Reducing concern about ego -> lightness

That was the title of a cryptic note to myself from 2007.  In total it says:

2 things have really made me feel great and light lately: 1.) not overconsuming; and 2.) noticing and stopping when I’m concerned about my ego.

As if to emphasize but not totally clarify this insight, a note from a few days later says simply:


Clearly I need to provide more detail when I have these insights.  But having 7 years more experience with this I know now that at the time I was most likely realizing the fantastic experience of moksha.

Moksha or Moksa is often translated simply as “freedom,” but it has a lot of other connotations.  Wikipedia has a fantastic page on moksha, but the definition I like best is, per usual, from Iyengar:

By moksa I do not mean some fanciful concept of future liberation, but acting with detachment in all the little things of here and now–not taking the biggest slice of cake onto one’s own plate, not getting angry because one cannot control the actions and words of those around us.

From Light on Life, at 236-37.  So cool that Iyengar captured both freedom from ego attachment and the moderation in consumption that I noted in my 2007 note.  Both of these concepts are also, of course, two of the Yamas and Niyamas.  Aparigrapha is moderation in consumption and Ishwar-Pranidhan is surrender to “god” or, as I’ve explained elsewhere, surrender of the ego.  By practicing these ethical practices along withe the rest of the 8 limbs of yoga. Patanjali says we obtain a number of goals, one of which is Moksha.

Yamas and Niyamas

As usual, Iyengar explains it best in the Tree of Yoga:

The first level of yoga consists of what can be called dos and don’ts. Niyama tells us what we should do for the good of the individual and society, and yama tells us what to avoid doing because it would be harmful to the individual and to society. These are ethical disciplines which have existed in the human race in all places from time immemorial. Yama and niyama  are traditional whether in the civilisations of the East or the West, the North or the South.

(at 6)

The sages of old, who experienced the sight of the soul, discovered its seed in yoga.  This seed has eight segments which as the tree grows give rise to the eight limbs of yoga.

The root of the tree is yama, which comprises the five principles of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (freedom from avarice), brahmacharya (control of sensual pleasure) and aparigraha (freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one’s needs).

Then comes the trunk, which is compared to the principles of niyama (Observances). These are sauch (cleanliness). santosha (contentment), tapas (effort), svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara pranidhana (self surrender).

(at 7-8)

I have read literally dozens of slightly differing interpretations of these ethical precepts- the 10 commandments of yoga – and if you click on the tags for each of them you will find discussion relating to each of the yamas and niyamas.  But here are a few quick notes that may give extra context to the brief descriptions above:

Asteya – above Iyengar says this is freedom from avarice.  It is often translated as non-stealing.

Bramacharya – In the passage above Iyengar calls this “control of sensual pleasure,” but it is often translated as continence or sexual continence or even a celibacy.  In particular, Gandhi wrote extensively about his own practice of brhamacharya, which he meant to mean complete celibacy.  But as Iyengar points out in Light on Life, it cannot mean complete celibacy as so many of the primary sages of yoga were married and had children.

Aparigraha – Although I think the definition above covers it I think it’s useful to add that aparigraha includes moderation in consumption.

Svadhyaya – I have seen this interpreted to include study of yoga texts and spiritual texts.  These can be considered self-study but it’s important to understand this does not mean solely introspective contemplation.

Isvara prahidhana or “Ishwar-Pranidhan” – often translated as “surrender to god.”  In fact, “Isvar” or “Ishvar” means something like “God.”  But in my own practice I have come to understand that for me, surrender to god and self-surrender — or surrender of the ego — are the same thing.  More on that topic here.