In yoga there is philosophical code, similar to the the the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts Code of Law. The Yogic code is found in the texts of the Yamas and Niyamas.
The Yamas consist of 5 restraints and the Niyamas consist of 5 observances.
The first two Yamas are non-violence and truthfulness, known as ahimsa and satya in Sanskrit.
Non-violence and truthfulness are intertwined with one another, like condensation and rainfall. They germinate within the practice of yoga, but flourish both on and off the mat. They offer growth, both in how we treat ourselves and how we treat others.
When we think of ahimsa, while in a yoga posture, we actively think of how to move in a way that is kind to the body. We want challenge, but also want to respect our body’s boundaries. Rather than “being careful,” we want to move in a way that is full of care.
I remember when I was teaching my son how to move his lower limbs when he was just 4 months old. I would place him on his back and help him emulate either walking or running and sing a little song about what he was doing. He would shriek with joy whenever we switched gears from the walking to the running game. I did all of this with great care.
As he got older and his limbs became stronger, we moved to standing and then walking with support. At around 12 months, he was walking on his own and would soon move faster than me.
Like learning how to walk, yoga is a process that takes time and practice.
Increasing flexibility to the point where you can nearly touch the floor, takes practice. Gaining enough upper body strength for descending planks, takes practice. Staying balanced during tree pose, takes practice. If these things could happen in one week, then there would be a void in the process of discovery. We would miss the insight from the body’s biofeedback loop.
Yoga is an art form that teaches us to let go, take it slow and find patience.
I could not imagine getting frustrated with my toddler because he was not walking at exactly 12 months. Each baby is different. In yoga, every individual is different. In addition, your own body can be different from one day to the next.
On days when I do not get enough sleep, I cannot balance in one legged tree pose with my usual ease. It surprises me and reminds me to tend to my sleep more carefully. Yoga kindly tells me the truth. Which brings us to the second part of the yogic code, satya.
Being truthful or authentic, is the ability to have a genuine connection free from incorrect thinking, perceptions or representations.
Having a genuine yoga practice means honoring your body by seeing what is true for you. Adaptations may be required. It is important to be true to your body rather than true to a pose.
In Warrior 2 I take care of my body by staying in a higher stance than I did 10 years ago. I have some arthritis in my right knee. I remember having a fall on that knee while stepping over a child gate in my family room. I was carrying my daughter and I didn’t want to drop her. All my weight landed on that right knee and I thought I had broken it.
As a result, the Warrior 2 stance that I take is higher than the widely stretched and deeply athletic stance I see pictured in yoga books. I am still using my quads and hamstrings and distributing weight on both feet, but with my heels closer together. Finding a stance that accommodates where we are is a way of finding our own personal truth.
How do we take ahimsa and satya with us off the mat?
It is important to approach our body with kindness and to approach others with care as well. It is important to free ourselves from images or societal expectations that we might try to impose on ourselves or others.
As far as the dance between ahimsa and truthfulness, we want to avoid violent or harsh truths. If a student is really upset with themselves over their progress, I lovingly guide them into practicing patience. A harsh statement can hurt feelings, diminish confidence and erode trust, even if it was intended to foster progress.
Truth is not to be used as a blunt or violent instrument in our relationships with ourselves or others. The truth hurts, if it is used in a cruel fashion.
It is our duty to proceed with the truth in a way that assists us in finding our footing. Our inner guide can encourage and be a “lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.” Truth can move us in the right direction, when we proceed with wisdom and care.
Peace and Yoga,