Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ten Invitations

Hello Dear Friends,

In the last post, I wrote about the 8 limbed path of yoga, as described in the 2000 year-old Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Interestingly, the first two limbs of yoga practice are not the postures and breathing that we focus on in class(those are the 3rd and 4th on the list) The practices of yama and niyama (restraints and observances) are presented as the first two limbs. There are 5 restraints and 5 observances, which are essentially a code of personal ethics and guidelines to live by. Some call them the do's and don'ts of yoga, and they've also been called the "ten commandments" of yoga. In brief, they are:

Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satya (truth)
Asteya (not stealing)
Brahmacharya (energy management/moderation/celibacy)
Aparigraha (non-greed, non-possessiveness)

Saucha (purity, cleanliness)
Santosha (contentment)
Tapas ("fire" or "heat" of self-discipline, exerting effort)
Svadhyaya (study of scripture and of oneself)
Ishvara-Pranidhana (Surrender to God)

In Kripalu yoga, the yamas and niyamas are not seen as commandments, but rather as invitations into inquiry. They call us toward an exploration of what shifts in our lives when we take on them on as dedicated practice. It is said that, just as postures and breathing allow the healing energy of prana (life force) to come into our physical bodies, living by these guidelines creates an opening for prana to flow more freely through us emotionally and spiritually.

Each of these restraints and observances is going to be embraced and expressed differently by each person. For example, most of us would agree that Ahimsa (non-violence) means that we refrain from killing or doing bodily harm to another person. But what about eating meat? For some, a vegetarian diet is an essential piece of practicing Ahimsa. For others, it may mean simply choosing to eat only meat that is raised sustainably and humanely.

And Brahmacharya traditionally has meant celibacy, but has come to be interpreted as "energy management".  It means using our sexual energy responsibly, as well as other forms of energy. We examine how we are using and expending our life force. Are we making choices that deplete our life energy, or are we learning to conserve it for optimal living?

Tapas, or self-discipline, is going to look different for each one of us as well. The word Tapas actually means "fire" or "heat." With regard to yoga practice, it involves willpower, endurance, and austerity--exerting burning effort in our practice. Each one of us is called to examine what that will look like for us, and to what depths we want to take our sadhana (spiritual practice). There is no right or wrong here--only an invitation to examine our goals and our level of commitment. We can also ask ourselves what our "burning desires" are in our lives. What calls us forward with passion?

Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing reflections in this new blog about each of these yamas and niyamas. These practices and principles do not require you to embrace a particular religious doctrine. Rather, they can be seen as complementary to any other spiritual path. It is my hope that they will inspire you to look more deeply at your life through a yogic lens, and that it will be a spiritually enriching inquiry.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I'll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase "each other"
doesn't make any sense.

Jelaluddin Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

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