Tag Archives: Purity

The Five Koshas (Part 5 – Anandamaya Kosha: bliss sheath)

Anandamaya Kosha is the fifth and final of the five Koshas (sheaths) and is comprised of a Sanskrit term “Ananda” (bliss – pure joy), Maya, which means “composed of” and Kosha meaning sheath. So, Anandamaya Kosha is the sheath that is composed of bliss.

Anandamaya Kosha is the innermost of the Koshas, the first of the Koshas surrounding the Atman, the eternal center of consciousness. It is also the most subtle body and without its existence life is impossible. It interacts with the other Koshas like the sun affecting our planet. This blissfull body beyond words is generally perceived in flashes of short duration as an undescribable experience where duality ends and “I AM” expresses its unity with the Divine.

This bliss however, is not the emotional bliss that’s experienced at the level of the sheath of mind (Manomaya Kosha). Ananda is a whole different order of reality from that of the mind, for it’s the peace, joy, and love that is underneath (or beyond) the mind, independent of any reason or external stimulus that may cause a happy mental reaction. It is simply “being”; resting in the eternal bliss called ananda.

Yet, even this bliss, however wonderful it seems, must still be recognized as a covering (a sheath); like a lampshade which covers the pure light of consciousness. In the silence of deep meditation, this too needs to be let go of, in order to move beyond the dualistic mind.

When we can transcend the other four sheaths described previously (see links below), we can begin to experience this sense of pure joy which does not need any sensory input or dependance on any of our past experiences or impressions. Anandamaya Kosha is the closest to our true “Self” which is ever pure and ever-unchanging. We can abide in this bliss only as a result of “samadhi”, the last of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga philosophy. Of course, to get there one has to practice the other seven limbs on a regular basis.  

To review the other four Koshas, click on the following…

  1. Annamaya Kosha, food (gross body)sheath
  2. Pranamaya Kosha, air (vital energy) sheath
  3. Manomaya Kosha, mind (mind-stuff) sheath
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha, wisdom (intellect/intuition) sheath

*Through discrimination and inquiry, may you all abandon your identification with all five of these illusory sheaths which has been established by Avidya (ignorance)!


The Five Koshas (Part 4 – Vijnanamaya Kosha: wisdom sheath)

Vijnanamaya Kosha is the fourth of the five Koshas (sheaths) and is a Sanskrit terms “jna” (to know), “vi” (apart), together they imply discernment. Maya means composed of, Kosha means sheath. So, Vijnanamaya Kosha is the sheath that is composed of the discerning intellect.

The Vijnanamaya Kosha is also known as the sheath of intuitive knowledge/wisdom. Our intellect gives us the discriminative capability that helps to differentiate between good and evil, between right and wrong etc. The intellect can be looked upon as having two components:

  • One that is controlled by our ego and driven by our past memories and impressions (samskaras).
  • And the other which is controlled by our pure intuition.

The “ego-driven” intellect most often leads to actions which result in pain and suffering, while actions prompted by pure intuition and discriminative knowledge will give us satisfaction, peace and happiness.

When one practices meditation, their mind becomes purified and their intellect can then begin to depend more and more on this pure intuitive wisdom rather than being so influenced by the ego.

This is the sheath of wisdom that lies underneath the processing, thinking aspect of mind, or the sheath of mental activities (Manomaya Kosha). It knows, decides, judges, and discriminates between this and that, between all that is useful and not useful. A major part of Sadhana (spiritual practice) is gaining ever increasing access to this level of our being. It is the level that prompts our “higher wisdom” to seek Truth, to inquire within, in search of the true Self or eternal center of consciousness.

Vijnanamaya Kosha, as the conscious body, lies deeper than the previously described Koshas and it also remains interactive and dependant on them. This sheath is responsible for inner growth, for ethics and morals. It allows us to reach beyond mundane existence into wisdom and subtle knowledge as it actively seeks to move from the exoteric to the esoteric; from the world observed by the eyes to the inner space behind the eyes.

Independent of any specific religion, the studies of holy texts like the Bible, the Torah, the Bhagavad Gita and other texts from the great sages of antiquity, will lead us to the same realization because all religions are based on this same truth. In this sheath we recognize and return to the “real” life, the life that both preserved and outlasts the body.

By meditating on, and exploring the Vijnanamaya Kosha, and then going inward, to and through the remaining and final Kosha (Anandamaya Kosha), thus arriving at the “Self” (Atman).

Stay tuned, next we’ll explore the innermost and final sheath: The Five Koshas (Part 5 – Anandamaya Kosha: bliss sheath)

The Five Koshas (Part 3 – Manomaya Kosha: mind sheath)

Manomaya Kosha is the third of the five Koshas (sheaths) and is a Sanskrit term meaning “the sheath of the mind”. Mano or Manas, in Sanskrit, means “mind”, Maya means composed of, Kosha means sheath. So, Manomaya Kosha is the sheath that is composed of the mind (or “mind-stuff”).

This “sheath of mental activities” is the receiver of all sense impressions and from these impressions it forms its own ideas, thereby giving rise to the idea of “I” and “mine”, in turn creating avidya (ignorance, delusion). The organs connected with sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, together with the mind, constitutes this Kosha. It enables the individual to identify various objects and perceptions and distinguish one from another. It is subtler than the second Kosha (Pranamaya – the sheath through which vital air, or Prana, circulates throughout the body) and permeates it, so it could be considered the inner self of the Pranamaya Kosha. Swami Sivananda likens it to “the bladder of a football”, in regard to the Pranamaya Kosha.

Manomaya Kosha (the “inner organ”) is also interactive with and dependant of the former two Koshas (Pranamaya & Annamaya). It governs all the faculties of perception and instinctual consciousness. It is the mind which can construct and destroy our apparent reality. It is our sub-consciousness that is formed by both negative and positive experiences and where our self has developed its behavior. Within this sheath actions happen automatically and it can dominate the other two outer shells. Vivekananda says of this Kosha: “Actions are mighty, thoughts are almighty”. To activate this Kosha the former two bodies (Pranayama & Annamaya) should be put at “rest” through a deep relaxation technique (i.e. Yoga Nidra). With this practice, the deep sheath of our mind can be penetrated and our negative types of programming can be replaced with positive and constructive ones, but to succeed, this process needs perseverance.

Manomaya Kosha  receives all sense impressions and from these impressions it forms its own ideas, thereby giving rise to the idea of ’I’ and ’Mine’, in turn creating avidya (ignorance, delusion). The organs connected with sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, together with the mind, constitutes this Kosha. It enables the individual to identify various objects and perceptions and distinguish one from another. Thoughts, emotions, feelings, memories are all a part of this Kosha, and since every thought has a great inherent power; it affects our physiology, moods, physical body, responses, work efficiency, relationships, wisdom and especially our breathing. The epidemic of stress in these modern days is basically a problem at the level of mind, where a sense of apprehensiveness prompting negative emotions is commonly allowed to build up without any opportunity for release, unless certain measures are taken.

When this sheath receives clear instructions from the deeper levels, it functions naturally and very well. However, whenever it is clouded over by its own self-constructed illusions, the deeper wisdom is obscured.

After taking care of the food (physical) body and training the energy (vital) body by regulating the flow of prana, the next important part to be trained (in a positive manner) is this level of mind. Through proper meditation, we may become aware of Manamaya Kosha, exploring it, and then going inward, to and through the remaining two Koshas.

As with the former two Koshas, the Manomaya Kosha is also transitory.

Stay tuned, coming up next will be: The Five Koshas (Part 4 – Vijnanamaya Kosha: wisdom sheath)

The Five Koshas (Part 2 – Pranamaya: air sheath)

Pranamaya Kosha is the second of the five Koshas (sheaths).

Pranamaya Kosha, is a Sanskrit term meaning “the sheath of energy”. Prana, in Sanskrit, means vital energy, Maya means composed of, Kosha means sheath. So, Pranamaya Kosha is the sheath of vital energy within each human being.

