My statement with respect to ethics.
Ethics in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
YOGA ALLIANCE (under construction)
This statement is a work in progress.
I feel very strongly that people in positions of power need to acknowledge that power, and exercise self-awareness, self-reflexivity, and self-control.
As a yoga teacher, I hold the space for my students to experience all dimensions of yoga as experienced in the five bodies (or koshas) of the yogic anatomy: The physical body (anamaya kosha); the breath or energy body (pranamaya kosha); the mind, wisdom, mental or intellectual body, also known as our thoughts (vijnyanamaya kosha) ; the emotional body (manomaya kosha); and the bliss or spirit body (anandamaya kosha). Many students may at one time or another feel very moved and strongly affected by any or all of their experiences of these bodies. This can leave them in a vulnerable state, particularly to the person who facilitates their experience. I am responsible for maintaining my personal and professional boundaries and thus ensuring their safety.
In addition, students often fail to perceive teachers as human beings with flaws and failings; students project upon them their images of perfection or spiritual enlightenment and as a result devalue themselves, and becoming vulnerable. I as a teacher must be very explicit about my humanity, and not take advantage of a student's projection of spiritual enlightenment upon me. They must know and hear explicitly from me that I am no "enlightened master" and I have no inside track or secret knowledge. I have simply learned to teach what others have taught me: The technology of yoga. Yoga is responsible for every dimension of a student's experience. I am responsible for ensuring that they know I merely hold the space, presenting them with the skills to have that experience. The experience comes from within them, not from me.
As a yoga practitioner, I have accepted the ethical principles as expressed in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.
As a Jew, I am bound by the mitzvos (commandments) of the Torah. These apply equally to my so-called "secular", and yoga, life as they do to my "religious" life.
As a certified Kripalu Yoga teacher, I am bound by the KYTA statement of ethics.
As a yoga teacher certified by the Federation of Ontario Yoga Teachers, I am bound by the FOYT code of ethics.
As a Registered Yoga Teacher, and a member of the Yoga Alliance, I am required to adhere to the YA's ethical principles.
I explain clearly to my students that I expect them to take ownership of, and be responsible for, their emotional, mental and physical well-being while attending my classes. Students are responsible for informing me of any injuries or illnesses they may have experienced. They are responsible for withdrawing from activities in which they feel uncomfortable, or which they feel may compromise their well-being. As a Yoga teacher, I am present for, and attentive to, my students, and students are responsible for communicating any reservations, concerns or questions to me.
The Yoga tradition, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is governed by a series of ethical principles called yama and niyama. They are part of what is called the eightfold (ashtanga: ash = eight, anga = limbs) path.
I have just slapped together a survey of some of the ideas available online about the yama and niyama. Eventually this will evolve into a more complete document. In the meantime, perhaps this material will give you impetus to look at some of the traditional yogic texts.
View 1: A brief introduction to yama and niyama
View 2: Swami Sivananda
View 3: from the Kundalini tradition
View 4: B.K.S. Iyengar
You might also enjoy this interesting look at yogic ethics: yoga postures from a Kripalu teacher that express yama and niyama.
Deals with ethical standards and a person's integrity. It focuses on how a person conducts themself in life. There are five yamas:
Ahismsa : non-violence or non-injury
Satya : truthfulness
Asteya : non-stealing
Aparigraha : non-covetousness
Individual practices surrounding self-discipline and spiritual observance are the focus of niyama. The five niyamas are:
Santosa : contentment
Tapas : heat; spiritual austerities
Svadhyara : study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self
Isvara pranidhana : surrender to God
As explained elsewhere, Yoga is not just a physical practice. It has a strong moral, ethical and spiritual basis; which is why it aims at such lofty goals such as liberation of the soul. If practised purely at the physical level, it degenerates into mere exercise and the practitioner denies himself much of the benefits that yog offers.
The pre-requisites are laid down in the Patanjali Yog Sutra, as the first two limbs of yog yam and niyam (moral restraint and ethical practices). After these practices have been implemented will the practictioner be able to obtain the full benefits of the next step, asan.
The transalations and commentary given below are based on the excellent book, The Original Yoga" by Shyam Ghosh.
I. Yam(a) (Restraints)
Patanjali specifies five different moral restraints for the practictioner. These can also be interpreted in a positive manner, in the light of modern day practices
1. Ahims(a) -Non-violence
This is the first precept of any spiritual practice do no harm to any other living being. The important thing to note is that this does not just refer to physical acts of violence, but equally to violence in word and thought. This is a much more difficult proposition. You might not physically slap somebody but verbally abuse him. If he is in a stronger position than you, you might not have the guts to say or do anything, but yet mentally abuse him. According to Patanjali, all these behaviour is treated as himsa violence and is to be avoided. At the first stage itself we are shown that yog is more than a physical practice, but it involves subtler forms of action such as speech and thought. Ahimsa also has an impact on your diet it cannot be based on violence.
