Yogic Principles

What does it mean to incorporate more saucha, santosha, and svadhyaya in a client’s life? How can niyamas (specifically these three mentioned above) affect chronic pain?  Chronic pain is driven less by tissue damage and more by sleep, mood, thoughts, and emotions. Chronic pain diseases interact with their nervous system, immune system, and endocrine system.  Learn how the principals of the niyamas (also known as observances/ moral commitments) help clients relate to their inner self, the private ritual regarding self-care and how they can apply to those living with chronic pain. Learn how saucha, santosha and svadhyaya interact with the disease mechanisms/ pathways and the connections between physical, mental, emotional and social health. Find out how yoga therapists apply the niyamas with their clients. It is a journey, not a process; they check off their list. Taking it one-step at a time and proceeding with compassion (versus worrying about perfection) is needed while the client learns to dance on their edge of pain and comfort.

Saucha/ Sauca (Yoga Sutra 2:40-41) is purity and at the root concerned with keeping different energies distinct and maintaining the sanctity of the energy around us (Satchidananda, 2005). Using the perspective that there are shattered pieces of themselves, what seems like broken pieces are, what make them whole – they are a soupy mess of transformation called growth.  When faced with a chronic disease and rushing to doctor’s appointment… and subsequently rushed diagnoses in allopathic medicine the client leaves feeling fragmented as their body is talked about objectively in pieces. Practicing saucha they can un-fragment and start to see themselves as a whole. As a yoga therapist, using practices like pranayama and chanting Om (Aum) can help unify their head and heart, bringing them into the present moment. Breathing into intense discomfort at times dissipates the pain. Having a pranayama and chanting practice can bring the body into deep relaxation, relieving tension, tightness, reducing mental noise, agitation, and self-doubt.

Clients loved ones mean well; and while the customer is the ones sitting in the room facing the disease head-on, health care providers and loved ones do not see “them” anymore. They, like others, are approaching the experience with a cluttered mind scattered with thoughts. Clients leave their healthcare appointments with even more scattered thoughts than when they came. Taking a moment to practice pranayama at the end of a meeting can bring closure.   Before the appointment, it can bring clarity to the mind resulting in improved communication during the doctor’s appointment. Taking time to slow down is hard especially in our society where hurrying, multitasking and busyness are often viewed as success symbols.   They are killers of saucha (purity). When they can use pranayama to cleanse themselves, there may be a visceral reaction a feeling of being lighter, having more space and mental expansiveness. The side effects of practicing saucha are feelings of being more alive; their mind is clearer, and the heart is more compassionate (Adele, 2009).

Through pranayama, an inner cleanliness can help with being healthy (Deiskachar, 1995). The external cleanliness of the body and internal cleanliness of pure food digested removes impurities of mind such as arrogance, conceit, and malice (Keller, 2015). Sattvic food is light, fresh and nourishing.  Items such as grains, seeds, fruit, vegetables and dairy food promote health (Fields, 2001).

Santosa/ Santosha (Yoga Sutra 2:42) is being content with what they have already attained and wanting what they already have, accepting what is and making the best out of everything (Satchidananda, 2005).  Approach it from the perspective of; they are responsible for their disturbances.  Waves of emotional disturbance such as being upset, hurt, left out, not appreciated, put upon and mourning the past could be considered giving their emotional state away to someone or something outside themselves.  This is their loss of control and contentment.  The verbal explosion and ruminating are a waste of useful energy, silence, withdrawal, confiding in someone can be helpful.  At the time of diagnoses of a disease, using their energy to heal is very important. The toll is high when they are facing disease and at times have tunnel vision their health and well-being are affected, they have emotional and physical pain, misunderstanding and sloppy work. When they are upset and replaying negative events, they are the ones disturbing the flow of life, not the noise and storms in their lives. They keep themselves out of contentment because emotional disturbance can be traced back to them (Adele, 2009).

