When looking for themes for classes, I often refer to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. There are very few pose (asana) instructions in the sutras. That’s because asana is just one part of the eight limbed system of classical yoga. Which is interesting since most yoga classes spend the bulk of their time on physical postures. And as a yoga teacher, I do too.
However, I think it’s important to recognize that asana is a single component of a larger whole. By studying the eight limbs and our relationship to them, our understanding of yoga and the poses deepens. The eight limbs, in order, are the ethical guidelines (yama), personal practices (niyama), postures (asana), vital energy control (pranayama),sense withdrawal (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption (samadhi).
The limbs do not need to be studied sequentially, but because I like starting at the “beginning” I usually introduce them that way to show their interconectedness. The yamas or ethical restraints, are the first limb. Think of them as guidelines for conduct in society. The yamas are non harming, truth, non stealing, conservation of energy, and non greed. Hard to argue with any of those. In fact, I’ve often thought they could easily be listed on a poster on the wall of a kindergarten class.
These past few weeks, I’ve been encouraging my students to pick one yama and observe how it shows up in their lives and their practice. Since we all spend more time off the mat than on it, it’s interesting to notice how these moral codes play out in our relationship to others, material objects, and the self. For my own yama study, I chose to practice and reflect on non greed.
I’ve always felt a bit confused about how non greed differs from non stealing. After some contemplation I’ve decided stealing is about taking, and greed is about wanting. Sometimes we take something because it is needed (an example would be stealing food to satisfy hunger). With greed there is never enough. The acquisition of the “thing” doesn’t fill us up, instead it feeds the cycle of wanting more. The wanting isn’t always for material objects. For me, it’s wanting things to be different than they are in the present moment, wanting to be more “successful” as defined by our society, wanting chocolate at 10 pm…plenty to practice with.
The yamas are not commandments or absolutes. They, along with the other limbs, provide a yogic lens for self observation and study, They allow me to look at my thoughts, words, and deeds so that I may chip away at the things that are not my true nature, and cultivate the things that genuinely fill me up. Not so that I’m perfect, but so I can find more steadiness and ease in my life (another sentiment from one of my favorite sutras). It’s a slow process but I’m learning a lot and I’ve got the time. Do you?
https://talkeetnayoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/stud-e1453931179145.jpeg00Dianehttps://talkeetnayoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/stud-e1453931179145.jpegDiane2020-06-29 17:34:522020-06-29 17:34:52The Eight Limbs - working with the Yamas