What does integrity mean to you? When we say someone has integrity, what does that really mean? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term as “the quality of being honest and fair,” and “the state of being complete and whole.” In terms of yoga, both of these definitions ring true.
The practice of yoga is largely about getting to know one's self in order to become a fully integrated person. The practice of self-study, or svadhyaya is one of the Yoga Sutras' niyamas. As we increase our self-awareness through yoga and meditation, we naturally become people who are more rooted in integrity (Learn more about the practice of svadhyaya here.).
Just think about how much more honest you are when you feel centered, grounded and whole, as opposed to when you’re feeling utterly confused with thoughts running amuck. The more we know ourselves, the easier it is to do and say the things we really mean and the more natural it is to do what we say we’re going to do. This is living with integrity.
Integrity happens when our actions are attuned to our beliefs, morals and values. As yogis, we know this is part of our path. It’s a process and we’re constantly working to live with more integrity as each day passes – as we grow in wisdom, compassion and self-awareness.
But how do we cultivate integrity through self-study? How do we become a person who lives with deep integrity? Mantra or japa meditation can help us to do this as it helps quiet our monkey minds and gets us in touch with that inner quiet, that inner knowing that is the true Self. By reciting a mantra over and over again, we can connect to the great Consciousness that we’re so deeply a part of. This is one way to get to know the Self.
The more we quiet our minds through various forms of meditation, the more we rest in that unshakably deep knowing of who we are on the inside – which is complete, whole and profoundly connected to all that is. We also connect to our values and virtues, which guide our actions as we move about in the world (Read more about yoga virtues here.).
When the mind is free of aversions and distractions it is filled with what the yogis call sattva. This sattva is clarity. It is a balanced state of mind. When we have sattva, the true Self more easily reveals itself to us. On the other hand, when the mind is obscured by disturbances, and even by likes or dislikes, it cannot reveal the true nature of who we are. The mind is filled with what the yogis call tamas (or anything that obscures reality) when it is unable to reveal the true Self.
In yoga, we can also practice devotion – to a deity, to the great mystery, to unconditional love, to whatever resonates with our soul. The more we practice devotion, the more we feel a deep sense of unconditional love, which resides in every one of us. When we’re connected to this wellspring of love that’s not conditioned, the easier it is to have integrity in our day-to-day lives. What a blessing this is for us all.
You may consider setting up an altar in a quiet space in your home where you can devote your time to the act of devotion. Buy a little statue of your favorite yoga god or goddess and pray to and meditate with him or her if that feels right for you (Here's a guide to Hinduism's leading goddesses.). Get a mala and place it on your altar where you can use it whenever you want to practice japa meditation. These practices are true blessings – they are the gifts that yoga gives us to live better lives where we are more content with who we are.
The further we travel down the path that is yoga, the more we’ll come to know our true Selves. So, we must be patient, knowing that to live with integrity is something we practice every day. It’s a journey, not a destination, because as long as we follow the path of yoga, we’ll be continually evolving and growing. We’ll be getting more and more in touch with our true nature. Enjoy the journey.
In looking for inspiration in your practice of self-study, take a look at spiritual literature – poems, scriptures, articles, blogs and/or podcasts given by wise yogis on the path to awakening. Practice your yoga asana daily, and get deeply embodied. Listen to your body’s inner wisdom as you practice physical asana.
Every morning and evening, if only for five minutes, practice japa meditation with a mala. Allow your mind to get quiet during these times every day to get closer and closer to your true nature. Allow the consciousness of your soul to slowly wake up. Listen to what it has to say, and follow its guidance. You will no doubt live in a greater state of integrity the more and more you do so. (Read more for a morning routine for conscious living.)