Everyone wants to look and feel their best and this is only natural. The secret yoga has to offer is…You don’t have to spend a lot of time and/or money or subject yourself to painful cosmetic procedures to radiate your inherent, natural beauty. Here are five well-kept yoga secrets to help you to enjoy optimal health and beauty.
#1. Practice yoga asanas to nourish your body, mind and soul, including every gland and organ in your body, giving you youthful energy and vitality. Yoga asanas are a powerful exercise for making you stronger and more flexible, but also for enhancing your personal beauty and youthful appearance in many ways:
– Asana practice balances the delicate hormones that control nearly every function in your body, boosting the health of your skin and hair.
– Asana practice rejuvenates tired internal organs by improving blood circulation and increasing lymphatic drainage.
– Inverted asanas bring fresh oxygenated blood to your head and face, improving skin and muscle tone.
– Asana practice firms and tones your muscles, helping to keep them supple and flexible.
– Asana practice improves your coordination and balance, leading to graceful posture and gait.
#2. Meditation and yogic relaxation techniques give you an inner peace that is both attractive and magnetic.
Sweet smiles are always alluring, whether it’s coming from a young person or an old person, a tall person or a short person, it doesn’t matter. But stress is hard to avoid in our society and too much stress makes it difficult to feel relaxed and peaceful. Make it a point to take a time-out every day to meditate so that you may experience the inner peace that helps to transcend the stresses of modern day life. Yogic meditation is a powerful method for inducing a deep sense of inner peace and relaxation.
#3. Following a plant-based (Vegan) diet is a must for any natural beauty program.
The benefits of plant nutrients and their powers are proudly proclaimed on nearly every skin and hair care product, and for good reason. Plants are loaded with wonderful rejuvenating properties that will enhance your natural beauty and longevity. However, instead of just focusing how the power of plants work on the outside, consider the importance of nourishing your whole body from the inside. A plant-based diet keeps you feeling vibrant, young and beautiful for many years to come. Whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, and nuts and seeds, provide all the balanced nutrition you need for radiant natural beauty, and they do this without weighing you down. The ancient science of yoga also teaches that a vegetarian/vegan diet is more compassionate (Ahimsa), allowing you to care for other living beings while still caring for yourself.
#4. Drink fresh juices to nourish your body from the inside out, promoting a healthy natural glow.
There is no commercial beauty product can give you the natural radiant glow that comes from nourishing your body down to the cellular level. Freshly squeezed vegetable and fruit juices are a potent source of quality nutrition for each and every cell in your body, providing them with an ample supply of enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants. If you practice juicing regularly, you will notice significant improvement in the texture and quality of your skin and hair. Your energy will rise to new levels and you will begin to crave nourishing, wholesome foods instead of unhealthy ones. Drinking fresh juice is one of the most easiest and most effective ways to jump-start your own personal natural beauty program.
#5. Plain and simple, all-natural (and homemade) beauty products add the final touch, complimenting any natural beauty program.
Imagine spreading something on your face that you can also pack for lunch. There are tons of reasons why making your own homemade beauty recipe is smarter than splurging on a commercial product. But thankfully, even if you’re not into making your own, there are many bath and beauty products available that contain all-natural, cruelty-free (no animal testing) ingredients. These products are not only better for you, they’re better for the environment too. Many common store-bought beauty products contain chemical ingredients that are not good for you (they may even be toxic over the long term) or cause allergic reactions. So make your own or read labels and stick with the brands that emphasize natural purity and safety.
Both yoga and Ayurveda (the Indian Science of Healing) were inspired and developed by the great sages of ancient India, well over 5000 years ago. They were also both created to keep the body and mind strong, allowing students and practitioners to focus on what they considered their most important function, that of discovering the true Self and finding their true purpose in life. Although both these sciences are very old, neither one can be called “primitive.” Their advice is founded mostly on common sense, and has much to teach us about finding harmony and balance in the busy world we live in today.
