Close your eyes, sit up straight, and think about what it would mean to you to be remembered by those who matter most in your life as a great person (yes, great, not good). What are the words, feelings, and values that come to mind?
Life doesn’t have a manual. In “The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali,” an ancient Indian philosopher, Patanjali, proposed the ten ethical principles that could be considered a yogi’s guide to a well-lived life.
The Yoga Sutras: A Short Introduction
Humans have, over the centuries, developed rules and guidelines that are universally accepted. For example, we all agree on not killing each other or taking something that is not ours. These guidelines were developed in India within the context of yoga.
The majority of people today begin yoga with a class that consists of poses. In India, during the early days, people would have sought a guru. They will not teach you yoga poses (asanas), breath practices (pranayama), or meditation techniques unless you demonstrate that you live according to the yamas (loosely translated:
Ahimsa: Nonviolence (not harming)
Ahimsa can be interpreted as nonviolence toward all living beings. This means we do not murder or harm another human being, but also that we avoid activities such as gossip.
Ahimsa is also translated as kindness and compassion towards oneself and others. It is sometimes easier to be kind to others than to ourselves. You may have thought, “I’m so stupid to fall for that again.” Or “I shouldn’t have said it.”
Take into consideration this. Would I tell this to someone close to me? Is this being kind to me? You can change your mind by simply noticing these thoughts and asking, “Is this true?”
By being aware of what we eat and how we care for our bodies, we can choose not to harm ourselves. Non-harming is a common theme among many yogis. What are the ways you promote nonviolence and why?
Yoga is a great way to learn how not to hurt yourself. Have you ever forced yourself into shapes that didn’t feel good? Take breaks as needed? I think that you know your body better than anyone else, and you should adapt to it or stop if something feels wrong.
The foundation of all these principles is nonviolence. It’s the most important, and it can be not easy to understand. It is not good to judge others or ourselves when we do not meet an ethical standard. A yogi may oppose harmful acts or wrongdoings, but they do not waste energy on feeling the offender.
While reading the news recently, I caught myself thinking and judging: “I couldn’t do that.” I then reminded myself that all humans are imperfect, but we can do anything – even the most horrifying acts.
Maya Angelou uses this quote to explain the path to compassion. “The brutes, the bigots, and the batterers are all children from God…and I am supposed to treat them as such.” It’s difficult, and I mess up all the time.
Take into consideration this. How can I become more compassionate and humble when I’m tempted to judge others and myself?
It is a practice that aims to be honest (and consistent) in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. Satya is about being honest with ourselves and others. It is easy to say but hard to do.
We all know we shouldn’t take anything that isn’t ours. What else could you steal that’s a little less tangible? Time and energy.
Being late is a big way to steal people’s valuable time. We can’t control Everything, but if it becomes a habit, we should make changes. If you’re often late for yoga class and interrupt the course in order to get there, you may be able to leave 10 minutes sooner next time.
We can also steal energy by taking it from others. It is often manifested by a tendency to talk more than listen or complain more than give thanks. Asteya is also translated as not being greedy or hoarding. I don’t think we should all be minimalists. But we can’t afford to buy clothes we will only wear once or twice.
How can I reduce the amount of resources that I use around the world? Do I give as much as what I receive?
Brahmacharya: Moderation (Conservation of Energy)
Yoga was traditionally taught to boys who had dedicated their lives to spirituality. We must adapt these principles so that they are practical to us as yogis who live in the modern age, with our jobs, children, and busy lives.
We don’t need to be celibate nuns or monks to follow this principle. We can, however, live in moderation–conserving our energy (including, but not limited to, our sexual energy).
Consider for a minute the sexual energy interpretation. Imagine accumulating all of the energy you’ve expended on romantic relationships from the 7th grade up to the present day. This includes 7th-grade crushes, heartbreaks in high school, online dating swipes, texting, analyzing and chatting with friends, as well as therapy.
Imagine if you had all that energy again. With that much energy, what books would you read – or even write? We can all do better to redirect our energies in this area.
In recent times, I have been conserving energy by turning off all screens after 9 pm to relax and sleep. If I scroll or watch Netflix at night, I’m not refocusing or saving energy in the right way. Well, I do it as often as possible. Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything is in moderation. Even moderation.”
Aparigraha can be translated as not being possessive. You can also think of it as not being jealous about what other people have or do. The principle of aparigraha is about being self-reliant and having a grateful attitude towards who you are and your possessions.
As humans, we are neurologically programmed to seek more. In our modern world, where there is so much excess, we are able to override a part of this consciously. You can achieve this by simply observing your thoughts and attachments.
To me, contentment also includes a feeling of gratitude for where I am and how things are. A sense of happiness can be strengthened by repetitions such as journaling, praying, or affirmations.
Contentment does not mean that you’re complacent or don’t strive for ambitious goals. It’s a challenge to find a balance between being satisfied with your current situation and working passionately towards your vision.
Can you work passionately towards your next destination while in school or a job you don’t like, even if it is difficult?