a year of getting back in touch.

act one: me
act two: you
act three: everything else

Thursday, February 23, 2012


Part of my intellectual journey this month is delving into yoga. Most of us here in the West associate the word yoga with a specific physical activity, but these exercises are in fact just one part of a much bigger picture. Yoga is mostly mental. According to Lectures on Yoga by Swami Rama, "the whole process of yoga is an ascent into the purity of that absolute perfection which is the original state of man" (p. 7). The goal is to become detached from our material connections to this world and to attain spiritual enlightenment, realizing our true potential as human beings. We can then use the understanding we gain from such moments of wholeness to bring meaning into our every day lives, as well as helping to enrich the lives of others by opening them up to the possibility of realizing their true potential.

There are many many steps in this process, but the very first deals with the five yamas, or restraints, which help us regulate our relationships to the material world. They are:

ahimsa, or non-violence
satya, or truthfulness
asteya, or non-stealing
brahmacharya, or abstinence from excessive sensual indulgence
and aparigraha, or non-possessiveness.

I have been trying to focus on this first step to enlightenment, and it is proving much more challenging than I had imagined. It is similar to the exercise where someone tells you "do not think of an elephant" and it's all you can do to keep the image of an elephant, or something big or grey or with large ears out of your mind.

I call to cancel a haircut appointment because I decide I don't want to spend $80 on a trim and while I would normally make up some lie about having to work or some other engagement I hear "satya satya satya" whispering in my head. I go to snag a cookie off the rack at work (which we all do almost every day) and I hear "asteya asteya asteya!" To make matters worse, I usually am not one to covet, but now that I'm focusing on non-possessiveness almost everyone I see has something I want - a hairstyle, boots, a baby, a bike, food. And I have been having some incredibly intense dreams that directly conflict with brahmacharya.

If this is a test, I am failing.

The only yama I seem to be having any success with is ahimsa. I abstain from eating animal products of any kind, so I avoid violence to animals; I naturally shy away from conflict; I abhor all physical violence. So I'm focusing on the positive and congratulating myself on a good job with yama number one, hoping the other four eventually fall into place. Which I'm sure they will.

One thing is certain, though: directing my attention to these five restraints makes me much more aware of my actions in general and the motives behind them. Much like the four cups exercise it zones in on intention, which helps connect me to everything I do. This in turn makes me feel connected to myself, others around me and the rest of the material world, which was the main goal of this whole project in the first place!

Have you ever thought about the five yamas, not necessarily in terms of yoga but in your own daily life? Which ones do you struggle with?

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