The Pranamaya Kosha is more subtle than the Annamaya Kosha (gross physical sheath). The whole of the physical body is pervaded by the Pranamaya sheath. The Pranamaya sheath contains the five Karma Indriyas (Vayus) or organs of action (brief summary below) and along with the mental and intellectual sheaths, forms the subtle body of Linga Sarira (the astral body).

The five Karma Indriyas (Vayus):

  1. 1. Prana: has an upward movement and is responsible for all things taken into the body (food, fluids, air, sensory inputs and mental impressions).
  2. 2. Apana: has a downward movement and is responsible for all forms of elimination and reproduction functions (stool and the urine, the expelling of semen, menstrual fluid and the fetus, and the elimination of carbon dioxide through the breath).
  3. 3. Udana: has an upward movement and is responsible for growth of the body (the ability to stand, speech, effort, enthusiasm and willpower).
  4. 4. Samana: has an inward movement (moving inward from the periphery, working in the gastrointestinal tract to digest food, in the lungs to process air, absorbing oxygen, and in the mind to homogenize and assimilate experiences; sensory, emotional and/or mental).
  5. 5. Vyana: moves from the center outward to the periphery. It governs circulation on all levels, moving food, water, blood and oxygen throughout the body, and keeping emotions and thoughts circulating in the mind. In doing this, Vyana assists all the other Pranas in their work.

In order for the first or outer Kosha (Annamaya) to function it needs to be energized and sustained by the vital Prana available via the Pranamaya Kosha, the energy sheath. If the energy sheath is absent the physical body will disintegrate and merge back into its five elements (earth, water, fire, air and ether). The Pranamaya Kosha can be viewed as being responsible for all the physiological functions in the body (breathing, blood circulation, digestion, heartbeat, all hormonal functions, communication between the brain and the cells of the body etc.).

The primary Yoga practice that is used to energize and vitalize the Pranamaya Kosha is Pranayama (control of the breath).

The Pranamaya Kosha is the vital force that produces the subtle vibrations related to breath, and which are the driving force behind the physical aspect of the senses and the operation of the physical body. It allows the invisible indweller, our true “Self” to be able to animate through the body in the external world. Ironically, at the same time, it allows the eternally still, silent center of consciousness to be mistakenly identified as the moving, visible physical body.

Vedanta philosophy instructs us that for both a healthy life and the proper practice of meditation, it is very useful, even essential that this level of our being be trained, regulated, and directed, so that it flows smoothly and easily.

The Pranamaya Koshasurvives the physical body, but only momentarily, for it is also transitory.

Stay tuned, coming up next will be: The Five Koshas (Part 3 – Manomaya Kosha: mind (mind-stuff) sheath.

The Five Koshas (Part 1- Annamaya: food sheath)

Annamaya Kosha is the first and outer of the five Koshas (sheaths).

Annamaya Kosha, is a Sanskrit term meaning “the sheath of food” (anna), more specifically, the physical (or gross) body, which is made of food. All of the physical aspects of life come and go (through the cycle of birth and death) and are continually consumed by some aspect of the external (or manifest) reality. Thus, the outermost of the Koshas is called the sheath of food, or Annamaya kosha.

In accordance with Vedanta philosophy and Yoga practice, we train this aspect of ourselves; we take care of it and nurture it so that we can enjoy our external lives and at the same time turn within without it being an obstacle during meditation. In meditation, we can become aware of Annamaya Kosha, exploring it, and going inward and beyond it, to and subsequently through the other Koshas.

Annamaya Kosha is the sheath that represents the physical body and it needs nourishment to survive. As humans being we are a part of the food chain the same as all other sentient beings. This sheath is the visible and recognizable part of our “Self” and therefore we tend to mistakenly identify ourselves with it. It is also the most vulnerable of the five Koshas due to its physical nature and the array of environmental influences it is subject to. It is strengthened and supported by proper alignment with our body type and age along with adequate hygiene. Moderate exercise is recommended to sufficiently activate and enliven this outer and transitory sheath. Asanas which require concentration and pranayama to establish a regular respiratory rhythm will maintain the health, flexibility and strength of this body, as will any type of sport which is not carried to extreme.

