This is a time when words seem to fail. These words feel inadequate and perhaps a bit well-worn, but they come from my heart…
What would yoga have us do right now? I ask myself this question countless times a day of late, but yoga – fortunately or unfortunately – doesn’t come with a set of black and white rules. It avoids ultimatums and asks us each to be in our own inquiry, and its evolution over thousands of years has led to widely varying paths and practices.
We do know from its name, which comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj”, to yoke together, that its goal is one of union, connection, coming together.
Whatever our yogic path is – whether it be through postures or chanting, acts of service or meditation – the goal is the same – connection and integration within ourselves. We yogis work to unite body, breath, mind, heart and spirit. Because with that alignment there comes a sense of peace, and from there we can be of far greater use to ourselves and to the world.
Mahatma Gandhi, one of the world’s great yogis, said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” In other words, union – happiness is union. Happiness may not be the endgame in yoga, but it is a sure sign that we’re on the right track.
That said, how do we find our way to happiness or harmony when there is clearly so much unhappiness and disharmony in the world around us? Are we to take to the streets or to the mat? To speak out on injustice or to avoid conflict altogether? To try to help the world or to keep the focus on ourselves?
Yoga avoids ultimatums. It is a spiritual tradition of inquiry, and we are each asked to be in our own inquiry. We do have the foundational teachings of the yamas and niyamas to guide us – yoga ethics: compassion, truth, non-stealing, energy management, non-attachment, purification, contentment, discipline, self-study, and surrender to the Divine. How we practice them is up to each of us, but if we use them as our steady guideposts we will find our way. Not perfectly, perhaps, and not without stumbling, necessarily, but they are invaluable and reliable tools.
Let us, as practitioners of yoga, set an example for our families and for our communities. Let us simply do our best each day to live the principles of the yamas and the niyamas to the best of our ability in each moment. And as we do, may we trust that whatever peace we find in ourselves will help to create just a little more peace in the world.
(For more on the yamas and niyamas, see Deborah Adele’s The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice. Yama and Niyama Yoga with Jurian, Fridays, 8:30 am ET, through January.)