A blog about yoga, life, health and healing.
The fifth and final yama or "great vow" as taught by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is aparigraha.
Broken down into it's sanskrit parts,
pari means "that which is all around us"
graha means "to grab or to grip"
a is a prefix that negates a word
Put it all back together and Patanjali says, "Don't grab onto everything that is around you (or in a simplified version), don't be greedy!". He goes further by saying that when we are established in non greed, we will come to know the meaning of our lives.
The ancient Indian practice of trapping monkeys is often used to describe this yama.
Long ago in order to catch monkeys, hunters would carve out a coconut leaving a hole just big enough for a monkey's stretched out hand to fit through. Then they would anchor the coconut to the ground. Rice or sweet treats would be placed inside of the coconut as bait. The hungry monkeys would smell the rice and squeeze their hands through the hole and greedily grasp the goodies in their fists. When they tried to pull their hand back out, their tightly closed fist was too big to fit. As they struggled to pull their bounty out of the coconut, the hunters could easily capture them. What the monkeys didn't realize was that it was their own unwillingness to release the grip on their prize that caused their self imposed prison.
They say that "what we possess, possesses us".
Like the monkeys in the self imposed coconut trap, all of the stuff that we greedily aquire begins to weigh us down, and our best attempts to be free while holding onto it just leaves us feeling trapped.
We aquire and hold onto material possessions, old beliefs and thoughts, grievences of the heart, and identifications with our physical bodies long past their usefullness.
Its okay and often times necessary to aquire new things. Keep in mind however, that when we aquire new things, new thoughts, new ideas, and new feelings, we must also release or let go of the old ones so that we will have the space to take in what's new.
Giving away money and material possessions to those in need, letting go of grievences through forgiveness, and
leaving the past in the past, will leave us feeling lighter and may even bring us closer to knowing the true meaning of our lives.
I have a confession to make.... I am having a love affair with Edy's Fudge Tracks ice cream. Whenever she is in my freezer, I can't resist the urge to have her. Sometimes the urge is so strong, I have her more than once a day!
I am sad to say however, that Edy doesn't feel the same about me.
When I succumb to my sensual urges to taste the deliciousness of Edy's Fudge Tracks ice cream for three or four days in a row, I end up with a raging headache and a general feeling of crappiness.
Fortunately, I have a great therapist to help me through this. His name is Patanjali and he wrote the Yoga Sutras.
The fourth yama or "great vow" that we are asked to commit to is bramacharya.
Bramacharya was traditionally a recommendation to practice celibacy.
Two thousand years ago, yoga was an exclusive philosophy practiced by and taught only to men who were willing and able to renounce wordly pursuits to focus all of their energy on their search for enlightenment, which was said to be found through union with God. ie... yoga.
These renunciates practiced celibacy as a way to harness their powerful sexual energy and use it towards their spiritual pursuits.
Over many years, as the spiritual teaching and practice of yoga began to expand into the lives of "householders" (people with families and jobs, which also included women), the interpretation of bramacharya changed a bit. After all, without an intimate relationship with one's spouse, children could not be produced.
A modern day interpretation of bramacharya tells us to be moderate in our indulgence of pleasures of the senses. In other words, pay attention to and moderate your urges for things such as eating, drinking, shopping, working, thinking, sleeping or whatever-ing that you feel overly attached to or have a tendency to overindulge in.
Our attachment to sensual pleasures (including but not limited to sexual pleasures) can pull us off balance and away from our center. At our center, according to yoga philosophy, we find union with the Divine or God or our higher selves. (take your pick)
Getting back to my love affair with Edy, when I practice bramacharya or moderation with my ice cream lover, I stay balanced. I can have her every now and then with no ill effects. More importantly, I don't have to deprive myself of experiencing the pleasure in my senses when I indulge them every now and then.
If I renounce ice cream altogether, I run the risk of becoming overly attached to or obsessed by my unfullfilled desire for my sweet friend. Moderation in all things makes us less likely to tip the scale to the extreme which can knock us off balance.
Finding that healthy balance somewhere between over indulgence and complete abstinence is a practice that requires commitment, attention, and an inward focus.
When I am calm and centered, I can take a deep breath and decide whether my "craving" for Edy's Fudge Track ice cream is actually a "craving" for something else. Maybe I am craving love or just want to be listened to. Maybe I am lonely or tired or bored.
Unless I look at my "craving" for sensual pleasures honestly, I run the risk of trying to feed them with the wrong "food".
Maybe a hug from my husband, the sound of my mom's voice, a card game with my daughter, or a nice hot shower would hit the spot. Any of these indulgences would surely leave me feeling full in my heart.
