Yoga Rockford: Yoga is action!

By Jennie Williford
Pranayama Yoga Studio

Two of the major texts still followed by most yoga practitioners, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and in the Hatha-Yoga Pradipika, describe yoga as a path of action, and disciplined action at that. So, I am confused by the idea that yoga is supposed to be “easy” or “gentle,” that somehow without much effort on our part, we are to expect out-of-this-world results.

One translation of the Sanskrit term “hatha” is actually “forceful.” Kriya-yoga (the Sanskrit term for “Yoga of Action”) includes tapas, burning zeal and self-discipline, the practice of which burns out all mental and physical impurities.

Yoga is a path that, when followed well and with discipline, can bring dramatic changes to our physical and mental well-being. However, we have to put in the effort and be ready to surrender to the changes that occur.

The three aspects of Kriya-Yoga, the Yoga of Action as given in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, are a simplified overview of the eight limbs of yoga, which cover everything from moral precepts to enlightenment. Kriya-Yoga highlights the important aspects of the holistic practice of yoga.

The first aspect of Kriya-Yoga is Tapas. “Self-discipline (tapas) burns away impurities and kindles the sparks of divinity.” (Sutra II.43) Think about this for a moment…the actual burning away of all impurities of mind and body, sparking our awareness and kindling the fire of our own divinity. This does not happen on a whim. It might take a few years, possibly a few lifetimes, to accomplish.

Tapas begins with disciplining ourselves through moral precepts and personal observances, such as truth, non-violence, cleanliness and moderation. It then builds by means of a strong practice of asana (performance of postures) and pranayama (the regulation of the breath). These efforts create the environment of inner fire and discipline that ignites change within us and around us.

With tapas burning off our mental and physical clouds, we clear the way for the second aspect of Kriya-Yoga , self-study or Svadhyaya. “Self-study leads to the realization of the Divine or communion with one’s ideal Self.” (Sutra II.44)

As the impurities of our mind and body are melted away, we are able to see more clearly the truth of our own self, whether we believe it to be divine or not. It is that truth that guides us to be better in every aspect of our lives.

As we limit the disturbances of the outer world, we can calmly listen to our inner guide, make better decisions, take better action and overall become better human beings. Svadhyaya is the key to inner strength and a feeling of infinite possibility.

Having gained the ability to see ourselves more clearly, we begin to experience our connection to all that is around us. Isvarapranidhanani, the third aspect of Kriya-Yoga, is technically the surrender to a divine being, but in general terms, it can be seen as letting go of our attachment to the outcomes of our actions.

“Surrender brings perfection in ultimate freedom.” (Sutra II.45)

We have to let go of all personal attachments to allow for perfect freedom within. The only things we can control are our own actions and reactions, so in our attachment to things or goals (no matter how noble), we bring about our own pains and afflictions.

We don’t always get what we want, and things don’t always happen the way we want them to, so in the process of surrender, we allow for any possibility. If we stay with each moment, acting with tapas and svadhyaya, we will find inner contentment, no matter what comes our way.

The promise of yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations within the consciousness, bringing about a deep inner peace. But this end is not without means, so take action, accept change, and reap the benefits of a stronger, more connected self.

For more information about Pranayama Yoga Studio, visit or call (815) 968-9642.

From the Sept. 29-Oct. 5, 2010 issue

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