Since this Kosha represents our gross body (Sthula Sharira) which is the “touchy” and “feely” part of our being, it includes our musculature, bones, blood, all the fluids in the body etc. This sheath is a composite of the five great elements (or five “mahabhutas”); earth, water, fire, air and ether. Furthermore, it is the false identification of the “Self” with this sheath that has as its consequence “avidya” (ignorance), which results in our suffering. Some examples of this identification are simple statements like, “I’m fat” or “I’m ugly”, etc. If you just take a step back and replace statements like these with “this body is fat” and “this face is ugly”, you have taken an essential step in recognizing the distinction between the “Self” and the physical body. When saying “my body”, we are asserting that we have an enclosure called the body, but “Self” is not that body.

This Kosha, representing our gross physical body can be viewed as the first port of entry in respect to gaining access to all the deeper layers (sheaths), eventually leading us to the recognition of our very core, which is the Atman (Universal Self). It is our responsibility to care for this sheath, keeping it healthy, clean and free of impurities so the access to the inner (or deeper) sheaths is more easily gained. In addition to practicing yoga techniques of asana (and the moderate exercises mentioned above), cleansing kriyas, proper diet and relaxation on a regular basis will help us achieve this goal. It is important to remember that while practicing the asanas we need to be fully and consciously aware of the impact of each pose on every part of the body. This awareness during our practice will help prevent any undue strain or injury that we might provoke due to negligence, overzealousness or competitiveness, which often prompts us to strive for something beyond our body’s normal ability. The awareness of the entire body will also help us greatly in making the connection with the deeper Koshas that will be discussed in upcoming articles.

Final note: The Annamaya Kosha is totally dependent on the Pranamaya Kosha (Vital Energy Sheath), or life force, and will disintegrate as soon as life energy or prana has left the body. Yoga Philosophy teaches us that the real Self is not any of these bodies. In order to attain liberation one must put an end to identifying with these sheaths and identify with the true Self, which is beyond all the sheaths. Each Kosha can in turn, be transcended.

Stay tuned, coming up next will be: The Five Koshas (Part 2 – Pranamaya Kosha: vital energy sheath).

The Five Koshas (Sheaths)

Kosha a Sanskrit word usually translated as “sheath”, of which there are five, each one representing a covering of the Atman (“Self”, according to Vedantic philosophy). They range from gross to subtle and are often visualized like the layers of an onion. Just as there are layers of an onion or like the series of Russian wooden dolls pictured below, so also these Koshas, lie one within the other as a set of five sheaths.

The five sheaths (aka- Pancha-Koshas) are listed here (each of these individual Koshas will be elaborated upon in future blog articles). From gross to fine they are:

  1. Annamaya Kosha, food (gross body)sheath
  2. Pranamaya Kosha, air (vital energy) sheath
  3. Manomaya Kosha, mind (mind-stuff) sheath
  4. Vijnanamaya Kosha, wisdom (intellect/intuition) sheath
  5. Anandamaya Kosha, bliss (pure joy) sheath

According to Vedanta the wise man should discriminate between the Self and the Koshas, which are non-self.

It is natural for one to identify themselves with the Koshas. But as their intellect becomes pure through meditation they develop the faculty of true discrimination between the real and the unreal, between the permanent and the impermanent. As they acquire this faculty of true discrimination, they abandon the first Kosha and their focus approaches the next level or sheath. By meditation they can resolve each Kosha and go deeper to the one that is behind it, till thay reache the innermost Atman (Self) behind all five Koshas and then they hold on to that Atman alone. Step by step one abandons one Kosha after another dissolving all of them and eventually attaining knowledge of their unity with Brahman and become liberated from karma or the round of births and deaths.

