Yoga ethics

Lately I have been having tech sessions and class sessions that have been lecture- or discussion-based instead of movement- or experience-based; today that trend continued.

This morning I had a tech session titled “Yamas and Niyamas on the Mat”. If you have been following this blog you may remember that yamas and niyamas are the suggested guidelines of conduct for yogis to follow; and the “on the mat” reference was to help focus the session towards application of these codes of conduct in a yoga setting (versus having a discussion about applying the yamas and niyamas in the everyday world).

The structure of the class was very logical and straight-forward: the teacher had us think about the first yama for 1-2 minutes on our own, and write down any significant ideas that came to us. Then we all convened as a large group, and discussed our various thoughts/ideas. Once we felt like we had addressed the item sufficiently, we went to the next yama, and repeated the think/write/share/discuss process. We continued in that fashion through all 10 yamas/niyamas.

I received teachings on the yamas and niyamas several times before today’s session, so I already had a decent foundational understanding of the guidelines, as well as some ideas for my own personal application of them. However, most (all?) topics that address ‘ethics’ (or ways of behaving in and relating to the world) are never fully exhausted; there is always more than can be explored, discovered, examined. So while I arrived at today’s tech session with a pretty good grasp of the topic, I did appreciate the larger class discussion of the yamas/niyamas, and hearing other people’s perspectives and points-of-view that were new to me and/or different from my own.

Rather than write all of the specific comments, ideas, and suggestions that were offered in the 90 minute class, I’ll just share one item from each yama/niyama that I found personally interesting, or challenging, or novel. And then I’ll write a closing statement or two, and then we’ll be done. :)

Yama 1 – Ahimsa (Non-harming): Consistently give students options for every pose, so that they don’t feel pressured to push their bodies (or hearts) further than they are able or ready to go.

Yama 2 – Satya (Truthfulness): Assess situations honestly – i.e., independent of what you “think” might be going on. Look at people, places, things objectively. Then be truthful about how you feel. If someone needs to hear a difficult message, tell them the truth – but do so with kindness and compassion.

Yama 3 – Asteya (Non-stealing): Refrain from stealing someone else’s time (i.e., don’t be late to a class/appointment/meeting; don’t monopolize a teacher’s time by dominating the class with your concerns/questions; etc.). Refrain from stealing someone else’s experience (i.e., as a teacher, don’t over-explain/talk every second of the class so that the students don’t experience any quiet or peace in their practice; don’t offer a student adjustments if they don’t want to be touched or corrected; etc. As a student, don’t be overly loud/aggressive/obnoxious and intrude on the other student’s class experience; don’t attend a class that is not designed for your skill level [i.e., a true beginner in an advanced class will likely take a disproportionate amount of time from the teacher, thereby “stealing” part of the experience from the rest of the class; and an advanced student in a beginner class will likely intimidate many of the students in the class, thereby “stealing” their peace/comfort/desire to practice yoga; etc.]).

Yama 4 – Brahmacharya (Celibacy): Every human has been created as a result of sexual actions. Sexual energy is creation; sexual energy generates life. Is every sexual experience cultivating energy that supports life, love, and union with divinity? One part of yoga practice involves moving energy around the body; be sure to move energy throughout the entire body (i.e., all chakras), and don’t over-emphasize nor avoid those parts of the body that are uncomfortable physically or emotionally (such as the second chakra).

Yama 5 – Aparigraha (Non-gathering/non-greed): Focus on the yoga practice instead of all of the “props” that can come with it (like the cute clothes, the trendy mala beads, the ‘best’ yoga mat or gear, etc.). Be willing to let go of what feels comfortable, and instead trust life and honestly/openly accept whatever comes. Be generous.

Niyama 1 – Shoucha (Cleanliness): Cleanliness applies to both physical and mental aspects. Yoga teachers should smell good (i.e., not of body odor, cigarettes, etc.); but equally importantly, yoga teachers should also be in a “clean” (kind) state of mind during the class they are teaching.

Niyama 2 – Santosha (Contentment): Accept where your body (or heart) is today, versus where it was yesterday, or what you would like it to be. Don’t try to change or manipulate a situation, or setting, or anything else you find “displeasing” to make it what you want it to be; instead, honor and truly embrace what is.

Niyama 3 – Tapas (Austerity): Have the passion to engage in yoga practice daily. (And “yoga” is more than just asana; it’s ethical conduct, meditation, and moving towards union with the divine.)

Niyama 4 – Swadhyaya (Study): Experiencing difficulties in a yoga practice lets us see how we respond to problems, issues, things we don’t like… and our behaviors both external and internal (thoughts/emotions) on the yoga mat often correlate to how we respond to difficulties “in the real world”. Observing ourselves in yoga (i.e., studying ourselves on our mat) can inform us of behaviors we want to watch for in the rest of our lives, too.

Niyama 5 – Ishwarpranidhana (Devotion/Surrender): Life is so much bigger than what any of us can control, and can take so many turns and paths that we could never even think of…Can we open to it all?

I said I would end this post with a closing statement; but instead, I’d like to end with a question. If you are a student of yoga, what do you think about the yamas/niyamas? Do you have a personal experience you’d like to share? As I said at the beginning of this entry, I believe there is always more than can be explored/discovered/examined when it comes to topics that address ‘ethics’; I’d love to continue the conversation by reading anything [appropriate and relevant] that you might like to contribute. :)



About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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