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What yoga isn’t.

July 20, 2013

So, I’ve been reading a few blogs around the web and different people’s opinions on spirituality and yoga. As I sift through the muck and mire I have come to notice a very skewed, predominantly Westernised view of yoga. It’s easy to buy into because it fits in with all of our other Western  consumerist ideologies.

I’m not talking about the trend  towards “yoga for fitness” but the “Insta-guru” thing that seems to happen with celebrity yoga teachers all around the world. Firstly, a celebrity yoga teacher goes very much against the grain for me. Yoga is about breaking down the ego not building it up. Patanjali would be back-flipping in his unmarked grave.

“Who’s Patanjali?” You might ask. Patanjali was an Indian philosopher from the 2nd Century BCE who compiled the foundations of the philosophy of Yoga – the Yoga Sutras. Within the 4 chapters, or books, of the Yoga Sutras are the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga – not referring to that particular style of yoga but the sanskrit word for “eight-limbed”).

These eight limbs are as follows:

  • Yama – things to avoid doing as we interact with the world (and beings) around us.
  • Niyama – things to attend to within ourselves, tenets to hold to.
  • Asana – strenghtening, developing and disciplining the body through physical practice.
  • Pranayama – control of the breath, helping to clear the body and still the mind.
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses, that “going within” feeling.
  • Dharana – one-pointedness or focus upon a single object or thought.
  • Dhiyana – the act of concerted meditation.
  • Samadhi – the point of bliss where the practitioner is at one with the meditation.

Within our practices we try to incorporate these limbs and work towards developing our body, mind and spirit. However, in the beginning we aim to work on our interactions with the world around us, namely the Yamas.

Why? Because you can’t start at the top and expect results. You need to build an adequate foundation to work up the limbs. If you lose your foundations then the rest crumbles…

So, what are the Yamas? They are as follows:

  • Ahimsa – non-violence or non-harm. This refers, of course, to the life around us but also to ourselves. The tenet “first, do no harm” is one of the principal precepts of medical ethics and ought to be something we consider with our daily actions as well.
  • Satya – non-truth or non-illusion. Referring, as you’d expect, to being truthful in both word and thought. We do need to remember ahimsa when we speak our truth though.
  • Asteya – non-covetousness or non-stealing. Pretty simple; don’t take what isn’t yours. However, yoga takes it a little beyond this to where we ought not even desire our own things as they become an extension of the ego. Could also be seen as non-attachment.
  • Brahmacharya – abstinence, but not the total abstinence of a monk. More like avoiding wasting our sexual energy on relationships that have no meaning (playing the field), or using our charms/energies in a way that might harm others. Essentially, responsible behaviour and relationships that help us towards our truth and not away from it. Taking oneself away from people and relationships (of any kind) that cause us harm – ahimsa in practice.
  • Aparigraha – greedlessness or non-grasping. So not hoarding anything, be it food, wealth, items, cats. Allowing items that are no longer in use to pass onto someone else who may need them. Do we really need all of these “things”? Do they actually make us happy? Happiness is not found in objects but within, hence we ought to only take what is necessary for us to live. Okay, sometimes we find happiness in cats.

The Yamas all work together to provide us an ethical guideline by which to live. Not taking from others by hoarding resources. Not cheating in relationships, which steals from the wronged party as well being untruthful and harmful. You can see how they all work together.

So, what is it that I’m getting at here? All the over-hyped, cult-creating yoga teachers that you see in the DVDs, on talk-shows, in magazines, writing books, giving conferences, and hanging out with movie stars aren’t necessarily great yogis. Perhaps they are, but you have to look at how they’re living, not what they’re selling.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no perfect person (I’m FAR from perfect myself) and these tenets to live by are ideals to aim towards, not necessarily devote our lives to. But when you see a famous yoga teacher living the high life, flashing their designer clothes and relationship-hopping you have to wonder… do they truly live a yogic life?

We are all the same at our core level and yoga teaches us that no one is above anyone else. So try not to place anyone, no matter what they teach or provide you, on a pedestal. We are all equal.

Hari om x

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