The Koshas (along with the entire world of names and forms) vanishes entirely from the vision of a liberated sage. They are illusions (Maya) that can only be removed by true knowledge. A good analogy is how a rope is mistaken for a serpent, only because of ignorance, so it is only by ignorance (Avidya) alone that the Atman becomes mistaken to be the person of five Koshas, suffering each of them as a result.

When practicing Yoga, some sort of guide is needed, like a map that charts the territory of the self. The five Koshas make up such a map, established by yogic sages over 3,000 years ago. These Koshas are written about in the Upanishads, navigating an inner journey, starting from the outer boundary of the body and moving towards its core (the Self). So the Yogic path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, recognizing and dissolving each of those Koshas, in order to experience the purity and unity of the eternal Divine Consciousness or Self (Atman), while at the same time allowing that Divinity to permeate our individuality. The Koshas have proven to be both a practical and profound contemplative tool that can help you deepen your Yoga practice and improve the quality of your life.

Check back soon for: The Five Koshas (Part 1- Annamaya: food sheath)

The Five Niyamas (Part 5 – Ishvara Pranidhana)

This article is the fifth and final part of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The fifth of the five Niyamas is Ishvara Pranidhana. In its simplest form, the Sanskrit term is a combination of the words; Ishvara, meaning Lord, God, Supreme Being or Life Force, and Pranidhana, meaning attention to, love for, surrender to, faith in, or reunion with. “Attentiveness” and “Surrender” are both close English approximations.

Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) is considered the “final” step, stage, practice or observance (Niyama) for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Patanjali says of Ishvara Pranidhana: “From an attitude of letting go into one’s source (ishvarapranidhana), the state of perfected concentration (samadhi) is attained.” (Yoga sutra 2.45 – samadhi siddhih ishvarapranidhana).

For Patanjali, Ishvara Pranidhana is a powerful “observance” for dissolving the seemingly endless fluctuations (or agitations) of the mind, and is therefore a means to the realization of the ultimate unified state of yoga, “Samadhi.” By embodying the practice of Ishvara Pranidhana we can shift our perspective from our obsession with the “ego-I” that causes so much of the mind’s distraction and creates the sense of separation from our Source. Since Ishvara Pranidhana focuses on the sacred ground of being rather than the ego, it reunites us with our true Self. As B. K. S. Iyengar states in his Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and…grace…pours down upon him like a torrential rain.”

A note on the meaning of Ishvara (from Swami Rama): “In the Upanishads, the word Īśvara is used to denote a state of collective consciousness. Thus, God is not a being that sits on a high pedestal beyond the sun, moon, and stars; God is actually the state of Ultimate Reality. But due to the lack of direct experience, God has been personified and given various names and forms by religions throughout the ages. When one expands one’s individual consciousness to the Universal Consciousness, it is called Self-realization, for the individual self has realized the unity of diversity, the very underlying principle, or Universal Self, beneath all forms and names. The great sages of the Upanishads avoid the confusions related to conceptions of God and encourage students to be honest and sincere in their quests for Self-realization. Upanishadic philosophy provides various methods for unfolding higher levels of truth and helps students to be able to unravel the mysteries of the individual and the universe.”

In the West we commonly view surrender as giving up; a last resort when all else has failed and we are exhausted or in a weakened state, but on the other hand, the type of surrender indicated by Isvara Pranidhana requires tremendous strength and courage. This is why the observance of the other four Niyamas precedes it.

In order to surrender the “fruits” of our actions to God we are required to give up all illusions that we know best, and instead accept and trust that the way our life unfolds is most likely part of a much larger pattern too complex and/or beautiful for us to understand. Isvara Pranidhana instructs us to make a conscious choice to love regardless of the harshness or comfort of our current circumstances.

This surrender is definitely not a passive inactivity. Isvara Pranidhana requires that we completely and whole heartedly surrender to all that “is”, while simultaneously acting with an abundance of goodness and love.