Yoga happens to be the only science that has placed great emphasis on food, and it has done so for many centuries. There is actually a whole branch of yoga (called “Anna Yoga”) that is devoted to eating those foods that promote health and happiness.
Over these many centuries yoga has continued to develop a concept of a balanced whole-foods diet and an eating philosophy that stays current with changing times. These well established principles of good eating apply powerful techniques which are meant to help in creating and maintaining a strong, healthy body, a stress-free mind and a positive spirituality while living in this crazy, mixed-up world.
Never before has this yogic philosophy of a balanced whole-foods diet been more befitting than today when over 96% of all chronic illnesses and other health disorders can be traced directly to a diet insufficient in nutrition. Studies have shown that Indian civilizations (in the East) suffer less than Westerners from bowel problems, constipation, and indigestion plus a host of other food related disorders such as obesity. And the reason is because the Indian philosophy of cooking and eating draws heavily from the Ayurvedic and yogic philosophy of eating!
Ideally we should choose foods that are:
·Whole-foods in their most simple form possible,
·In season and as close to their source as possible,
·Unprocessed, chemical and additive free,
·In bulk and not pre-packaged.
Shopping for foods that we know are fresh and unprocessed is easier if we take as much of a hands-on approach in this process as possible.It’s always preferable to buy from farm stands and farmer’s markets, where we can meet the people that have grown the produce, which is often picked or harvested that same day.
Eating those foods that are both balancing and energizing will greatly aid and support us on the path of practice we have chosen to undertake.The very best diet for yoga students and practitioners is based on whole-foods, which generally means simple, unadulterated and unprocessed foods.Yogic cooking does not break-down foods into vitamins, minerals, protein, but rather demonstrates that the true benefits of whole-food ingredients can be had only when they are NOT isolated but are kept as true to their natural form as possible. Thus the key to optimal health and well-being is to have a balanced diet, one that ensures that all the faculties of the digestion process (absorption, assimilation and elimination) work efficiently and effectively.
It’s extremely important for us to realize that all 3 of these aspects (absorption, assimilation and elimination) work very well together, for when they work in harmony it’s very unlikely that we’ll suffer from chronic illnesses and all the many other health disorders (including obesity) that are epidemic in modern society today. “Synthetic” and/or “processed” foods (refined sugars, saturated fats/partially hydrogenated oils, fast foods, etc.) create conditions that disrupt this delicate balance, inevitably leading to numerous physical and psychological problems. Over time, the consequences can be dangerous and/or debilitating.
By being more discriminating and remaining consciously aware of how we feel in regard to the dietary choices we make, we’ll find those choices will start to become extremely supportive in our quest for optimal health, wellness and also a boon to our happiness.
Our health is determined by factors that are created (in part) from our environment. Imagine a spinning wheel in which we are the center or hub; at the outer rim (or periphery) is our natural environment and all its associated energies, e.g.; the sun, the air, water, soil etc. Within this are the spokes, our more immediate environment which includes the geographical area of the earth we live in and its climate and further in it becomes more specific, whether we live in the city or the country, our chosen profession and social relations etc. It is within these very environments that we think, plan and act every day.
So our thoughts and our actions could very well be considered “products” of our environment, as well as the food we eat. Our food becomes a concentrated form of the environment that we internalize three or more times per day. Our everyday thoughts and actions constitute our “lifestyle” and this lifestyle determines our choice of food. And the reverse is true, the foods we choose to eat, in turn affect our lifestyle (thoughts and actions).
Now consider this; our environment, our lifestyle and the foods we eat all combine to create and maintain our current state of health. When we get these things in balance, when our lifestyle and diet are in harmony with our environment, we will experience optimal health. If however, we allow them to become unbalanced or extreme, we lose our harmonious relationship with our environment and sickness will probably be the result. If we persist in this, we will surely develop serious illness and/or chronic disease.
