“Yoga is almost like music in a way; there’s no end to it.” – Sting
I often get asked the question, “What kind of yoga do you do?”
That’s a hard question for me to answer. When I first started studying yoga eons ago, there was just one type out there that most of us knew about. It was Hatha yoga. This yoga consists of physical postures, breathing exercises and relaxation techniques.
Patanjali was considered the first person to record the oral traditions of yoga. His yoga sutras (sutras is Sanskrit for “simple truths”) were compiled around 4 B.C. Within his text are five “yoga yamas” to observe. The Sanskrit word “yama” is translated as abstention. So basically he described a guideline for personal development along the yoga path.
The key to practicing the yamas is to understand them as body/mind exercises. Thoughts can be as powerful as actions. With our combustible society of angry outbursts, imagine the first yama of non-violence taking hold in society on deep levels of thoughtful purpose. Now that is something worth pondering!
Each yoga yama can be studied separately and extensively. They are listed below in ways to practice them. For example: Abstain from violence means practice non-violence.
Here is an example of the first study of non-violence in action:
Imagine you get into your car whistling a happy tune as you head out on your travels. A car suddenly cuts you off and you barely avoid a crash. To top that off, as the car passes you, the driver angrily flips you a birdie. Your first reaction may be shock. Then after the danger passes, you get angry. You try to catch up to this idiot not really knowing what you’d do if you did catch up. But catching up in the increasing traffic becomes futile and the other driver gets out of eyesight quickly. You are left fuming with a rage boiling inside.
Just let someone try cutting you off now!
So the tides come and go. It’s easy to whistle a happy tune when things are moving along in sync, but it becomes harder when a wrecking ball gets thrown into the mix. It’s not an easy practice, but non-violence is the first step in the yoga philosophy to creating a more peaceful world – not the external world but the internal world. Non-violence in personal action, in word and in perhaps the most difficult, thought.
My studies in yoga have supported and deepened my belief that life is good even though the path often can be difficult. Just when I think I’ve figured an answer out, someone changes the question. There are many “oops” along the way, and yoga offers a compassionate way to improve and forgive oneself in the empowering journey into self-realization. To better understand one’s nature, and in turn the intimate connections we have with one another, seems to me a mighty fine venture.
If you’d like to learn more about the yoga yamas, I highly recommend “Yoga of the Heart” by Alice Christensen. It is an artfully crafted book simply written and beautifully explored with a modern perspective on ancient yoga principles.
And as I drive along my merry way, if you perchance cut me off, it’ll be the last doggone thing you ever do ... oh, wait ... peace my friend. Wishing you a yama-dama-do day!
Joan Budilovsky is the author of many popular books on yoga, including, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Yoga.” This book has been released into multiple editions and numerous foreign translations. Budilovsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her website is Yoyoga.com.