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.
Niyama: How to treat the self
Why do we clean our house? Though it can often seem pointless – especially if you have teens that are walking behind you undoing the cleanliness – the result is a happier, more comfortable and healthier life. If our bodies and our living areas are a mess it affects us. This too can be taken to the extreme. When we desire to completely control our environment to perfection the frustration of never being perfectly clean affects us in a negative way. When we try to make our space for yoga practice absolutely perfect the simplest disruption to that ideal can throw us off. Yoga teaches us the art of balance. We can clean because it is important but let go of the attachment of perfection.
Try integrating one simple cleanliness thing into your life every day and see how it feels in your life. For example, every day try to enjoy making your bed when you get up. Thinking as you make it that it is a sacred space where the rest and healing from the day occurs. Have you ever had the experience of returning from time away from your own bed, you curl up in your familiar space and it feels like home? Can you think loving and grateful thoughts about having a bed to curl up in while you clean it?
If you prefer a challenge and have kids, can you pick up the dishes from ALL OVER THE HOUSE for the BILLIONTH time in a day while thinking about the joy of having little people to share your life with? Yes, this is one of my own struggles! A funnier challenge for me is stepping on a dog bone after I just gathered them into the dog basket. It is a game for my dog to gather all the bones in whatever location she has chosen for her chewing spot for the day but they are heavy and she often gets distracted and drops them on the floor. While my mind jumps to “OMG that dog!” I try to remind myself that this bone on my kitchen floor is a reminder that I share my life with an adorable dog with a personality that fills my heart with joy.
We can also use cleanliness or clarity with our choice of words. No, I do not mean never cursing, I myself have been known to create curse words just for fun. Careful choice of words can help us communicate more carefully. When we choose words that are clear rather than just allow our emotions to free flow from our mouths we are less likely to cause harm to ourselves or others.
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!