The practice of Isvara Pranidhana is relatively simple. Just let all the activities of body, mind and spirit be consciously rooted in unconditional love, the love of an open heart radiating kindness and compassion.  Actively surrender to reality of Life, the Divine and Existence Itself.  As we actively surrender to what “is” while we intentionally move towards the highest expression of our spiritual Self in each moment with no attachment or thought of any “attainment”, a great sense of freedom and peace arises within us and we become a healing light to all.

Isvara Pranidhana inherently requires a profound trust in the goodness of the Universal Divine which permeates all existence, both within and beyond our finite understanding.

The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)

This article is the fourth of a five part series based on this post:  The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)


The fourth of the five Niyamas is Svadhyaya – a compound Sanskrit word literally translated sva, meaning “one’s own”, and adhyaya, “study”; therefore Svadhyaya would mean study of one’s self. Svadhyaya also is interpreted as studying the Vedas, Yoga Sutras and other scriptures, basically the source materials of yoga practice.

Self-study is very important for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) and it would include reflection on sacred texts. Patanjali says of Svadhyaya: “From self-study and reflection on sacred words (svadhyaya), one attains contact, communion, or concert with that underlying natural reality or force.” (Yoga sutra 2.44 – svadhyayat ishta samprayogah).

Through deep inquiry into the self, comes an acknowledgment of the oneness of that self with all that is arises naturally. In other words, when practicing Svadhyaya our boundaries begin to melt and the illusion of separateness we feel from ourselves, those around us, and our world begins to dissolve. To practice Svadhyaya is to find the Divine appearing in us (and as us) at this very moment.

Yogis throughout the ages have practiced Svadhyaya by asking the simple question, “Who am I.”  Sri Ramana Maharishi often spoke of self-enquiry as the “direct path” meaning it was the fastest path to moksha (liberation from Maya [illusion] and samskara [the cycle of death and rebirth] including all of the suffering and limitation of worldly existence).

Svadhyaya is purposefully preceded by Tapas (fiery discipline) because it takes an enormous amount of discipline to move beyond the material world that defines, binds and shrouds us in Maya (ignorance). In the practice of Svadhyaya, prayers, mantras, japa, meditation, purposeful intent and other devotional practices, including ancient yogic methods are used to strip away the ego and unveil truth, layer by layer. In the study of one’s self, the student becomes the witness of their thoughts, emotions, actions and life.  During this witnessing process the distance between the real and unreal is unveiled.  The incessantly chattering mind, unsettled emotions and physical limitations of the body are no longer seen as the “Self”, but instead are viewed as an experience of Self. In this recognition and realization of Truth, the practice of Svadhyaya brings a resounding peace.

In yoga practice, Svadhyaya has most traditionally been concerned with the study of various scriptures. But in truth, any practice that brings us to the point of recognizing our interconnection with all that is, is Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya could be studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, practicing asana, chanting, or even reading this blog.

In the study of Svadhyaya, as with all of our sadhanas, there is a natural, organic movement towards becoming more and more present.  Along with this movement, there is an automatic falling away of fear.  A sense of peace emerges along with the knowledge that love (presence) permeates all that is and ever was.  Through the recognition of our inherent goodness and divinity, we realize that everything occurs for both the good of the individual and the good whole. In this state there are no random events,  in fact, it would appear as if from your very first breath you were meant to find that you are loved far more than you could ever possibly imagine.

Final thoughts: Incorporating the practice of Svadhyaya into your everyday life is an effective way to experience life more fully. It’s about getting to know yourself better. And as we begin to truly understand who we are, we identify with the connectedness (union) that yoga is really all about.

The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 5 – Ishvara Pranidhana)

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

This article is the third of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

Tapas (heat)

The third of the five Niyamas is Tapas – a Sanskrit term meaning “heat”. In Vedic religion and Hinduism, Tapas is also used figuratively, denoting spiritual suffering, mortification or austerity, and also the spiritual ecstasy of a yogin or tāpasa (a Vriddhi derivative meaning “a practitioner of austerities, an ascetic”).