If I still want a bowl of Edy's ice cream afterwards, I am much less likely to overindulge since I have already filled myself up with what I really needed.
Committing to bramacharya and the practice of yoga can help us to stay centered and connected to the spirit.
The yamas are the five ethical practices or the "great vows" that we commit to when we dedicate ourselves to yoga.
The first one, ahimsa says, Do not harm.
The second one, satya says, Do not lie.
The third yama, asteya says, Do not steal.
You might say, "Phew! I'm covered with the do not steal thing. I can cross that off my list. I don't shoplift, or rob banks...... heck, I don't even take those little soaps from the hotel.... I mean, we're supposed to steal those!"
It's great to have the "do not steal thing" covered, however, yoga is a practice of going from the gross to the subtle or the obvious to the less obvious, so once we master the more obvious practice of not stealing material things, a committed student of yoga would then ask the question, "How do I steal on a more subtle level?"
My good friend Nancy is an attorney. Because of her kind and compassionate heart, she is very generous with her legal advice without expecting anything in return.
The other day, we were together and I said, "I have to pick something up in this store." She said, "Okay, I'll just wait in the car." I said, "But why? You love this store!"
As it turned out, she had given some free legal advice to the sales person. Now every time she goes into the store, the sales person asks her more legal questions (which she is too nice not to answer) so she ends up spending much of her precious time giving free legal advice.
Whether the sales guy was aware of it or not, he was "stealing" her time, her expertise, the freedom to shop in the store without feeling pressure, and ultimately her livelyhood when he asked her for free legal advice.
There are many ways in which we take what has not been freely offered.
When we are late, we steal someone's time.
When we talk too much or too loudly, we steal someone's attention and their turn to speak.
When we do everything for our children, or fix someone else's problem, we steal their opportunity to learn and make their own mistakes.
When we gossip, we steal another's ability to defend themselves.
When we judge people, we steal our own opportunity to cultivate an open mind and heart.
When we take someone's ideas and claim them as our own, we are stealing our opportunity to develop our own creativity.
When we don't share our abundance with others or give back to our community when we are able, we are stealing the opportunity to experience our innate oneness with all.
When we get very clear and aware of our thoughts, words, and actions we might realize that we "steal" from others in order to fill a void within ourselves.
Yoga philosophy teaches that we have everything we need inside of us to embrace the happiness and to endure the suffering that we will inevitably experience in life. Following the eight limbed path of yoga can help us to remember this Universal truth.
Sutra 2.37 of the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali says, "when established in non stealing, all wealth comes to us."
In other words, trust in a kind and generous Universe and you will be rewarded for your committment to asteya.
When my kids were little, I bought them a rabbit. Two weeks after we got him, he got really sick. With labored breath and eyes half closed, he laid in his cage, too sick to move. I was pretty sure that if I left him alone he would eventually die, but I felt terrible watching him suffer.
I thought to myself, "I'll take him to the vet and they will put him out of his misery."
We were on a very limited budget at the time so I also thought, "I hope it doesn't cost too much."
After the doctor tenderly examined the rabbit, he said, "I can keep him overnight for IV antibiotics and observation."
I thought to myself, "What? Is he kidding me? How much is THAT gonna cost? The rabbit, his cage, and a month's supply of food only cost me $19.99! Isn't it obvious that the rabbit's dying! Wouldn't it be easier, cheaper, and more humane to just put the poor thing to sleep?"
Gently holding my sick rabbit in his arms, the doctor waited for my response.
Seeing this man trying to heal my sick rabbit when I just wanted the rabbit to die made me feel like a monster so instead of telling the truth about what I thought, a feeble,"ok" came out of my mouth.
I regretted my decision instantly when a flash of my husband's reaction to spending our hard earned money trying to keep a rabbit alive popped into my head.
The vet called the next day to tell me that the rabbit's condition was the same, but I could continue oral antibiotics for the next couple of days to see if his condition improved. Again I thought, "What? Wouldn't it be easier and cheaper and more humane to just put the poor thing to sleep?", but instead of telling the truth, a feeble "ok" came out of my mouth.
I walked into the waiting room feeling angry and annoyed that my rabbit was still alive until I saw all of the concerned pet owners seemingly prepared to try any means to keep their furry family members alive and well. Again, "monster!" came to mind so I paid my large bill, took my still sick rabbit and costly medication home, and watched him suffer and die within hours.
Carl Jung said that we lie when the truth feels too dangerous. In other words, it takes more courage to be honest and authentic than it does to be dishonest or fake. Sometimes being honest is just admitting a mistake that you made. Other times it requires leaving a job or a situation that you have outgrown. In my case, my fear of being judged as a "monster" overshadowed my core belief that the rabbit shouldn't be forced to suffer. Staying committed to my truth required the courage to say what I really felt regardless of what anyone thought.