The principles of natural healing are based on positive change and balance. Change, being the law of life, is inevitable and constant. It’s the motivating force and the order of the universe. Fortunately, as manifestations of the universe, we humans have the built-in ability to cause or initiate change through our choices. Each and every one of us is granted the inherent power to change direction, leaving sickness behind and embarking on the road to health and wellness. But first, for healing to begin, we must realize and accept that change is possible and act upon that realization.
The old adage “we are what we eat!” starts to ring true, our daily food and drink really are the actual source of our physical makeup. Our entire bodies, our blood, our cells, muscles, organs, tissues, bones and glands are sustained and renewed by the transformation of the minerals, proteins, lipids, enzymes, water, and other nutrients that we consume on a daily basis. Therefore, whenever we consider any aspect of our physical health, it is necessary that we carefully review the choices we have made in regard to what we put in our bodies.
People are beginning to wake up to the fact that many of today’s health problems are directly related to the repeated and continuous consumption of meat, eggs, cheese, poultry, and other animal-based foods. Cancers, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and a host of other chronic and deadly diseases are the result of two problems; quantity and quality. Let’s look at quantity; people are eating a lot more animal products now than they did several generations ago, far beyond what is reasonable even for meat eaters. Meats and other animal products have essentially become the mainstay of the modern American diet.
Looking at quality; today’s artificially inseminated, hormone boosted and antibiotic fed livestock bear little resemblance to their natural, grass fed, free range predecessors. The arrival of “Mad Cow” disease and the subsequent European community’s refusal to accept imports of hormone fed American beef emphasizes just how deadly (pun intended) serious these issues have become.
Commercially raised, indoor-caged poultry products, especially chickens and turkeys are becoming increasingly problematic; even more so since extensive advertizing has many people believing chicken and turkey to be “healthy” alternatives to red meat. These birds become so weak and susceptible to infections that they require regular doses of increasingly stronger antibiotics, just to keep them alive. Additionally, they are fed synthetic growth hormones to speed their growth and breast development. One result of these practices, according to one study, is that as up to 95% of the commercially raised chickens on their way to market have at least one type of cancer! Without a doubt, chickens from a modern poultry farm are not a health food as claimed by the industry.
Let’s just suppose someone we care about is facing a health crisis (and there might be more than one), and we know they are overly reliance on a diet of animal products. What can we do to help them change their situation into its opposite, one of healing and improving health? Obviously, the first step would be to encourage them to convert from an animal-based to a plant-based diet.
Contrary to animal products, plant-based foods enhance, rather than inhibit, healing and regeneration of tissue. Daily dietary choices are the central issue in our lifestyle as a whole. They can be viewed as a reflection of our priorities and our way of looking at society, nature, and the universe. Dietary change, combined with an understanding of harmony and balance, can serve as the focus, initiating a positive change in our lifestyle. Unhealthy choices can be reviewed and changed into healthy ones, and then they can be brought into proper alignment with natural harmony, befitting us and our environment.
This post begins a three part series discussing the advantages and benefits of a plant-based diet:
Part 1 – The philosophical and ethical reasons to eat a plant-based diet instead of consuming animal products.
Part 2 – Reasons why everyone should consider eating a plant-based diet.
Part 3 – Some unexpected benefits of eating A plant-based diet
We begin with Part 1 – As yogis, yoginis and students of yoga begin to seek liberation, they strive to perfect their actions and in so doing they quickly come to realize that every action is preceded by a thought. To perfect an action, thoughts must first be perfected. So, you might ask, what are perfect thoughts? Perfect thoughts are ones that are devoid of selfish motives; they’re free of anger, greed, hate, jealousy, etc.
Adopting a compassionate vegetarian diet is a good place to start if you truly intend to move toward a transcendental reality and have a lighter impact on the planet. Not everyone practices yoga asana (poses) every day, but everyone eats. And therefore everyone has the opportunity to practice compassion three times a day when they sit down to eat. This is one of the main reasons so many yoga practitioners and students choose make the change and become vegetarians.
