THE (SO-CALLED) YOGIC “DO’S and DON’TS
At WYC, we believe in simplicity. We believe in it and we have some very good, simple ideas about how yoga can be easily practiced. It’s not our fault that things got complicated in connection with some of yoga’s so-called “beginner practices.” So we kind of have to deal with how things got to be the way they are. And the truth is that we do like to get into the intellectual stuff. Just don’t let it weigh you down. Ignore what you need to ignore until you don’t have to ignore it anymore, and that includes what we have to explain about the Yamas and Niyamas.
But eventually we do hope that you will consider this to be an important subject. We think it is, even though yoga does not have behavioral commandments. Yoga has suggestions. And we can keep things yogically simple. We just need to practice the Yamas and Niyamas—the so-called “Do’s and Don’ts” of yoga—in an easy way. No problem. At WYC, we recognize that the first yogic “Do” and the first yogic “Don’t” can and should be done in relationship to each other. It’s a new idea, but it’s not a new phenomenon. Without consciously knowing it, Gandhi did the first yogic Do (Do Be Energetically Clean) and the first yogic Don’t (Don’t Be Violent) together, in dynamic relationship, so we can look to his yogic practice for inspiration.
Really, it’s just a natural thing to do. It’s like breathing. Inhales allow us to engage the world peacefully and Exhales force us to release toxins. Breathing only happens when both things are happening together, in relationship. Non-Violence (Ahimsa) and Energetic Cleanliness (Saucha) work the same way. So yoga dynamically unifies two opposing things, and like Gandhi, we can combine a societal-orientation toward passive resistance (Ahimsa) with a self-oriented active insistence on decreasing energetic pollution (Saucha), and help change the world.
And we can look at the specifics of Gandhi’s Saucha to understand how Energetic Cleansing works. For Gandhi, it became unclean for him to wear Western clothes. So he stopped. Later, once his Non-Violence practice took affect, Gandhi even started making his own clothes. For him, it was important not to wear clothes made by exploited workers. He felt the energy of that reality, and what each of us needs to do to practice Saucha is to feel the energy of things that are connected to us and feel what we need to do on a level of energetic cleanliness. There’s more than hygiene involved, and our Non-Violence practice can make sure that we realize that. One practice informs the other. Two things at work, playfully. Dualistic dynamism. Yoga.
Again, it’s the dynamism of the relationship between two changing unified things that will always oppose each other in a loving way. Ahimsa and Saucha are opposing, but when one improves, so does the other. We can only breathe yogically if we Inhale and Exhale, and we can only do the first Don’t and the first Do of yoga if we practice them together. And once that combo practice is established, there are four more combo practices. They are all considered beginner level, but that idea melts in the face of what the practices can do. As Gandhi proved, even the most beginner level yogic combo practice can change the world.
Plus, Gandhi didn’t even know he was doing a combo practice. So if he could practice Non-Violence (Ahimsa) and Energetic Cleanliness (Saucha) as effectively as he did without any conscious awareness of it, imagine what we can do. And while it may take some time for you to grasp the next level of this simple practice, actually, the dynamically dualistic power really starts when we make our passive Ahimsa practice active through a vulnerable exhale-oriented cleansing practice and we make our active Saucha practice passive through a powerful inhale-oriented peacefulness practice. That way they become like a double-helixing expression of yogic living. Don’t be violent and do be clean. Together, “Do be clean” becomes way more than a hygiene with “Don’t be violent,” and “Don’t be violent” becomes way more than an old chestnut with “Do be clean.” Then it’s real yoga.
That same yogic intertwining also works with the four other Yama-Niyama combo practices. They are done in relation to higher consciousness and higher yogas, but they are all doable for us as well. So everyone should be practicing on what’s seen as a teacher-level. Outside of WYC, the Yamas and Niyamas are now only taught in teacher training programs, but we can turn things around. All contemporary yoga practitioners should do actual yoga. At WYC, with each other’s encouragement, we start with the Ahimsa and Saucha combo practice. It’s simple.
And if you want to take things further, you can read the following new (unpublished) first chapter of Scott’s book, What Is(n’t) Hatha Yoga? The whole book is written in short statements with three parts. The last part of each statement is complex and sometimes even contradictory. You can ignore all the last parts of each statement.
Chapter 1: The Practical Yoga
1-1. Modern yoga makes things easy. Doing bodily poses can be challenging, but the benefits are obvious and the application can be simple. The energy-orientation of hatha yoga is relatively easy to grasp.
1-2. Yoga is now as easy as it can be. Being physically associable, hatha yoga is yoga’s most practical form and it cannot get any easier to do without losing its ability to unify us with what is eternal, universal, and pervasive. The modern applications of yoga serve beginners and adepts alike, and can be expanded and uplifted in limitless ways.
1-3. Hatha yoga appears to be preparatory. It’s simple to the point of being commonly mistaken for something less than yogic. “Less is more,” as they say, and that truthful adage does point to the way modern yoga gives full form to an accessible yogic process.
1-4. Yoga’s first practices are cleansing. In a much deeper way than regular exercise, the pose-oriented practices called Asana, and the ten basic behavioral modifications known as the Yamas and Niyamas can purify mind and body. The more radical hathayogic purification procedures have fallen out of favor.
