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kriya yoga...three practices to offset suffering

Patanjali, the author of the yoga sutras, gave us five ways -- aka kleshas -- in which we increase our own suffering: ignorance, ego, attachment, avoidance, and fear of death. Luckily, Patanjali also offered three practices to reduce your suffering: tapas, svadhyaya and ishvara pranidhana; combined, they inform kriya yoga. (Read our May 17th blog for more on the kleshas.)

Tapas: to heat or burn, to accept pain as purification. This is an important spiritual tool. In both yoga and Ayurveda, fire is the element of transformation. Fire burns away excess and changes matter to energy. To practice tapas is to allow the pain of life’s challenges to transform us. No one escapes painful life experiences. No amount of money, privilege, avoidance, or security can protect us from pain. Every human bumps up against the challenges of life. Patanjali asks us to respond to life's painful experiences by not only accepting them, but by embracing them and using them to propel us forward. First, accept. Then ask: “What is this teaching me?” “How can this experience make me better at living life?”

Svadhyaya: self-study. This practice is truly the heart of yoga. To evolve we must cultivate self-awareness. This means examining our thoughts, words, motivations, behaviors, actions, and choices. The more we examine, the more we unravel negative assumptions and wrong thinking. When self-study becomes a positive daily practice we create awareness and the opportunity to make positive change, moving us towards the highest truth and highest living.

Ishvara Pranidhana: Dedication to a higher source or a benevolent universal energy. Here Patanjali suggests we acknowledge a force greater than ourselves. We human beings love to trick ourselves into thinking we are totally in control. The truth is we don’t have control of very much.  Patanjali recommends practicing releasing our perceived control to a higher force. It’s a spiritual surrender to the order of the universe which we cannot see. When we recognize this and let go, we suffer less.

When you find yourself struggling or mired in mental resistance, remember these three tools.  Apply them. They work over time. The benefits accumulate. As one of my teachers once said, “Yoga helps us thin out the kleshas so they aren’t so heavy and sticky.”


Nikki Estrada has been in the yoga scene for more than twenty years. She leads workshops, teacher training and immersions nationwide. Nikki began her formal training in India, focusing on Ashtanga. She is currently a senior yoga teacher and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. Nikki's Vinyasa-based classes are a synthesis of her years of yogic and Ayurveda study and personal experience, with an emphasis on spirituality, intelligent alignment, meditation, and living life more joyfully. Find Nikki at www.nikkiestradayoga.com. and use code NikkiGift for a free month of online yoga.



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