Unlocking the Ethics of Yoga: Ahimsa & Satya
Modern yoga seems to have become more about yoga postures and less about creating a peaceful, meaningful life. Yet there are seven other facets to the ancient practice that have nothing to do with becoming more physically flexible.
Practicing postures helps us become more present and (hopefully) get out of pain. What we do with that level of ease and clarity points to living the other limbs of yoga in our daily lives.
The way we act off of our mats, the way we think about ourselves and others is just as much yoga as touching our toes. In the long run, we hope that all eight facets of yoga lead to a more peaceful and sacred way of being.
One branch of this eight-limbed yoga tree, as recorded in Patanjali’s yoga sutras, is the yamas. There are five yamas, which are ethical suggestions for how we relate to the world around us in a more peaceful, yogic way.
In this post we will cover just two: kindness & truthfulness.
Ahimsa : Kindness
Most often translated as non-violence, ahimsa can also be read as “be kind.”
I always joke that rule #1 of all philosophies is basically the same: don’t be a dick! It seems simple to be nice, but often its much easier to be reactive, angry or mean.
Think about how you respond when someone cuts you off in traffic. Do you grumble when your significant other leaves a pile of dirty dishes? (I’m guilty of this one all the time!)
Politically, America is so divided right now that most can’t even begin to communicate with someone who holds different beliefs. The result is self-righteous judgement and hatred, not kindness —regardless of stance. If you can’t talk with someone who is different than you, your yoga might not be working!
Satya : Truthfulness
I chose to pair truthfulness with non-violence because its easy to point the finger at others and fail to be honest with ourselves. Next time you’re on your mat combine these two yamas in your physical practice.
With peace and sacredness as the goal —as opposed to how deep you’re stretching— align your poses to the point that the breath and the mind expand and become lighter feeling, free, open, peaceful.
Just like it’s often more challenging to be nice, it can be challenging to be honest about where the body needs to be. The mind will say the pose needs to look a certain way or be pushed to a certain depth, but when we practice satya on the mat, we often discover we’re overdoing it.
Perhaps we can treat the body with kindness instead of filling our practice with a thousand micro-aggressions…
All of yoga’s eight facets require a measure of truthfulness. How can we begin to live more peaceful, meaningful lives if we’re unaware of our behavior or are denying how we hurt ourselves or others?
Here is a simple way to communicate that aligns with both satya and ahimsa off the mat. When thinking about what you want to say to someone:
- is what you want to say true?
- is it necessary to say?
- are you the best person to say it?
- is this the right time to say it?
- can it be said in a kind way?
Yoga, for me, is purpose-driven, not pose driven. Let’s continue to scratch beneath the surface and look for more peace and meaning along the way.
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Yoga Teacher’s Intensive
25-27 January 2019
If you are currently teaching yoga and would like to refine and hone your craft, this weekend workshop is for you. There will be plenty of one-on-one interaction with me, time to get help with things that challenge you as a teacher and to improve at clear communication, smart, creative sequencing, and bringing depth and meaning to your students. Click here to find out more on how I can help you go to that next level in your teaching.