And why bother with Ahimsa? To quote Patanjali "when non-violence is established, hostility recoils in its presence". In such a mind, a violent thought cannot arise, let alone a hostile word or deed. (2:35)
A positive interpretation of Ahimsa would be "to have a loving touch". Not just abstain from doing violence to everyone you come into contact with, but have a very pleasant, loving, beautiful experience.
2. Saty(a) Truth
"A correct, uncoloured and well-weighed thought, when expressed faithfully in word or deed, means a restraint on the mind's tendency to bypass accuracy"
Patajali goes to to say "When truth is established, the means of action becomes un-necessary". (2:36) What he means is that truth requires no support or defence. The means of acting in a true and right fashion need not be sought out they will be clear as day.
This Yam can also be interpreted as "Being True to oneself' that is, acting in accordance to one's true self, and not doing what is not "in character" with yourself. Doing what you know you should do and nothing else.
3. Astey(a) Non-stealing
"Asteya is a curb on covetousness, which prompts one to grab, covertly or overtly, what belongs to others" Shyam Ghosh. Again the point is made that it does not make a difference if you steal openly or on the sly. Patanjali says that "when non-stealing is established, all treasures present themselves" (2:37). What is being indicated is that when there is no more desire for (material) goods, especially those which do not belong to you, the true (spiritual) treasures present themselves to you for the asking.
A modern interpretation could be "to be generous". Not just not to steal, but let your possessions, emotions, goodwill, thoughts flow freely. Life is a flow and when you go with the flow, wonderful things happen.
4. Brahmacharya (Continence)
Though the popular interpretation of brahmacharya is celibacy or continence, the actual word could be interpreted as "Brahma + acharan" which would mean one who is close to or at the feet of Brahma. Patanjali says "When Brahmacharya is established, virility is gained". (2:38). This is a pointer to the dissipative nature of excessive sexual activity that is so common today.
A modern interpretation of this Yam could be "inclusive relationships" which means you do not demand exclusivity in your relationships "you shall love me and me alone", but rather are willing to share and be a part of a larger whole.
5. A-parigrah (Non-receiving)
A rather high ideal of non-acceptance of gifts from others possibly meant as a further restraint on covetousness even for goods received as gifts. Perhaps the idea was that the yogi should not be under any obligation to anybody. Patanjali says that "when aparigraha is established, one gets awareness of past life events"! (2:39)
All these rules are intended to keep the yogi on the straight and narrow path. It is no use if the yogi, after coming down from his headstand, goes against any or all of these precepts! Patanjali also makes it abundantly clear that these yam(a)s are a "universal code of conduct, to be observed irrespective of kind, place, time or ocassion" (2:40). In other words, these cannot be observed conditionally rather they have to be unconditionally followed both in letter and spirit.
After dealing with the don'ts, Patanjali moves on to the do's in the Niyams or ethical observances.
1. Shouch - Purity
Naturally this does not refer to external purity alone which can be achieved by cleaning and bathing. Internal purity of thought is also important so your mind has pure thoughts of goodwill, friendliness etc. Patanjali explains that complete purity of mind means several things (2:41)
Cheerfulness not experiencing any regret but rather satisfaction and happiness
one-pointedness Ability to focus the mind's attention unwaveringly on an object
control of the senses refers to the mind's unquestioned superiority over the senses &
capacity to see the real self self-explanatory.
Patanjali goes on to say that once purity is established, there arises an aversion to the physical aspect of one's body as well as that of others. One stops looking at the body at the physical level alone, and devoting oneself to meeting physical needs directly and through others. Rather one becomes more spiritual, more wholistic.
2. Santosh (Contentment)
You must strive for higher ideals, while at the same time be contented and satisfied with your current lot. After all you have spent all your life and all your effort to get where you are, and that is to be respected. A dis-satisfied, discontent mind will never be at peace- always craving for more- a hindrance to spiritual practice. On the other hand, Patanjali says that "contentment leads to supreme joy", (2:42), that cannot be obtained by the enjoyment of external objects.
3. Tapas (Austerity)
The strict definition is austerity which envisages a simple living, renunciation of comforts, and often planned acceptance of discomforts to discipline oneself. Fasting or a vow of silence for a fixed period are common examples. Extreme and continued mortification of the body is obviously not called for as stated in the Bhagwad Gita, Yog is for the moderate person not for one who indulges in extreme practices. What is probably indicated is, sleeping on the floor, bathing in cold water, taking a minimum quantity of simple food and baring the body to the rigours of the weather all of them designed to strengthen the body and increase it's longevity. Patanjali says "Austerity purges impurities in the body, leading to mastery over the body and senses" (2: 43).
A modern interpretation of Tapas could be "sustained, in-depth, practice" by which alone a person gets mastery of a subject or object.
4. Sw-adhyay (Self-Study)
Self-study could mean self-directed study, as opposed to learning directly from a teacher, or also study of the self of course one has to know oneself before trying to know anyone else or anything else. Patanjali probably means study of the scriptures, since he says that by this method one gets "direct contact with the cherished deity"
5. Ishwar-Pranidhan (Surrender to God)
Surrender or complete devotion to God, or to the natural cosmic order, leads to Samadhi or liberation, says Patanjali. What further justification do we need?
