By: Monica Ott
“The power of action shakes off the inertia blanketing our soul. It awakens our dormant forces of will and knowledge and infuses us with self-trust and self-confidence. In the light of this active will and knowledge we are able to see ourselves, discover our own strength, and awaken and deploy our dormant forces. Kriya shakti, our intrinsic power of action, is the hallmark of yoga.” -Pandit Rajamani (The Practice of the Yoga Sutra)
As 2020 approaches, we are living in the best of times and the worst of times: everything at our fingertips, technology like never before, people allowed to be who they are, inclusiveness. But, we also have a tumultuous political climate, mass shootings every other week, dehumanization of people who are different, separateness. Was this the future any of us had imagined? How do we cope with the duality of the world? But really, the bigger question remains: How do we find peace and (dare I say it) happiness within the world we’re living in?
As a yogi, I’ve always felt like I’ve had a leg up and a handle on navigating through the swirling storms of this changing world, but lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost my compass. Schedules get busier and with that there’s always something to do or somewhere to be. Added to that, the blazing fire of summer burns us all out, including our inner fire, our agni, our lust for life. As a kid, summer was a time of playfulness and rest, but now I find myself longing for the steady earthiness of fall. I’ve realized very recently the thing that anchors me is having a disciplined practice-and if taken away my mind becomes so easily uneasy. I don’t just mean asana (the physical practice), rather the deep connection to the core of yoga: Kriya Yoga.
To put it simply, kriya yoga is ‘the yoga of action.’ It also means ‘ability to act’ and ‘ability to move.’ It is comprised of the last 3 niyamas (moral observances) in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras:Tapas, Svadhyaya, and Ishvara pranidhana. In essence, the three niyamas practiced together can lead us to the highest form of enlightenment, Samadhi. These three practices can seem easy enough, but really the hardest part is acquiring the will to begin and having the discipline to stick with it.
Tapas means ‘heat, radiant fire.’ It is part of the practice that ignites our inner fire and brings us vitality. Think of any activity in your life that makes you feel alive, that inspires the desire to create; something that awakens the dormant spontaneity of childhood. That is tapas. For me, it’s making music. It’s the creative juices that flow when I give myself the time and permission to sit down and write a song or the rush of excitement I feel when I perform in front of a crowd. When I wander off the path is when I lose a part of ME and then I wonder how I strayed so far. Why do we create roadblocks for ourselves in the first place?
That brings us to Svadhyaya. Sva means ‘the power of one’s self.’ Adhyaya means ‘study, contemplate, examine’ so Svadhyaya means ‘to study and examine ourselves.’ This self-reflection refers to both our internal and external states of being: the health of our body, the quality of our mind, our emotions, actions & reactions to life’s moments. This may be the hardest task of all because we are so used to filling up our day with stuff that we never give ourselves a moment of pause. Maybe it’s because we feel guilty or selfish that we’re taking time away from other things or from family, or maybe it’s because we’re fearful of seeing what’s really going on inside. One of the best ways to slow down from the whirlwind of life is through meditation. More specifically, one-pointed focus or japa (repetition of mantras) can start to quiet the mind and provide a clearer lens into how we’re feeling. It can illuminate what is contributing to the way we’re feeling, the things and people we surround ourselves with and the actions that we take in relation to them. We start to gain a discernment for how to sift through what we can free ourselves from and what actions we can take that will help us get to where we want to go.
In order to make the shift back to our intended path, we must have Ishvara pranidhana: trustful surrender to God. “Ishvara is utterly different from the concept of God in the various religious traditions. In yoga, God is not an entity separate from us and residing outside of us. God is not a person but an ever-present guiding intelligence.”1 This divine intelligence is what appears when we listen. This is what fuels our actions and brings us outside of the separateness that our worldly experiences constantly put us in. We start to trust ourselves because we’re no longer driven by rewards, or fruits of actions. We’re guided by grace; we’re guided by love. We become so grateful for this precious human life and perhaps begin to realize the things that we’re capable of changing in our life and the lives of those around us. We become better equipped to handle the mental challenges that the forces outside of ourselves bring about. The practice of kriya yoga helps us to stand in our true nature, to shine in our inner light, and to project that joy unto all beings. Trust the process and become the practice.
Tapas: Start doing something that creates a spark inside of you. Even asana and pranayama (breath work) can build heat and transform your energy into luminosity. Maybe it’s an activity that you’ve put off because life has gotten in the way. Rediscover it and stick with it.
Svadhyaya: Start a japa practice whether you use mala beads and chant a mantra (it could be as simple as ‘Om’) 108 times or take 5-10 mins of walking, seated, or supine meditation focusing on a simple mantra. Chant something that you want to bring more of into your life.
Ishvara pranidhana: Have faith that there’s something beyond the body and mind. Read ancient scriptures like the Vedas, Upanishads, or the Yoga Sutras. Love unconditionally.
1. pg. 14 The Practice of the Yoga Sutra Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD