we are not yogis (or yoginis)

hey ho, all ye seekers of truth and bliss! ye journeyers upon the yellow brick road to samadhi! o’ enlightened ones!

have you picked up your copy of the yoga sutras of patanjali? you’ll want that one. it’s the roadmap for all good little yogis and yoginis.

here are the cliff notes, in case you missed it:

there are eight limbs (astanga) of yoga: yama, niyama, asana (you know that one, right?), pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dyana, and good old samadhi. yeah, yeah. it all starts with yama (the abstentions) and niyama (the observances) as the bedrock upon which the rest is built. once you internalize this moral code, you can move on to bigger, better, deeper things and ultimately achieve enlightenment. then, you gain superpowers and nothing will be impossible for you. kid, you’ll move mountains (as the good doctor seuss would say).

what’s that you say? you want to move mountains?

well, that kind of super-human strength doesn’t come from handstands or backbends, warriors or even (gasp!) core. no, my friends, it comes from a very strict and stringent lifestyle. the life of a yogi.

keep in mind that the yoga sutras were written for yogis on a spiritual path…basically monks. of particular interest to me are the yamas and niyamas. in essence, the ten commandments of yoga.

quick overview of the yamas:

ahimsa – nonviolence; includes hurting no one and nothing. among other things, you have to be a vegan. (some would say vegetarian, but the way milk and eggs are processed these days, there is much pain and hardship inflicted on the cows and chickens in question). have i lost you yet?

satya – truth; even white lies are a no-no, but you can always stay silent.

asteya – non-stealing; don’t take what isn’t yours. physical stuff, of course, but also someone else’s fire, the spotlight, or their time. yes, yogis should be on time.

brahmacharya – celibacy; yes. celibacy. we’ll come back to this one…

aparigraha – non-greed; live simply. only own what is absolutely necessary.

fun stuff, huh, yogis?

niyamas in short:

saucha – purity; keep yourself clean inside and out. put down the alcohol and drugs. yes, even the pot.

santosa – contentment; not complacency. there’s a difference. laziness is not a yogic trait.

tapas – austerity; literally, heat or fire. it’s the undying passion to give 100%, 100% of the time.

svadhyaya – self-study; not what you think…and not what your ego wants it to be. read here.

ishvara pranidhana – submission to a higher power; you gotta believe.

those are the ten, and they are absolute. how many work for you? nine? six? three? one?

whenever we talk (and we do, in depth) about the yamas and niyamas in my teacher trainings (shameless plug!), students tend to get very defensive.

ahimsa works great for them as far as being nice to other people (when it’s convenient), but when the vegetarian/vegan topic comes up, so do the walls. there are those–few and far between–who take it to heart and even become veggies for life. there are those who laugh uncomfortably and ignore the whole topic. and then there are those who come up with piles of excuses why it’s okay for them to eat meat and still practice non-violence.

brahmacharya is when the best of the best comes out. oh, how yoga students love to talk their way out of the celibacy box. and they’re not the only ones. everyone has a way to wiggle out of this one. surely, we can’t be expected to be celibate!

and the answer is: we’re not.

but yogis are.

we are not yogis. we are yoga practitioners at best. people who practice yoga poses at worst. but we are not yogis.

we are not on the path to enlightenment. though we may (hopefully) be on the path to goodness.

we will not achieve yoga bliss. though we may (hopefully) find happiness.

what amazes me, though, is that students get so defensive–offended even–about the yamas and niyamas. instead of discussing them as a matter of academic discourse and taking them at face value, they take it as some sort of personal attack. as if the sutras imply they are bad people if they do not institute this moral code of monks. and instead of looking at the “commandments” objectively, they feel they have to twist and bend them to fit their own moral comfort zone.

do i agree with the general sentiment that you should take the yamas and niyamas with a grain of salt and just do the best you can with what feels right for your lifestyle? yes, i do.

but don’t call yourself a yogi.

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