As a yoga therapist, using journaling and tracking times that clients are not in pain is a useful tool. Journaling what activity they are doing at that time as well as keeping a gratitude journal can help build more santosha (contentment) in their lives. Accept what has happened with the new diagnoses versus dwelling on the past.  Learn during the process and do not attach results with their actions.  Save them disappointment and despair as they navigate the new waters of living with chronic pain (Desikachar, 1995). Journaling can help uncover pain patterns and triggers that increase episodes of pain as well as patterns that bring them great joy and decrease pain. In learning these patterns, it allows for a better understanding of self and improved communication with health care providers. As a yoga therapist clients respond well when focusing on the patterns that bring joy and decrease pain. Journaling does not always have to be about a health record or pain; it can be about happiness, creativity, feelings, and needs. Journaling helps in the healing from stresses and traumas.  It has been linked to boosting the immune function in chronically ill patients (Murry, 2002).  Twenty minutes a day of pen and paper can be cathartic for the writer (Baikie, 2005). Santosha is the absence of desire beyond what is immediately necessary to maintain one’s life.  They feel that what they have been enough (Keller, 2015). The lack of greed results in calmness and serenity regardless of external and internal circumstances and working toward preventing mental disturbances (Fields, 2001).

Svadhyaya (Sutra 2:44) is the study of one’s self through careful observation (Satchidananda, 2005). If they think of self-study from the perspective of “being the witness.”  There is power in becoming the observer of themselves and learning how their belief system works. Can the need for fixing themselves, while controlling to keep things the same, be changed? Can they witness their reactions and respond with choice?  A yoga therapist might suggest to the client to observe their thoughts, feelings and emotional disturbances looking for clues about their matrix of belief systems. What are the stories they are telling themselves? Can they watch the ego rather than identify with it? Listening brings healing.  Beginning to know their self as something different than who they thought they gave them the opportunity to know their true self.  Understanding how they create their reality marks progress in their growth. Be curious to a beginner’s mind stepping outside their boxes and becoming free (Adele, 2009).

As a yoga therapist, using transcendental meditation ( technique, based on ancient Hindu writings and founded by Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, by which one seeks to achieve a relaxed state through regular periods of meditation during which a mantra repeated) to help the client build svadhaya or self-study. Transcendental meditation can help support the autonomic nervous system, neuroendocrine axis, cardiovascular and immune systems and well as supporting the physiology state and function through changing life conditions reducing stress (David Lynch Foundation, 2016). 

Yoga eventually influences all aspects of a person: mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically. Many layers in the yoga philosophy can support a client in approaches to relax, energize, remodel and strengthen body and psyche. As Swami Sri Kripalvanadji stated, “When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas, the entire garland will follow.” These niyamas mentioned here can provide direction to participants for clients that are finding it difficult to focus their thoughts and calm their mind. As starting any new endeavor, it ‘s hard in the beginning, but if the client continues to grow and learn about the niyamas, they will bring new behavioral patterns and a deeper understanding of how to build these practices into their life, until one day you realize they have become part of their heart and mind.






Adele, D. (2009). The Yamas & Niyamas Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice (pp. 105-161). Duluth, Minnesota: On-Word Bound Books.


Baiklie, K., & Wihelm, K. (2005, August). Home | BJPsych Advances. Retrieved March 08, 2016, from http://apt.rcpsych.org/


David Lynch Foundation. (n.d.). Retrieved March 08, 2016, from http://www.davidlynchfoundation.org/


Desikachar, T. (1995). Living in the World. In The Heart of Yoga: Developing a personal practice (Rev. ed., pp. 101-102). Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions International.


Fields, G. (2001). Value Theory and Ethics: Health and the Good in Yoga. In Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga, Ayurveda and Tantra (pp. 109-111). Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.


Keller, D. (2015). Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras- The Niyamas: Inner Observances. In Heart of the Yogi: The Philosophical World of Hatha Yoga (pp. 145-146). Doyoga.com.


Murry, B. (2002, June). Writing to heal. Retrieved March 08, 2016, from http://www.apa.org/


Satachidananda, S. (2005). Sadhana Pada Portion on Practice. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (11th ed., pp. 131-151). Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications.




Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Yoga | Add Comments Here »

Yamas and Niyamas- Personal Practice Journal

The first time that I started to work with the Yamas and Niyamas, I worked on one each for a month; then I realized that I needed a longer period to work on each.  Now I pick one per year to work with. This year I chose Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). I am having trouble letting go of relationships (loved ones). I am a Leo, and everything I have ever let go of has claw marks on it. Right now, I am heartbroken and not ready to see loved ones leave my life. Deborah Adele tells a story about Aparigraha where a person watches birds land on a perch.  They stay awhile and then they fly away, but you do not see them flying with their perches. Can I stop hanging onto my perch so that I can fly?

 Last year I worked on balancing my third chakra, and I am happy to say my intentions realized. The impending loss of loved ones shocked me in my capital center, right to the very core. I started asking questions like how long a relationship should last, looking at time itself, wondering about our departures, what it must feel like to face death and separation head on. I am not sure that I have come to any final conclusions on these complex subjects, but I did find a way to regain my psycho-emotional body through journaling, art journaling, meditation, tapping, heal codes, and talk therapy. This year I enter the year finding that my first and fourth chakras are struggling. I did not realize how much grief and heartbreak I was carrying until I became sick with pneumonia. I never get ill, and almost twelve weeks later, I am still struggling to find my immune system and cardiovascular system healthy and back to normal. I have been working on this diligently for weeks now to self-nurture and support these systems back to health. My ego is hurt to be struggling in my fourth chakra as this is where I am usually my strongest and now I am about to learn how to grow here as well this year.

In starting my journey in aparigraha, I was able to observe this at the Manomayakosha level (habitual patterns of thought and emotions) by noticing how shame feels in my body, this prickly sensation in my skin and this feeling of being in a tunnel as my heart sinks back.  My energy seems first to speed up and then fall back, so I go first to rajas and then to tamas. My mind starts to look for ways to blame, and the itty-bitty-shitty committee (self-doubt, scarcity, and shame) becomes louder in my head. I have been working on shame now for four years, and I am starting to build resilience to it where I can catch it more at the moment and label it, as “this is a shame scenario” and decide whether I want it to trigger me. The parenting style of shame, blame and guilt was strong in my household and growing up in a family that attended church; this style is present there too. There have been many years of “shame conditioning” and I use this as a reminder to give myself grace as I learn a new healthy pattern that will serve me better. I am starting to create some awareness that this is separate than purusa / atman (seer/ individual consciousness) as I can observe my patterns.

                The Anamayakosha (systems of the physical body in relationship to the rhythms of nature) relates to the first chakra, earth, and tamas. I am facing the fear of loss and being alone as well as learning about my right to be here and the value that I bring to this universe as my individual self. So far, as I practice Aparigraha, my physical awareness is to give myself permission to lean into fears, so when I feel my body tightening, I know my nervous system is being over-stimulated and that I am not handling an emotion well. I then prioritize journaling and my restorative yoga practice to reflect on what message my mind and body are sending me. Personal practice gives me access to my wisdom center where I can go to a sacred place within to see what story I am making up and if it fits with my real self. When I lean into my fears, I find peace.

                The Pranamayakosha (the energetic dimensions of our being) relates to the second chakra and water. I know from experience my heart will heal and that I will grow and thrive. Why am I attached? Trusting the Journey – this seems to be at the center for me right now. At times, I do not even believe my breath. When I give myself permission to trust it I find the present moment of in/ out and that the blessings I have outweighed the turmoil. Water calms me and brings me to sattva; it also helps me determine the mood of the day. Water is an excellent teacher and mirror for me. I learned that living by water and making time to sit in its presence brings me balance. I find fresh water bodies better as the ocean gets to be overwhelming to me at times.

