The teachings of yoga have ethical principles that help guide us to a more comfortable way of living. Ethical principles need not be strict rules by which we judge the actions of others or something that divides us into “good” vs. “evil”. This guide provides a helpful method to break up the human experience and set us on a path that will provide more comfort in our everyday lives.
I often re-read these teachings, over and over, and seek out other people’s interpretations. I find that revisiting these teachings often highlights new ways I can incorporate them into my day to day life as I change. The following are some of the ways I have found to work for me.
The teachings are broken up into 2 parts, Niyama: how to treat ourselves and Yama: how to treat others. Each has 5 parts. The texts are written in an ancient language and have been through many translations into other languages and modern interpretations. It helps to open our minds to the more general message and how it might fit into our own modern life rather than trying to squeeze ourselves into someone else’s version of perfection or rules. The ancient language in which these texts were written is far more based on sound and vibration, more poetic than current language. Each word has many translations and many do not easily translate into current languages. It can be helpful to not get too caught up in the cognitive desperation for being exact and allow a more overall and deeper sense of the message to be absorbed. Listen with your innermost self and not so much your thinking mind. “Take what you need and leave the rest” but also invite the idea that at some other point in your life there may be new nuggets of wisdom that pop out that you may not have seen before. Look with fresh eyes and an open heart.
Yama: Do unto others
“Last but by no means least is Aparigraha, which often translates as ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. The word ‘Graha’ means to take, to seize, or to grab, ‘pari’ means ‘on all sides’, and the prefix ‘a’ negates the word itself – basically, it means ‘non’. This important Yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right. “
I have the Bhagavad Gita on audiobook and listen to it over and over. Each time I listen to it, I find that there is something different to hear. However, the line that stands out most to me is this:
I guess it is the message I need most to hear, do the work without attachment to the results. I struggle with “imposter syndrome” and often wonder “Who am I to be getting up in front of people?”. When I remember that I am practicing what I love and sharing it with others, not for any goal, each practice becomes a blessing. A sacred place where I am both student and teacher. I learn some of my most important lessons when in front of a class. As a student in a class you are not the only one that has to practice keeping your mind on your mat, or finding that inner critic clamoring for its 15 minutes of fame! Yes, the teacher is also doing the work!
I used to drive my husband mad with my lack of adventure prepping, I would often state “The Journey is the Destination”. One day we discovered someone had written a book by this title. I was so excited to discover this was not some faulty way in my own thinking, but a concept that other people also enjoy applying in their lives! We can apply this idea of enjoying the journey and not grasping at the absolute destination or plan to so much of our life. When we worry so much about the perfect meal for a Holiday party we can become so entangled in the business of prepping that by the time the meal arrives we are too tired to be truly present for the actual meal and family time. When we prepare the meal with conscious presence, “I have family/friends to share a meal with” we can begin to enjoy the simple process of making a meal and remember that most likely, the people are coming for the experience of being together not how pretty the house is.
Can we practice yoga/meditation without a goal? Can you let go of “because” – I do yoga because I want to … “learn to control the mind” or “achieve perfect health” or “find inner peace” or “lose 10 pounds” or “get off medications”. All of these concepts are attachments to the outcome. What if each time you come to your mat you could remind yourself, I am here now, in the present moment, without attachment to the future, without spiraling in my past, right here now. Here in my breath. Here in this body. Here in this present state of emotion and mental chatter. I am here now.
Yoga is not the goal of perfection. Practicing yoga is not the ultimate recipe for becoming perfectly happy and never experiencing pain or sadness. Yoga is a union. To join all of the parts of ourselves. To realize that we are a whole and complete being that is ever-changing, learning and growing, yet not broken. There can be imbalances and disruptions in parts of ourselves, in the thoughts, in the spiritual layer, in the emotions… but this does not make us broken. There are tools we can use to get to know where these imbalances might be and techniques we can use to guide us to a more balanced “wholeness”. Yoga can guide us to a more balanced life, a more comfortable way of being in this human experience.
It can be helpful to see these teachings as helpful guides that we can refer back to over and over. Think about the physical practice of tree pose. It teaches us to balance in our physical body, how balance requires attention not only to our muscles but to our breath, our mind, and our feelings. We balance in tree pose, we wobble, we fall, we try again. Often we learn more about the pose and what is happening in the whole system on the days when we wobble and fall. The object of practicing these concepts in our lives is not to achieve perfection but to notice when we wobble, revisit what we might like to try different, and try again.
These ethical guides need not be harsh rules by which we judge ourselves or others. The general idea is to Bee Kinder to ourselves and Kinder to each other and the world will flow a lot more harmoniously!