain and transforms suffering.
Once we light that fire, we can begin our study (svadhyaya). Svadhyaya, the process of self-discovery, often includes studying sacred texts. It is a lifelong process through which we strip away layers of illusion as we come to know our true selves.
Once we recognize our true nature, we realize we’ll never have all the answers, and we are not always in control. Through the niyamas, we begin to understand our connection to something greater and trust that we can surrender control to that higher power. This practice of surrender is known as ishwara prandihana.
Let’s look at these three niyamas—tapas, svadhyaya, and ishwara prandihana—in a bit more detail.
Niyama #3: Fueling The Practice of Yoga With Tapas
Have you ever felt your enthusiasm for your yoga practice waning? Even “advanced” yogis (or spiritual seekers of any discipline for that matter) feel ambivalent from time to time. Tapas is the desire we need to begin—or continue—the practice of yoga.
When we approach a new pose or study a new aspect of yoga philosophy, we may hesitate. What if we can’t do the pose? What if the teachings are too difficult to understand or apply to our lives?
If we recognize and accept the challenge—if we engage tapas—we can begin.
To understand the practice of tapas better, think of a challenging pose you’ve begun to learn. Sometimes it doesn’t feel good to attempt the pose. But we grow from the challenge and may even need to break down before we can move forward.
Just as muscles break down before they get stronger, taking any aspect of our spiritual practice further may require some pain—the burn of tapas. The good news is the pain subsides, and we can settle into the practice of yoga with renewed energy.
Niyama #4: Svadhyaya (Self-Study)
Traditionally, svadhaya is the study of sacred texts as well as applying the teachings in the texts to our daily lives. Self-observation and self-reflection are important when we practice svadhyaya. Awareness helps us see how the teachings affect us and where we may need to apply them.
As we begin to learn more about ourselves, we can modify our behavior. We can strengthen our inner lives by letting go of habits that aren’t working and building new ones that do.
Niyama #5: Surrender to a Higher Power
At some point in our spiritual growth, we begin to understand that we will never know everything. More importantly, we realize we don’t need to. We can surrender to a higher power, the wisdom of the universe that is always in control. We can live for something greater than our individual selves.
Ishavara prandihana—surrender to a higher power—unlocks the door to enlightenment. It connects us to source. That, in a nutshell, is the goal of yoga.
Hi, I’m Maria. I created Yoga Circles for you if you want to delve more deeply into the philosophy, practice, and life-changing effects of yoga. I’m also a writer and editor who helps small business owners, wellness professionals, teachers, and authors publish books, develop marketing strategies, and connect with readers, clients, and students. Visit my website (link below) for more about that. I’d love to hear from you!
Thank you. I love these little love notes on yoga! Always a great reminder. Keeping on the path. Xoxo