Vijnanamayakosha is the witness faculty that allows for transformation.  This kosha relates to the fourth chakra and air. I am facing sorrow and the right to love and be loved. I started a three day fast, and I am always amazed every year how attached I get to the food. During meal times, I am reflecting on how much emotional baggage I carry in my mind – I work… I grow… am I making headway? I am grateful for the reminder that I can find what “enough” is again about fueling my body. My expectations and “need to fix” keep me captivated, frustrated and attached. Why do I not follow my gut and let go? Why must I control? I have worked on the physical clutter in my life. I have come a long way, still have a way to go but the emotional clutter has been slower to come, and a year ago, I started working harder on it. Every time I find myself loaded down with physical bags I ask myself “What emotional baggage is this representing? Can I give myself permission to let go of something and lighten my load?”

Anadamayakosha relates to inner joy, which is our true nature, more fundamental than personality.  This kosha refers to the fifth, sixth and seventh chakra, and space. I have started praying and reflecting morning and night. I have always meditated mid-day but felt a process to start and end my day was needed.  My mind is focusing in a more nurturing way that serves my greater good. I participate in seva because it keeps me grounded and grateful. I focus my seva around homelessness and fighting human trafficking. I love what I do for work.  It brings me joy.  The high of hearing all the success stories from my clients is like no other. If I cannot let go of how it is, will I find my next level that I need to grow?  I am grateful every week.  My blessings are endless. What weight on my shoulders do I need to let go? How much suffering do I want to endure?

Aparigraha has influenced my relationship with “self” and “awareness of self” so far by leaving me with this question “When nothing works, what will I do?” My faith was shaken, I meditate daily, I do my best, I am kind and compassionate to others, I eat healthy food, I read books, for the most part, I live a responsible, normal life with integrity.  So why am I facing upwards of ten losses in my life right now?  What will I do? While I was traveling in Nicaragua this summer, I learned about koan and paradoxical anecdote or riddle used to demonstrate the inadequacy of logical reasoning and to provoke enlightenment. Everything is subject to change, and nothing has any “autonomous essence” as my mentor Beth Shaw would say, “You never see change and comfort in the same sentence.” It appears as though the surer I am of my path, the harder my identity falls apart when hit with a storm. Again, Beth’s words hit me, for years now she always says to me every time we speak “There are always many options.” Being an adult at times sucks! The ugly truth of the fact that “We are drying up, we will die, we will lose our loved ones, we are entitled to nothing and there are no guarantees.” makes me angry. I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other, controlling to passiveness….where is the balance? I know that when I stop controlling and wishing for the things the way I want them to be and I stop expecting things to work out perfectly the way I want them too I have no choice but to let go! This time, where you are, you have stopped hanging onto the edge of the old cliff; you are in midair… vulnerable, scared and trusting that the other new foundation on which to land is coming soon, and it is approaching with a (mostly) smooth landing. When I lean into this without judgment, I am suddenly free, free in the self-knowledge that everything is, I am right where I need to be to grow and that I have no control over anything. All I need to do is breath in/ out.

Aparigraha has influenced my relationship with others by acting as a mirror for growth. It allows me to have a dialogue with myself to determine what stories I am telling myself. Are they factual stories or made up stories. Is this my stuff triggered or is it the other person’s stuff and I are happy to take on their emotional clutter with my emotional clutter (as if my own is not enough already)? Am I trying too hard to make this relationship work and I need to detach and stop grasping and clinging? I am in the fight of rajas, or I am in the freeze of tamas because I do not want loved ones to change and leave me. Currently, I am stuck in this limbo/ this rumble of my story. I have set an intention though to trust the journey, to be grateful for the present moment, and to remind myself that I am enough and that I do enough.

The year of aparigraha growth continues as I improve and strengthen my “letting go” muscle.

Tags: , , , , ,
Posted in Yoga | Add Comments Here »

Yogic Principles in Action

In this blog you will learn the Yamas and Niyamas in Sanskrit and English. How each of these principles is applicable in daily life? What role Yamas and Niyamas play in the Scope of Practice and Code of Ethics for professional Yoga therapists? How will the Yamas and Niyamas influence my personal approach to practicing yoga therapy?

The Yamas and Niyamas are foundational to all yogic thought. They are guidelines, ethical disciplines or pieces of wisdom that you can think of as the yoga commandments. This set of guidelines helps us recognize moments of self-deception such as observing what sort of communication style we are using with others. It teaches us tools in which to distinguish between cause and effect or Karma.  Yamas are restraints, disciplines, attitudes and behaviors (like our attitude we have toward things and people “outside us”- our external world). Niyamas are our inner observances and how we relate to ourselves – our self-care.