1-5. Health concerns conventionalize yoga. Even conservative societies support the idea that yoga improves people’s wellbeing, and since the bodily work and behavioral modifications reduce suffering, society embraces the practice while also trying to make yoga ordinary. Concept artist Paul McCarthy refers to hygiene as “the religion of fascists.”
1-6. Health and happiness are byproducts of modern yoga practice. The achievement of common-level interests through yoga is touted in connection with commerce, but hatha yoga’s practicality transcends that level of consciousness. The difference between a regular feel-good and an actual yogic feel-good has to do with energy experiencing.
1-7. World conditions both challenge and inspire the practicing of yoga’s behavioral modifications. People struggling to keep afloat economically find it difficult to focus on subtle life changes, but challenging conditions also make it more important. People’s vain and greedy motivations interfere with individual, not collective realization of yoga’s higher purposes.
1-8. Hatha yoga’s three sub-practices combine to create “right intension.” The correct, or yogic reasons to start practicing can be easily recognized in relation to the Yamas, the Niyamas, and Asana combined. The first two “Limbs” of yoga expand and elevate when they are energetically practiced in connection with the third Limb (Asana).
1-9. The Yamas and Niyamas are far more than just the “do’s and don’ts” of yoga. Doing certain beneficial things and not to doing certain harmful things makes sense, but the Yamas and Niyamas relate to “realization” as well. “Behavioral continence” can be about sex, or it can be about “walking with God.”
1-10. There are ten hathayogic behavioral modifications: five social and five personal. The first five modifications (yamas) are practiced in relation to other beings, and the second five modifications (niyamas) are practiced in relation to one’s self. Each yama should be done with an understanding of how it relates to its paired niyama, and vice-versa, so that the first yama (Non-violence) is paired with the first niyama (Cleanliness) and so forth.
1-11. The social yamas are Non-violence (Ahimsa), Truthfulness (Satya), Non-stealing (Asteya), Behavioral Continence (Brahmacharya), and Non-greediness (Aparigraha). It’s easy to grasp concepts stated in the negative, like “do no harm.” Because it’s impossible to ascribe a universal sense of right and wrong to anyone’s actions—even yogic actions—these five social practices must be worked with subjectively, in relation to a specific personal practice.
1-12. How we engage socially affects our personal practices. If we harm other people, for example, our private life will be energetically unclean. The social practices are personal.
1-13. The personal niyamas are Cleanliness (Saucha), Contentment (Samtosha), Discipline (Tapas), Self-study (Svadyaya), and Surrender to the First Teacher (Ishvara Pranidhana). There is a hierarchical structure to the niyamas, with the last one being the highest. Even the materiality of Cleanliness can be yogically contradicted, so all the niyamas relate to an equally abstract, dynamically matched yama.
1-14. How we do our personal practices will affect our social engagements. So, for example, if we are personally disciplined, we will not steal from others, even energetically. The personal practices are social.
1-15. It’s a new idea, but practicing the yamas and niyamas in pairs makes hatha yoga more yogic. The most obvious way to experience yoga is to compare the feeling of inhaling and exhaling, and we can do something similar with the yamas and niyamas. So, Non-violence and Cleanliness, Truthfulness and Contentment, Non-stealing and Discipline, Behavioral Continence and Self-study, and Non-greediness and Surrender to the First Teacher make up five pairs of comparison-oriented practices. Gandhi (albeit unwittingly) practiced Non-violence and Cleanliness together with great effectiveness by peacefully refusing to tolerate social injustice (Ahimsa), and by making his own energetically clean (Saucha) clothes.
1-16. The Yamas and Niyamas cannot be yogically practiced separate from energy experiencing. Sensing behavioral energies allows us to adapt yogically. Yoga poses sensitize us to energetic reality, and that makes for more dynamically profound yama and niyama combo-practices.
1-17. The energy of Truthfulness combines with Contentment in a particularly obvious way. So we can listen to Martin Luther King’s recorded speeches, feel the truthfulness being expressed, sense how much he wanted things to change, but at the same time recognize how content Dr. King must have been to knowingly accept his martyrdom. Conversely, Hitler clearly thought he was telling the truth, but the feeling of his discontentment belied his passion, and should have been a warning to everyone, including himself.
1-18. The Yamas and Niyamas are truly yogic only in relation to hathayogic energy experiencing. A subtle feel for the constant quantity in life connects those practices to Pranayama, which is hathayogic. Then, as Pranayama, the Yamas and Niyamas come alive yogically. Yogic sensitization promotes a Non-greediness and Surrender that transcends religious conventionality.
1-19. The last Yama and last Niyama combo-practice elevates hatha yoga to its highest purpose. Practicing Non-greediness and Surrender to the First Teacher borders on religious work, but that balances the science of Asana (Pose) practice and wards off the decadence of the so-called “yoga world”. The First Teacher is Yoga itself and as such, It teaches yoga to those who love yoga purely.
1-20. More dynamic Yama-Niyama practicing could save the planet. Potent enough to counter society’s death wish, its truly yogic practicality could transcend cultural negativity and establish peace. Whole-hearted, three-limbed hatha yoga practice can subvert social conformity from within society itself.
1-21. The power of “house-holder” yoga will come from social practices. Yoga people living within society will live regular lives, but enough of us being non-violently clean, truthfully content, honestly disciplined, sexually aware, and generously attentive could alter the course of history. The so-called “yoga world” doesn’t exhibit hatha yoga’s true promise.