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In Step or Out of Step?

Updated: Jan 6, 2022

The October Jivamukti Yoga Focus-of-the-Month is written by one of my favorite Jivamukti teachers, Jules Febre. It's called "Yoga is Action." One of the very important yogic concepts that Jules explores in his essay is nirodha. Nirodha is often translated to mean "cessation of thought" or "restraint." The term is first found in book 1, verse 2 of Master Patanjali's Yoga Sutra, the verse where yoga is defined: yogaś citta-vrtti-nirodah or "yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind."

In his sourcebook for the study of the Yoga Sutra called "Inside Patanjali's Words," Rev. Jaganath Carrera encourages us to have a more broad understanding of nirodha. He says, "There is one vital point we need to understand from the start. Nirodha, usually translated as cessation or restraint, should not be reduced to a one-dimensional mediation practice comprised entirely of forceful attempts at stilling the mind, of stopping all mental activities. Instead, nirodha is attained through redirecting one's life focus to the cultivation of a tranquil, powerful inner-directed awareness, acceptance of life's realities, devotion to the sacred, acquisition of reliable knowledge, and following universal moral precepts" (p. 5).

In his Focus-of-the-Month essay, Jules explores the role that morality, ethics, and social responsibility have in yoga practice. He writes, "One could make a case that the idea of nirodhah is about being able to align oneself with the principles of morality as we understand them. We are asked by the Yoga Sutra to constantly investigate where and how our thoughts, words, and actions are either in or out of step with those principles."

As yogis-in-training, it is a good practice to check in with ourselves to see if our thoughts, words, and actions are aligned with the moral and ethical principles of yoga, and it is also a good practice to renew our commitment to care for all beings. This one of the reasons why at the beginning of class we sing, "May all beings everywhere be happy and free, may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all" -- it's a reminder that we have a responsibility to all beings, not just to ourselves, and it's a renewal of our commitment to make the world a better place. It's a reminder to be more selfless and less selfish.

We can think of nirodha as a shifting toward that which is Real and eternal, our True Nature and our source, the source of true peace and happiness. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra gives us tools and guidance for developing nirodha in our daily lives. These tools are:

Yamas and niyamas: the moral and ethical foundation of yoga (see Sutras 2.29--2.45). The yamas are non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, wise use of sexual energy, and non-greed. The niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, and devotion.

Pratipaksha Bhavanam: the cultivation of a counterforce as an aid to following the yamas and niyamas and to counteract the unsettling influence of disturbing thoughts (see Sutras 2.33--2.34). Essentially, the teaching is to notice when a disturbing or negative thought arises and then flip it and think of its opposite.

The Four Locks and Four Keys: ways to attain and maintain a tranquil mind under all circumstances (see Sutra 1.33). These are to feel happy for those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, delight for those who are virtuous, and equanimity for those who are non-virtuous.

As Jules says in his essay, "Patanjali defines a practice as that which happens over a long period of time without interruption.We come to the mat or meditation cushion and put in our effort. In the same way, we are called to show up for our fellow earthlings consistently over time."

I look forward to practicing with you and working on cultivating nirodha together in our new space. It is a joy and a blessing to be in community with all of you at Satsang Yoga.

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