As we have been working our way through the 8 limbs of yoga these past weeks, I was revisited by thoughts that I had during my teacher training. Either as originally written as guidelines for achieving a “pure state” of yoga or as a road map for ethical, socially aware, and moral behavior, the yamas seem to start to blend together; indeed the rules do have overlapping intentions all focused on the ultimately simple goal of being good! Think of the intersection of the Yamas as the Venn diagram of yoga. 😊
As T.K.V. Desikachar said, “yoga is not a recipe for less suffering, but it can help us in changing our attitude that so we have less avidya (false understanding) and therefore greater freedom from dukha (pain)).”
Meditating on Aparigraha
The fifth and final Yama, Aparigraha-non possessiveness/non coveting, perhaps is reminiscent of some of the discussion about Asteya (non-stealing). We talked about not taking what does not belong to us or “stealing” what they have by coveting it. Aparigraha is different as the sentiment is rooted in jealousy where Asteya steams from a perceived lack of abundance or something lacking in our own life. Aparigraha teaches us to let go of things we do not need, possessing only what is necessary. I have seen other definitions of this Yama as generosity meaning instead of hoarding possessions, we spread wealth and abundance to all (perhaps with charitable giving of money or praying for a friend or giving a cherished possession to someone you care about). Perhaps we live this Yama on our mat when we practice yoga, focusing on our individual practice. When we look at others and compare ourselves to them, we start to covet the way they practice. If we focus on our own practice, and in a larger context our own selves, we will no longer covet what others have or want to be someone else.
So, where does this reflection on the Yamas leave us? I realize that nothing in the yamas is revolutionary or different, we have heard these messages before; the sentiments echo what our parents taught us and are likely the “rules of the road” that we try to live by. By considering them as a group, and in their historical and practical context, they can guide us to practice “all-encompassing yoga” which nurtures our inner quest for enlightenment or completeness - living our yoga off the mat!
An article below offers some good thoughts on this Yama.
“Life is one big road with lots of signs. So when you are riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief, and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake Up and Live.” – Bob Marley (Wake up and Live)
For a link to see him perform this song at Santa Barbara 1979:
Our Practice - Practicing Aparigraha on the mat (as well as off)
If we want to cultivate Aparigraha in our life, maybe we start with yoga class. This week while practicing let’s try to bring our focus inward. I have heard of yoga classes conducted blindfolded to cultivate this Yama; at my age I think it might actually be dangerous! Perhaps try some of your poses with your eyes shut, cultivating that inward look and feeling your practice in your own body more precisely. Do not worry about how others are doing a pose or how “well” you are doing it. Remember our rule of practice, “maintain a sense of humor” and be generous and giving to yourself in praise of your efforts. Push yourself in your practice – not to do things that are injurious or painful, but to try new things without judgement or fear of “not looking good”. Instead of being covetous or jealous of other students’ asana practices, perhaps generously compliment them, not on the extremity of the pose but on their obvious joy or commitment to their physical practice.
As you move off the mat perhaps work Aparigraha into your daily routine by consciously cultivating gratitude for your own gifts and realize the fruitlessness of coveting others’ possessions or talents. For every material object or talent that you crave of others, there are likely 10 people coveting something you have. A vicious cycle. Let’s start on our mat and take it off the mat as we try to practice this final Yama.
Nurturing With Food – Homemade Chai
Last year (winter and fall of 2020) as the pandemic was in full throttle and before I had mastered the art of Zoom, I held classes outside well into the winter (December) outside. One of the things I did to try and make it a little more palatable was to make homemade chai that we would enjoy after class. Some of the students loved it, others would prefer coffee or spiced ginger tea (more on that recipe another time). Real chai, as made in India, is a combination of black tea, spices and milk with sugar or honey to sweeten it. The chai that we drink, mostly, in the United States is an overly sweet, chemical tasting concoction served at coffee shops and Starbucks and usually starts in a powder form with water added. I find it so strange that serious coffee shops make such an effort with their coffee and barely pay lip service to tea and chai. I understand that their focus is coffee but perhaps just not offer tea unless they can elevate the product to even “acceptable” to a tea drinker!! I almost never order tea out as it usually means a Lipton bag in lukewarm water. Nasty. So back to chai.
(BTW Thank you Amy for the beautiful mug that is my favorite one for chai, reminds me of India somehow)
I double and triple the recipe and keep it in a glass bottle in the fridge. I steep it longer than the recipe suggests and use a little vanilla extract instead of vanilla bean. The spices do not need to be an exact count and you can alter them to your taste. I buy large bags of all the spices at penzeys.com – a great company, top quality spices. When ready to serve it I either heat it with my milk of choice (about 50/50) and add sweetener to taste versus adding it during the cooking. You can use honey, agave, sugar or nothing. I like mine unsweetened or just a touch of agave.
Every time I drink it I think about all of the little cups of it that I drank in India (and yes, on the side of the road in small villages definitely cow milk not oat or Ripple). Sometimes it is better just not to ask.
See you on the mat!