This article is focused primarily on ethical vegetarians and foremost in the list of reasons they eat only plant-based food is in order to show compassion toward animals and other sentient beings which in turn benefits the entire planet. There are those who say they are vegetarians but still consume milk products, eggs, and fish. These are actually not strict vegetarians but “lacto-ovo” vegetarians (milk & eggs) and “pescatarians” (includes fish) and ethical vegetarians do not consume any dairy products, eggs, or fish because these are not plant-based and eating them causes great suffering to other beings and the planet. Vegans are ethical vegetarians who endeavor to extend their ethics to include not just what they eat but everything they use: including (but not limited to) food, clothing, medicine, fuel, and entertainment. When using the term vegetarianism in this article, keep in mind that refers to ethical vegetarianism or veganism.
Many, if not most meat eaters defend their food choices by claiming that it is natural, because in a natural, wild state animals eat one another. Whenever people bring this up as a rationale for eating meat, they need to be reminded that the animals that end up on their table aren’t those who eat one another in the wild. The animals that are exploited for food aren’t the lions, tigers, and bears of the world. We eat the passive ones, the vegan animals that, when given free choice, would never even think of eating the flesh of other animals, although sadly, they are forced to do just that on today’s factory farms where they are fed “enriched feed” containing dead, rendered animal parts.
The majority of Americans believe a plant-based (or vegan) diet is difficult to follow. But what does difficult mean when compared to suffering and eventually dying from heart disease caused by an animal diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol? Even so, many people will still choose to go through invasive bypass surgery or have a breast, colon section, or kidney removed. And/or they may opt to take powerful pharmaceutical drugs for the rest of their lives rather than change their diets – all because they mistakenly think veganism is drastic and extreme. Do these who choose to eat meat ever consider how difficult it is for the animals who suffer degrading confinement and cruel slaughter, dying for their dining convenience and the satisfaction of their appetites?
When yoga practitioners and students begin following the yamas prescribed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, they begin to realize that suffering is inevitable only to those who are unenlightened (or turn a blind eye) about the truth, which exists to connect us all. Real responsibility means realizing that our own actions bring about the situation we live in and that is reflected in the first yama “Ahimsa” (non-harming). Yoga practice has the potential to heal the one common disease that we are all suffering from; the disease of disconnection. War, destruction of the environment, extinction of species, and even domestic violence, all of these originate as a result of the disease of disconnection. Others can only be abused and exploited by those who are disconnected from them and have no idea about the potent consequences inherent in their own actions. When someone feels connected, they know it’s them, as well as other living things, who will suffer from the anguish they inflict.
Eating meat and consuming animal products is a long-standing (and generally accepted) habit in American culture. Many Western yoga practitioners will argue that they have to eat meat and that they need the protein to keep up the strength required for a physically challenging asana practice. Ironically, Sri K. Pattabhi
The Yamas & Niyamas are ethical guidelines and comprise the first two limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras’ “Eight-Fold Path”. They are the very foundation of skillful living according to Yogic philosophy.
The Yamas and Niyamas both consist of specific guidelines (presented as precepts) which give detailed explanations to guide you through all aspects of daily life. The Yamas offer universal directives which a community or society can follow to promote harmonious relationships; whereas the Niyamas deal more with what you as an individual can do to live in harmony with nature.
These Yamas and Niyamas reinforce the principles and purpose of a plant-based or Vegan dietary regime and lifestyle, and this article will explain this close association and how the Yamas and Niyamas apply to Veganism.
The Yamas encourage a collective way of living which discourages negative behaviors, and in so doing, embraces Veganism:
1. Ahimsa – Compassion and non-violence towards all sentient beings, including animals. As a Vegan, you practice ahimsa, believing that animals have right too, so you avoid all cruelty to animals by using only cruelty free, eco-friendly products.
2. Satya – Truthfulness, expressing your truth in thoughts, words and behavior. It often takes courage to be practicing Vegan, especially if friends and family, work colleagues and others eat meat you may find yourself socially excluded and/or considered a bit of an odd-ball. By sticking to your convictions you are practicing Satya.