In Yoga Philosophy, one of the yamas or "great vows" that we commit to is satya. Satya means truthfulness. Patanjali said that, "all of nature loves and honest person". The practice of yoga teaches us to have an inward focus so that we won't be distracted by another person's opinions or judgements. Being connected to our center also reminds us that the truth can change. What was true ten years ago may no longer be true today. If we blindly hold onto beliefs that no longer serve us, what was once a truth becomes a lie.
The most powerful example of a person committed to truth was Mahatma Ghandhi.
Ghandi said that his life was an experiment with truth. His truth was his deep committment to ahimsa or non violence. He created the concept of "satyagraha" which means, "to hold onto truth". By upholding his truth, he led numerous non violent protests which ultimately led to historic changes in the social and political environment in India and South Africa.
In the words of Ghandi, "Truth is God" and "God is Truth". When speaking on the subject, he used the two interchangably.
If we follow the example of this great leader, committing to truth (God) can give us the courage to be honest and authentic without causing harm.
The other day I misjudged the speed at which a car was coming and I pulled out in front of it.
As if playing a game of chicken with himself to see how close he could get to me without using his brakes, the driver of the car continued at the same speed until he was literally inches from my bumper. At the same time he held down his horn and I could see him yelling obscenities at me in my rearview mirror.
Initially, I felt bad and I wished for a universal hand signal that meant, "Oops, I'm sorry, my bad!" but his reaction made me angry. I took a couple of deep breaths and reminded myself that, when someone has an outburst of anger directed at me, it usually has absolutely nothing to do with me and everything to do with what's going on inside of them. Taking a moment to remember this instead of reacting with unkindness gave me an opportunity to be compassionate to the suffering of another.
Anger and violence have a strong tendency to spread. More than likely, the road rage stranger was holding onto anger from a previous interaction. It could have happened ten minutes before, ten weeks before, or even ten years before, but it was affecting him in the moment. As a result, he may have over reacted to my pulling out in front of him without full awareness of what he was doing.
All unkind or violent interactions can potentially harm us and cause us to react with the same unkindness or violence towards others.
When we commit to yoga, we are asked to practice restraints (shouldn't dos) and observances (should dos).
These ethical practices form the first two limbs of the eight limbed path of yoga and are called the yamas and the niyamas.
The first and most important "ethical practice" is ahimsa which means, to "do no harm". Nicolai Bachman, author of, The Path of the Yoga Sutras, says that " Each person has the potential to be kind or to be mean.... practicing the eight limbs of yoga strengthens our kindness and weakens our meaness."
Ahimsa takes awareness, strength, and practice because we may have to let others angry of hurtful outbursts pass through us instead of "fighting back" so that the unkindness doesn't have an oppourtunity to spread. In other words, if we don't engage or participate in another's unkindness, hopefully it won't escalate any further.
I am not saying that we shouldn't defend ourselves against physical violence, but I am saying that when people are unkind, it is often best to take a step back, breathe and resist the urge to take another's unkind thoughts, words, or actions personally. Remember that hurt people, hurt people.
Spreading kindness and compassion through your thoughtful actions can help to heal yourself as well as others. So always remember the father of modern medicine and great healer Hippocrates' advice and "above all else, do no harm."
All Abhyasa Ahimsa Aparigraha Asmita-Ego Attachment Baron Baptiste Beginner's Mind Bramacharya Carl Jung Clear Seeing Colorless Comfortable Discomfort Creating Spaciousness In Mind And Body Cultivate The Opposite Deepak Chopra Dharma Empty Your Cup Enthusiasm Equanimity Family Fight Or Flight Great Vows Inner-awareness Inner Critic John Kabbatzinnb2faff332d Listening Mirrors To Ourselves Monkey Hunting Non Stealing Patanjali Pause Pillar Pleasure And Pain Posseses Us Practice Pratipaksa Bhavana Pratyahara Present Moment Present Moment Awareness Respond Instead Of React Samadhi Samskara Santosha Satya Sauca Sensual Pleasures Shadow Side Spirituality Steadiness And Ease Sthira And Sukha Strength Sustained Attention Svadhyaya There You Are Thich Nat Hahn This Too Shall Pass True Self Uncertainty Universal Truth What We Possess Wherever You Go Wisdom Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutra 1. 14 Yoga Sutra 1.33 Yoga Sutra 2.33 Yoga Sutra 2 37cfe9965fa2 Yoga Sutra 2. 46 Yoga Sutras