Self training is very important for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Training the senses is a subtler training, as these are the instrument of the mind, acting through the vehicle of the body. Patanjali says of Tapas: Through ascesis or training of the senses (tapas), there comes a destruction of mental impurities, and an ensuing mastery or perfection over the body and the mental organs of senses and actions (indriyas).” (Yoga sutra 2.43 – kaya indriya siddhih ashuddhi kshayat tapasah)

The Katha Upanishad (III.3-4) presents a metaphor of a chariot, in which the senses (indriyas) are like the horses, the reins are the mind (manas), the driver is the intelligence or intellect (buddhi), the chariot is the physical body, and the passenger is the true Self, the atman. If the senses and mind are not trained, then the horses run in random, uncontrolled directions. With self-training, the senses stay on course, under the proper control of the driver. The Katha Upanishad is also notable for first introducing the term yoga (lit. “yoking, harnessing”) for spiritual exercise: “When the five organs of perception become still, together with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active: that is called the highest state. This firm holding back of the senses is what is known as Yoga.” (VI.10-11, trans. Paramananda).

Since it comes from the Sanskrit root “to burn,” the word tapas represents the transformational essence of fire. Just as fire transforms all that it touches, tapas is a method of personal transformation. When practicing tapas, the student or Yogi finds his own inner flame which becomes the motivation that keeps him focused on his goals and helps him to eliminate or “burn” the obstacles on his path. Temptations of the senses, laziness, negative thoughts, energy blockages in the body, etc. are gradually weakened and overcome. The power the senses have to distract us is limited by the student’s clear and disciplined focus and in this way Tapas perfects the body and senses and destroys impurities.

Tapas is often regarded as “austerity” but in today’s culture, we generally (and mistakenly) associate the term “austerity” with severe depravation. Although, according to the yoga philosophy, austerity is an opportunity to set ourselves free from distraction. When we discipline ourselves, establishing long-term goals, difficulty can definitely arise; because it is both frustrating and challenging to confront the limits of our own commitment to maintaining self-control. However, when we finally gain the strength and courage to make the commitment, the results are unbelievable. We discover that beyond the end goal of personal transformation, our self-esteem is improved and the realization of our inherent inner strength is our biggest reward. And fortunately, this is a “snowballing” effect; the more often we act in accordance with our convictions, the more we gain self-control and empower a sense of purposeful self-direction.

But beware, austerity and self-discipline can act as two-edged swords, especially if (and when) an individual can be tempted toward extremes of behavior in order to gain recognition and/or notoriety. The Bhagavad Gita specifically warns against practicing austerities “…with hypocrisy and egotism, impelled by lust, and attachment,” stating that this is tortuous for the body, and destroys any divine presence in the body. It also states that the results of such ego-driven pursuits are “unsteady and impermanent.” (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter XVII). For example, consider two individuals who have both decided to change their diets and eating habits. One of them has changed their diet because of an ego-driven desire to be skinnier, to look “better,” become more attractive, more desirable. The other has decided to change their diet in order to have a healthier and happier body, so that they can focus on their highest goals with less distraction from illness and fatigue, or they may do so by observing Ahimsa, eliminating the mental poisons of guilt and regret that comes from killing. These are truly Tapasic approaches.

A simple way to understand Tapas is to think of it in terms of consistency. All disciplines and practices are most effective when engaged with consistency; getting on the yoga mat every day, sitting in meditation every day or carefully observing the constant fluctuations of the mind on a regular basis. Giving up some negative attitude about someone and forgiving them is another effective way to practice Tapas. When Tapas is practiced in this manner, it then becomes subtle and more constant, resulting in a more positive practice that is more concerned with the quality of life and relationships; rather than just enduring some difficulty, like gritting your teeth while trying to remain for another few seconds in a difficult asana (posture). 

If Yoga was practiced without goals, there would be no need for Tapas or the other Niyamas. In fact, the very existence of the Niyamas implies the existence of goals; Niyamas are the observances, the disciplines, meant to be practiced consistently to achieve a specific result. Tapas may well be considered pure discipline itself.

