Last year we launched a quarterly “Many Paths Teacher Panel” to develop a forum for conversation and community amongst our practitioners, teachers, and staff. We discussed the topics of practice, habit, and non-attachment. This year we’re moving it to a regular monthly offering, 1st Sunday at 6:30pm. Our topics will be each of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, over an eight-month period from October through May.
Our first topic is Yama, defined by different sources as self-restraint, control, discipline, and external discipline. There are five Yamas: ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-grasping). While restraint, in this land of freedom, may seem like a control, or a negative, restraints can often have a focusing and guiding effect. As a writer, I enjoy restraint. If I didn’t have a subject for this post, it would have no focus. If I don’t give my mind something to focus on, it will run riot, and as recent scientific studies have shown, will spend its energy finding fault with myself and others.
In The Yoga Sutras, an ancient yogic text addressing the mind, these five “commandments” are addressed individually (trans by BKS Iyengar):
II.35: When non-violence in speech, thought, and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.
II.36: When the seeker is firmly established in the practice of truth, his/her words become so potent that whatever s/he says comes to realization.
II.37: When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.
II.38 When the seeker is firmly established in continence, knowledge, vigor, valor, and energy flow to him.
II.39: Knowledge of past and future lives unfolds when one is free from greed for possessions.
These sutras serve as splendid motivation for the practitioner to bring their attention to these restraints. The offer a carrot, not just a stick, to encourage us to strengthen these habits of thought and action. In addition, Patanjali says:
II.33 & 34: Principles which run contrary to yama (and niyama, the second limb) are to be countered with the knowledge of discrimination…Through introspection comes the end of pain and ignorance.” (trans BKS Iyengar)
In other words, “Unwholesome thoughts can be neutralized by cultivating wholesome ones. We may ourselves act upon unwholesome thoughts, such as wanting to harm someone…they may arise from greed, anger, or delusion; they may be mild, moderate, or extreme; but they never cease to ripen into ignorance and suffering. This is why one must cultivate wholesome thoughts.” (trans Chip Hartranft)
So what does this mean for us, living every day as urban yogis, householders, workers, parents, artists, etc? One of my teachers, Shari Friedrichsen, would say: “just focus on ahimsa!” She defined ahimsa as non-animosity. This golden rule can be seen to relate to all of the yamas: truthtelling, not stealing, moderation/chastity, and non-grasping. When we come from a place of non-animosity, towards ourselves and others, all of our actions are more constructive and supportive to all beings.
How can you bring the Yamas to live in your practice this month? Tell us on Facebook, and join Ashley Dahl, our Executive Director and moderator, and teachers Jonna Bracken, Chiara Guerrieri, and Jen Yaros for the next Many Paths Teacher Panel on this topic this Sunday, October 6th at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill. Mark your calendar for this and the rest of our monthly events, we want you to be part of the conversation!
8 Limbs, Many Paths, Follow Yours.
Posted by: Anne Phyfe Palmer
P.S. Looking for some context for the image in this blog? We’ve launched our next City Arts ad campaign utilizing quotes by creative beings that we find related to yoga, and our walk through the 8 Limbs. Send us your favorite artist quotes that relate to yoga at firstname.lastname@example.org.