According to Doug Keller in The Heart of the Yogi there were traditionally ten each of  the Yamas and Niyamas, however for our discussion today we will focus on the main five in each category of the Yamas and Niyamas that are widely used today. The Yamas are the guidelines to help us interact with our external world, our social environments, our relationships and our code of ethics. The Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (non-excess) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness). The Niyamas are our code of personal conduct; it is about self-regulation and maintaining a positive environment in which to grow. The Niyamas are Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender).

Ahimsa (Sutra 2:35) at its root means finding the courage to maintain compassion towards yourself and others in all situations. When we don’t meet our body “where it is” on the mat that day we are being violent toward our body.  we are no longer listening to the messages that it is trying to send us. Our body speaks our mind; violence and awareness do not coexist. How we treat ourselves is how we treat those around us.  if we are being a task master and critical with ourselves and then feel as though we are being light hearted and forgiving with others we are fooling ourselves. We can’t be critical of ourselves and forgiving with others. If we can’t be emotionally safe and loving with ourselves then others can never feel safe around us. The pop-culture allegory would be like Pigpen in the Peanuts cartoon.  There is always a “cloud of dust” around him.  People can sense this cloud of harm in actions or thoughts. You can’t expect to purchase orange paint at the store and expect it will be yellow at home when you put it on the walls. I believe Ahimsa helps us build bridges with people by being compassionate, loving and patient.  It nourishes our students.  However, this doesn’t mean we should be a door mat. The most compassionate people have boundaries for themselves. Gandhi is just one teacher whose whole life was based on this one principle.

Satya (Sutra 2:36) Patanjali describes it as truthfulness (being honest with ourselves and others). In our practice when we buy a pose by selling Ahimsa and Satya it is too expensive. We do not need to be cafeteria practioners taking only what we are good at and leaving the rest behind or compromising our truth. Our body is ever changing.  We should love it and be honest about where it is that day without apology or excuses about parts of the body that are healing or unflattering. By letting go of our competition with ourselves and others you can let go of your masks by being authentically you (bold, brave, courageous, loving, honest and compassionate). When we are vulnerable it is a language that connects all of us and allows us to be empathic. We can’t just organize our stuff in a closet and close the door forgetting about it because at some point the door bursts out. We are imperfect beings.  Be careful to not confuse truth with ‘brutal honesty’ or compassion with ‘being right’. Love is a higher vibration than truth and should be your guide in directing you on how to use your truth. By not letting the ego get in the way of the heart we can recognize when we are in need of being right rather than the more important issue of the feeling of others. Sharing our knowledge with love, compassion and authenticity feels better than causing harm to others making them feel wrong or “less than.”

Asteya (Sutra 2:37) while it consists of “non-stealing” it is really rooting out the subconscious beliefs of  “lack” and “scarcity” that cause greed and hoarding in various forms.  When we approach our practice from scarcity and hold back thinking that we won’t have enough energy to do the entire practice we are not operating at our full capacity and trusting that we have the required energy to do our practice. If you attain what you want through honest means you will have no fear. Taking time to use objects in the right way, managing our time properly and cultivating a sense of completeness are ways that we can practice Asteya. How often do you steal from yourself? We steal our time of rest and reflection because we see it as a status symbol or self-worth validation. As we allow demands of others and their perceptions to mold our images it steals our own uniqueness. When was the last time you were on an electronic device instead of being present with the person in front of you?

Brahmacharya (Sutra 2:38) is the moderation of sensual pleasures (mental, vocal or physical). What is the perfect limit for us and why do we move into excess? Learning to tame the mind to distinguish the difference between what the body needs to fulfill our health or dharma and what the mind is making up that we need. We are complex beings and many times we fulfill the surface level needs rather than pausing and taking a moment to view what our soul needs for holistic approach to fulfillment. It is neither obsessing nor repressing that satisfies our desires.

