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
This is often interpreted as celibacy. Though the path of celibacy may be beneficial to many people and the path they are to travel in life, I do not feel this is the path for all humanity. Complete celibacy would do humanity harm as it would cease to exist.
An easier way for me to grasp this concept is to pass my energy, sexual and other energies, through the first teaching “do no harm”. When I consciously make decisions about how I act on my instinctual energies – a sexual attraction, for example, I am able to live a life less likely to cause harm to myself and others. Alternatively, when I act on my base instincts and desires I may achieve a brief “high” emotionally but ultimately my innermost self sends messages of disruptions and I know on a very deep level that the fleeting high did not contribute to my overall wellbeing.
Another example I feel resonates in my own life is pondering the effects of my day to day actions. When I direct my energy to spend a day acting impulsively, my day might be fun, might even be memorable, but it seems to be lacking in some way. When I consciously perform an act to live in service or Bee more simple, my innermost self hums and it just feels “more solid”. For example, when I spend time tending to our garden or caring for our chickens, the day feels pleasant. The feeling itself is beyond words and description, I guess you could say it just feels “right”. (Though I try to refrain from using “right” as it implies that the alternative is bad)
“The word Brahmacharya actually translates as ‘behavior which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is thought of as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic terms, so what we’re basically talking about here is behavior that leads us towards ‘the divine’ or ‘higher power’.
Regarding Brahmacharya as ‘right use of energy’ leads us to consider how we actually use and direct our energy. Brahmacharya also evokes a sense of directing our energy away from external desires – you know, those pleasures which seem great at the time but are ultimately fleeting – and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves.”
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!