I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what I mean by the term spiritual. Maybe I mean soulful. Maybe I mean the stuff in my life that invisible but vital to my happiness. In defining the word, a distinction is often made between physical, material things and things of the spirit. That is such a broad umbrella that it’s almost impossible to hold it up. More confusion occurs when individuals talk about how they understand what spirit or spirituality is, and there is also such a wide range of experience we humans have. I did a weekend residential workshop called “Spirituality and Sexuality” a while back with an organisation called HAI. This workshop is about the interplay between sexuality and spirituality and opening your heart and soul freely by first accepting yourself as you are, including your sexuality. It worked. I did feel at the close of the workshop that my sexuality was a spiritual expression of me – no schism – and the insight has lasted. Yoga students, I assert, want their spirits looked after as much as their physiques went they come to classes. How do I know that? That’s what I’m looking for – to enjoy a holistic practice and be fulfilled on all the levels that yoga can provide. My friend and colleague, Donna Farhi, who is teaching in Sydney at the moment kicked off one of her 5-day seminars that I attended with the story of the sage Astavara – which can be found on Devi Wears Prana’s great blog. At the time I thought, ‘How brave! – to launch into storytelling to a whole group of yogis, most of whom she’d never met, and who were by and large practitioners of physical yoga. But we all lapped up the story, as well as other spiritual elements of her teaching, like chanting. Relating to Sutra II-32, here’s Ms. Farhi’s take on the Niyamah, which she calls ‘codes for living soulfully.’:
One of the greatest challenges as Westerners practising yoga is to learn to perceive progress through ‘invisible signs’, signs that are quite often unacknowledged by the culture at large…. [For instance] Are we moving toward greater kindness, patience, or tolerance toward others?
The guidelines of the Niyama point us toward what is likely to help us realise our best selves by the way we live and breathe.
The five internal disciplines are bodily purification, contentment, intense discipline, self-study, and dedication to the ideal of yoga.* *The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, translation with commentary by Chip Hartranft.