Final notes: Without Tapas any journey, especially one that follows a spiritual path will be chaotic and without structure or direction. Tapas essentially adds richness and meaning to the path. With regular and consistent practice, Tapas will make you stronger and more resilient. Both the enlightened Yogi and the most successful entrepreneur have one thing in common – both are infused with the spirit of Tapas.

The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)

Unleash the fiery enthusiasm of Tapas!

The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 4 – Svadhyaya)

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)

This article is the second of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 2 – Niyama)

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)The second of the five Niyamas is Samtosha (also Santosha) – a Sanskrit term meaning contentment or satisfaction. The word Samtosha is derived from the Sanskrit root word ‘tush’ which means to be satisfied, pleased, or delighted, as well as quiet or calm.

Samtosha is an observance that is key to all the Niyamas for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Along with the other four Niyamas (observances or practices) it establishes the student or yogi’s self-training, dealing with their personal, inner world. Patanjali says of Samtosha: “From an attitude of contentment (samtosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.” (Yoga sutra 2.42 – samtosha anuttamah sukha labhah)

Contentment is required for true peace of mind, yet we are challenged by a society and a culture that fosters its opposite – discontentment, especially in the western world. We are constantly bombarded by advertisements, commercials and other messages that make us feel inadequate and promote a steady grasping for material wealth, possessions and even sensual experiences. We are taught from early childhood to seek superficial gratification with little to no regard for future consequences for either ourselves or the world. All too easily we become attached to things or others to avoid facing our personal discomforts. We are mistakenly led to believe that by satisfying our cravings (as well as our egos), we will attain lasting happiness. But sadly, and to the contrary, ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion and clinging to things that stimulate out senses pervade and actually become obstacles to contentment and any prospects for liberation.

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)

So, this begs the question, what is contentment (Samtosha), and how can we incorporate it into our lives as an “observance”? Contentment is serenity, but not complacency; comfort, but not submission; reconciliation, not apathy; acknowledgment, but never aloofness. Contentment is a conscious decision, an ethical/moral choice, a step into the reality of the cosmos. Contentment/Samtosha is the inherent and natural state of our humanness and our Divinity and from this state our creativity and love flow. It recognizes our station and function in the universe at every moment. It is unity with the omniscient, omnipotent reality.

Observing Samtosha simply means that we remain contented in the midst of any situation we find ourselves in at any given time in our life, and if we slip into a state of discontentment then we need to practice returning to the state of Samtosha. There are certain pre-determined characteristic traits and tendencies that are hard or even impossible to change. A good example is our physical appearance; height, body makeup, facial features, skin color etc. are all things that cannot be easily changed. The problem however, is that many people are not contented with their appearance and will go to any length to look different or “better” than they really are. Efforts to change our natural appearance are actually cause for further discontentment, plus sometimes it can cause permanent or irreversible.

This isn’t just limited to physical appearance; many people are discontented with host of other personal faults and shortcomings, such as social status, financial situation, place of employment, etc. Examples of discontentment abound and with careful examination may be found in all spheres of our lives. But, it is also important to realize that being contented does not mean that we sit on our backsides and do nothing to improve our lot in life. In fact, when a person is genuinely contented, they would exhibit a natural zest and enthusiasm for life.

In the Bhagavad Gita (V.47-48) it is stated: “Your human right is for action only, never for the resulting fruit of actions. Do not consider yourself the creator of the fruits of your activities; neither allow yourself attachment to inactivity. Remaining immersed in union, perform all actions, forsaking attachment to their fruits, being indifferent to success and failure. This mental evenness is termed Yoga.”

In conclusion: By cultivating contentment (Samtosha) we promote the energies that alleviate suffering and turn ignorance into intelligence and wisdom. With practice, Samtosha will guide us toward fearless action, a deeper sense of community and a greater love for all sentient beings, thus putting all hearts at ease.

The Five Niyamas (Part 2 – Samtosha)









The next article will continue this series with: The Five Niyamas (Part 3 – Tapas)