Did you know that some yogi gurus believe that even before you roll out your yoga mat to do a pose, you must first demonstrate your behavior is up to snuff?
Yep, that’s right. Yoga has a moral code.
We’ve all met the yogi who looks at you askance when you mention you’re having turkey on Thanksgiving. We’ve all been in a class where a latecomer lays their mat right next to yours even when they don’t need to. And we’ve all heard of the yogi gurus who are illicitly sleeping with students to feed their egos.
They are not minding their yoga manners.
You might think yoga is about improving your body, but yoga also grows your heart. Yoga, at its core, means unity – and that means growth for ALL parts of ourselves.
There are actually ten “commandments” of yoga. The guidelines for how we treat others are called the yamas… and how we treat ourselves is referred to as niyamas. And though classically they are divided thaat way, in my opinion, they each can be applied outwardly as well as inwardly. This week I am focusing on the yamas; next week I’ll discuss the niyamas, so stay tuned!
(aka, how we treat others)
The first yama is ahimsa, which translates as non-violence. Most of us aren’t physically violent, but don’t be quick to dismiss this rule as inapplicable to you just because of that! Emotional violence is much more common… and just as wrong.
This rule requires compassion and love for all living things and beings – to act and speak in kindness.
Be kind to yourself, too. Soften that harsh inner voice. Be kind to your body. Don’t push through a pose if you are in pain.
Next, Satya requires honest communication in thoughts, words and deeds.
This practice encompasses a trust of our inner values and heart; that we trust ourselves. Know what you feel and be honest in your living, your choices and your words.
Asteya, or non-stealing, directs us not to take belongings, time or attention from another without permission.
Most of us don’t think of ourselves as thieves. But this instruction also includes not using an item other than for its intended purpose or for longer than sanctioned.
This manner also requires us to be respectful of others’ time – we must not presume on another’s time, taking more time than necessary, be late for an appointment because then you are stealing the time of another. This is a tough one for some of us!
Brahmacharya generally translates as chastity but literally translates as “brahmic conduct.”
Patanjali, the father of yoga and author of the Yoga Sutras, stresses celibacy, however others emphasize the higher meaning of brahmacharya, which is “to see the divinity in all.” Sex is the divine’s greatest gift to humanity – a way to touch the divine.
When we see divinity in all, we treat each other with decency and honor. We hold the other in esteem.
Brahmacharya mandates we use our sexual energy to reconnect to our spiritual self and to know divine love. Be wary of using sex to boost the ego.
Aparigraha literally means we should not hoard. It encourages a simple life, free from needless possessions.
We should not consume more than we need, or waste goods. When we take more than we need we deprive others.
When we trust that everything that is essential will be available when you need it, we do not save up for catastrophes. Trust that you have enough and that you do not lack anything.
The Golden Rule
Underlying and animating all of the yamas and niyamas is the golden rule that is universal in all religions – we should treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
This precept is source of all morality. We aspire to unseat ourselves from the center of the universe (or at least of our lives) and to set aside the needs of the ego.
Yoga means unity. That means growth for all parts of ourselves, not just for our bodies. We create unity between our hearts and our choices. Acting with compassion yokes us and unites us – with our community and those around us. And helps create a settled mind, known as samadhi in yoga.
Advanced yoga is anything that brings you closer to others, too. So mind your yoga manners.
We’ll see you on the mat.