Aprigraha (Sutra 2:39) is non-clinging or simplicity. When we take away our stuff (our possessions) and we face ourselves it isn’t always comfortable, but it is a place of inspiration that makes room for growth to come.  When students look at someone else in class and want to be them and they judge their life against their peer, it is creating comparison and jealousy. Rather than the student looking inward and working on their own body in their own capacity, loving and accepting where they are in that movement everyone has a starting point in which they leave denial and start to grow awareness and understanding.  It is okay to have possessions in life as long as we stay connected to our internal self (our soul).  It is when we use the possessions to feed a spiritual starvation that we get off of our path… remaining connected to our inner desire or our soul’s dharma code and allowing life to flow and trust our journey, determining what is enough for us in all dharma roles that we play (such as child, sibling, partner, teammate at work, parent etc. Remember to check in to see how many rocks we are carrying around with us and learning to let go to detach and respect the circle of life.

Shaucha (Sutra 2:40-41) is purity and at the root concerned with keeping different energies distinct and keeping the sanctity of the energy around us. The sage Manu says “Water purifies the body; truthfulness the mind; true knowledge the intellect and the soul is purified by knowledge and austerity.” By keeping an orderly environment, ensuring that our body is cleaned and free of strong body odors… by coming into our practice and lining up with our peers rather than scattered about the room… this allows our energy to flow and keeps the room clean.

Santosha (Sutra 2:42) being content with what we have already attained and wanting what you already have, accepting what is and making the best out of everything. We may not be ready yet for what we are attempting to do and that doesn’t mean we are bad or “less than,” instead accepting we did our best and tomorrow we will show up and do the same. Approach each asana with an effort of ease. This is a practice of gratitude and grace by approaching each obstacle with love over fear. Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the adage “accept that which we cannot change, change what we can and have the wisdom to know the differences.” Every day I ask for the wisdom to know which question to ask, the ability to be quiet enough to hear the answer, the courage to accept the answer and the boldness to take action without fear.

                        Tapas (Sutra 2:43) is the wiliness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with discipline. I think of this in a personal practice where wise effort can be discerned as the difference between someone who simply fantasizes and someone who is on a path toward their dreams. It takes effort for anything to bear fruit in our physical world yet we need to balance Tapas with Santosha (effort with contentment) If we try to force things we end up doing harm. If we are forcing an asana we are creating gripping muscles and joints versus meeting our body where we need it to be with effort and ease and allowing circulation and health to thrive. Sometimes we have to underwhelm ourselves so that we will build more desire to reach our goal. I am reminded of the story of the Phoenix… of burning off some layers and emerging as something new so that we can fully live our soul’s dharma… our life’s mission.

            Svadhyaya (Sutra 2:44) is the study of one’s self through careful observation. Taking pause during our over stimulated life and finding our breath, relaxing, and feeling, watching and allowing ourselves to just “be.” At these times we can journal and meditate and almost in an organic manner we can start to see our inner wisdom source guide us to our truth. Being aware of our spirit of exploration within and acknowledging the scared power it holds.

Ishvara-Pranidhana (Sutra 2:45) is something bigger than ourselves. It is about showing up in our life, doing our best and leaving the rest up to the higher power that we believe in and allowing our life to create a legacy that is for a higher purpose than ourselves.  Always asking which option will help the most people keeping self-actualizing as the goal in life and adjusting all of our actions to serve this goal in some way. When we allow growth to happen it brings awareness to our being which can then fully express our authenticity of “self” and celebrate this energy.


Adele, D. (2009). The Yamas & Niyamas Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice (pp. 21-175). Duluth, Minnesota: On-Word Bound Books LLC.


Keller, D. (2004). The Yama and Niyamas. In The Heart of the Yogi: The Philosophical World of Hatha Yoga (pp. 141-146). South Riding, Virginia: Do Yoga Productions.


Satachidananda, S. (2005). Sadhana Pada Portion on Practice. In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (11th ed., pp. 131-151). Buckingham, Virginia: Integral Yoga Publications.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in selfie | Add Comments Here »