This is part 5 of a 10 part series that I'll be posting. Each post will be discussing one of the yamas or niyamas, which form the foundation of a yoga practice. To provide a little background: the path of yoga was described about 2000 years ago by Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras- one of the most important texts on yoga. Here, Patanjali laid out the 8 limbed path of yoga. This means that there are 8 stages of yoga, starting with the simplest and moving to the most advanced. The 8th limb is Samadhi, which is enlightenment, aka when you become One with the universe. We can't just skip to limb number 8, however. We've gotta start with the basics. These days, we tend to jump right in at the third limb of yoga: asana (aka. the physical postures). Maybe we'll also dabble in the 4th limb, pranayama (conscious breathing, and control/ manipulation of breath). Unfortunately, we tend to skip right over the first two limbs: the Yamas, and the Niyamas. The Yamas are the 5 restraints; the things we should avoid, in order to be good yogis, and decent human beings. The Niyamas are the 5 observances; the qualities we should cultivate, in terms of how we treat ourselves. Each of the Yamas and Niyamas has important lessons to teach us, both on and off the mat. Here are my thoughts on each one.
This can be a tricky yama, especially in our modern times. When the Yoga Sutras were written and Patanjali first laid out his 8-fold path he wasn’t being bombarded with advertising every moment of his waking hours, like we are now. Corporations spend billions of dollars every year to convince us that our lives will be better if we give them some of our money in exchange for their latest products or services. Each purchase
promises to make us happier, by saving us time, making us more comfortable, or making us look hotter. As such, we’re being led to believe that our happiness comes from external sources, rather than from within. This is dangerous and depressing, since this mentality means that we’ll never feel good enough, successful enough, or worthy enough, as there will always be something else to buy.
So, many yogis choose to live a simple life, and forgo excess possessions. This doesn’t mean you have to get rid of all your stuff and live in a cave wearing only your undies though (although it’s an option, if you really want to). Aparigraha basically just reminds us to consume mindfully. We should be aware of the difference between “needs” and “wants”. When we find ourselves wanting things, we should have a think about the reason why that is. Often, when we get attached to material desires, it’s because we feel like we need to keep up with what others have, and the quest for more, and better, things leads to competition, and division amongst ourselves. Again, this is the antithesis of yoga, which is all about coming together as One.
Aparigraha doesn’t just apply to our possessions and material desires. We can also get really attached to relationships, thoughts, expectations, and beliefs. So much pain and suffering has been caused by people who are attached to the belief that having one skin color is better than another, that having an XY chromosome makes you more important than those with an XX, that one God is superior to another, or that some people should be forbidden from marrying their beloved partners just because they happen to be of the same gender. If we cling to our outdated, close-minded beliefs, the result is again more division, more feelings of superiority, and more harm (thus violating Ahimsa as well).
Even on our yoga mats, we might end up violating Aparigraha… have you ever struggled through a sequence, all the while watching some lithe, coordinated yogi breezily move through it effortlessly, and wishing that you were them instead? I have. We can get attached to certain poses, and/or start to covet someone else’s practice, body, or skill level. When this happens, we forget that the yoga practice is a time to honor ourselves, and our bodies. I constantly remind my fellow yogis (and myself) that your yoga practice is an opportunity to do your yoga, not someone else’s. When we come together to share the practice, it’s so that we can support each other, create good energy, and positive vibes, and not so we can compare ourselves, or try to force our beautiful unique bodies to all do exactly the same thing. Your time on the mat is your opportunity to be exactly who you are. Even if that involves tight hamstrings.
I want to point out that having desirous thoughts or catching yourself coveting what someone else has does not make you a bad person, or a bad yogi. It happens, and will continue to happen. What we need to do in order to adhere to Aparigraha is to notice, and then release, our attachment to our thoughts, desire, etc.. As B.K.S. Iyengar says in his amazing “Light on Yoga”: “By the observance of aparigraha (nongreed), the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.”
Pretty great, right? If we just chill out a bit, we can start to free ourselves from all the attachments that weigh us down. By letting go of the things we cling to - whether they are physical possessions, people, or thoughts, we can start to create space. The beauty of it is that once we make that space, we will find it being filled by all the beauty, love, and happiness we could ever need or want.
I'll leave you with a tune by a particularly wise yogi. Enjoy :)