Meditation tends to free a great deal of energy that is usually tied up in various kinds of mental and emotional tensions. When these tensions are released we have more energy available to live full and creative lives. But we only meditate for a short time each day, and if our habits and attitudes are creating more tensions during the rest of the day, we are not going to make much progress.
For this reason, yoga has always stressed the importance of an ethical code to guide us in our daily lives and to help us to bring the peace and understanding that we find through meditation into every moment. This code is known as Yama and Niyama. These ten principles are the prerequisite to successful spiritual life.
Ahimsa: A-himsa means not to harm. Ahimsa means action performed without the intention of harming anyone by thought, word or deed. We must strive not to be motivated by hatred or anger. Ahimsa is not synonymous with non-violence. Violence can be used in self-defense, but only after non-violent means were considered and deemed ineffective. Therefore, violence is acceptable when it is the only way left to protect oneself.
Satya: Satya means to have intention of welfare behind all thought, speech and action. Satya also means to be true to oneself and one's inner vision and to face honestly one's emotions and motivation.
Asteya: Asteya means non-stealing, i.e. not physically taking or mentally coveting that which rightfully belongs to someone else. It also means trustworthiness and fairness in dealing with others.
Aparigraha: Aparigraha means not to indulge in the enjoyment of unnecessary comforts. It is an ecological principle: minimize your resource consumption and a psychological one: learn to enjoy ideas instead of thing. Every person must find his or her way to practice this principle.
Brahmacarya: Brahmacarya refers to a state of mind in which we see everyone and everything as an expression of the Supreme. To practice Brahmacarya, we must open our minds to delve into the hidden depths of creation and to see that there is a single energy and a single consciousness pervading all forms. The word Brahmacarya is a composite of two words, i.e. Brahma, the Supreme, and carya, to observe. (Contrary to popular Indian meaning, it does not mean celibacy.)
Shaoca: Shaoca means the cultivation of mental and physical cleanliness. Good exercise, asanas, meditation and positive mental attitude help in observation of this principle.
Santosa: Santosa means to be content and to remain mentally balanced in both positive and negative situations in which we happen to find ourselves.
Tapah: Tapah is the practice of sacrificing petty personal pleasures in order to experience the greater joy of helping others.
Svadhyaya: Svadhyaya involves developing of cognitive understanding of intuitive knowledge. It also means to clearly understand the underlying spiritual meaning of the world's great scriptures.
Iishvara Pranidhana: Iishvara Pranidhana means realizing that reunion (yoga) with the Supreme is the goal of life. It also means moving with ever increasing commitment toward the fulfillment of that goal. Meditation is the best method of observing this principle.
"Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics."
Yama - or social moralities, has five principles each of which can be applied in teaching and practicing:
1) Ahimsa (Non-violence / Love) requires a careful and sensitive approach to the postures which should nevertheless be firm and challenging; harmony in the performance of a pose in order to show respect for the body; purification of the mind and body from their limitations and ailments so as to render them a better temple for the soul.
2) Satya (Truth) augments the quality of a pose by right thinking and performance to avoid any possibility of inner change and confusion. When working with truth, fruit of action comes without apparently doing anything.
3) Asteya (Non-stealing) can be interpreted as to mean that teaching should be absorbed, digested and understood, then forgotten and relearned through one's own practice. By application of this principle, the true wealth of asana will present itself to the adept.
4) Bramacharya (Continence) and the "will to direct all bodily and mental energies towards reality" (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)... This implies that degree of physical and mental concentration necessary for the proper holding of a pose. All energies should be channeled toward serving the inner spirit as opposed to the ego; likewise, to imparting knowledge for the service of other and not of self-glorification.
5) Aparigraha (Non-greed)... The urge to develop within oneself the patience to master one's practice with pure dedication and a rejection of all personal rewards. Non-hoarding. Do not take anything without working for it. Be satisfied with what happens.
Niyama - personal ethical code, more spiritual , the ones which humanity is not ready to follow, again has five principles for application to teaching and practicing.
1) Saucha (purity) of the body through the studying and practice of asanas, by thus simulating the physiological functions, one purifies the body and mind so that harmony, balance and self control can be attained as a manifestation of God within oneself.
2) Santosa (tranquility, contentment) is the concentration, mental stillness and physical stability essential for successful practice.
3) Tapas is the constant effort to achieve steadiness and strength in the postures, to remain calm through the discomfort, rewards and possible disappointments of practice, and to keep practicing in a humble and unselfish manner.
4) Svadayaya (study), is the willingness to observe and understand with an enquiring and open mind. It is to work at every move under the guidance of the teacher, and by so doing, to learn to read one's own book of life.
5) Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to God) the realisation of the union between the individual soul and the universal spirit., inspired by devotional practice and constant awareness that ultimately our supreme teacher is God within ourselves. In that final state of joy, the practice takes the shape of a prayer where each movement, each vibration of the skin, each instance of stillness, each breath, each harmonisation are manifestation of the spirit of God on the one hand, and on the other hand, an act of worship.