3. Asteya – Non-stealing and by extension, being generous with your feelings, thoughts and actions. Economically, it costs considerably more to raise and feed animals than to cultivate plants. By practicing Asteya you are enabled to support and cooperate with nature and you’re using less of the Earth’s natural resources.
4. Brahmacharya – Self restraint, generally Brahmacharya refers to restraint of the sexual energy, however in its broadest sense, Brahmacharya means self-discipline and moderation in all areas of life. The yogic diet consists of eating “sattvic” foods, foods which are easy to digest, and eaten as close to their natural state (and source), which is in accord with a Vegan diet. In addition, a conscious Vegan strives to preserve our natural resources and by recycling whenever and wherever possible, and this indicates a willingness towards moderation and conserving energy.
5. Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness and non-greed. On a practical level, when adopting a compassionate, Vegan lifestyle, we take the first big step toward becoming established in Aparigraha, and with that, we step into a bright, enlightened future for ourselves, for the animals and for this planet.
The typical Western meat diet encourages you to bulk buy, to store frozen foods and meat, to fill your larder with long life provisions. As a vegan, you strive to eat freshly prepared foods, to support your local farmers market and where possible, eat locally sourced foods.
The Niyamas are more personal observations (recommendations) and relate to actions which you, as an individual are encouraged to do.
The Niyamas encourage a personal way of life which encourages positive behaviors which embrace Veganism:
1. Shauca – Cleanliness, keeping yourself and immediate environment clean and tidy. Veganism with its emphasis on a “green” lifestyle using eco-friendly practices is perfectly aligned with the yoga practice of Shauca.
2. Samtosha – Contentment, being satisfied, accepting of your immediate situation; the ideal behind Samtosha is to prompt yourself to be happy and appreciate all the blessings and tribulations in your life, yet at the same time to strive towards spiritual evolution. Sattvic foods promote happiness and contentment, while Rajasic and Tamasic foods tend to stimulate and disturb. There is a Native American tale of two wolves: “…a grandfather is talking to his grandson about how inside his mind are two wolves in a constant fight. One is anger, greed, self-pity, revenge; the other is love, kindness, empathy, hope. The child asks which one wins, and the grandfather replies, ‘Whichever one I feed.’” In the same way, we can choose to eat foods that promote contentment.
3. Tapas – Relates to self-discipline; the ability to stay focused and maybe go without certain possessions in order to grow, develop and care for yourself and others. Tapas can also relate to the way you prepare and/or cook your food, even starting a garden and growing your own takes time and effort compared the more popular and convenient fast food approach of buying ready-made, pre-prepared and processed meals and then using a microwave.
4. Svadhyaya – Self study and observation of your thoughts, feelings, words and actions. Life is a journey and Svadhyaya can also mean the study of your own mind. A decision to stop eating meat and follow a more ethical plant-based lifestyle which causes the least amount of harm to the environment and animals involves considerable personal study, reflection and observation.
5. Ishvarapranidhana – Refers to devotion to God. To constantly be aware of the sacredness of life and to hold reverence for all being. This is the highest goal of yoga and perfectly in accord with Veganism, which also holds all forms of life as sacred.
You can see from this overview how the observance of the Yamas and Niyamas offers Vegans a way to live a wholesome and eco-friendly life. By applying the principles of the Yamas and Niyamas to your daily life you it will become obvious how yoga philosophy encourages you to become a vegan or follow a plant-based diet.
Side note on the question of dairy and dairy products: Cows produce milk for the same reason that humans do, to nourish their young; but calves born on dairy farms are taken from their mothers when they are just one day old (and raised for veal – violates Ahimsa) so that humans can have the mother’s milk instead. Furthermore, in the case of bovine baby vs. human baby, cow’s milk is designed to nourish the calf’s relatively rapid bone growth (a calf will gain approximately 40% of its full-grown weight in its first six months [400-600 lbs.], while a human baby is meant to gain only about 10% in the same time [14-16 lbs.]). Additionally, there are now Vegan alternatives to cow’s milk (e.g.; soy, almond, coconut, rice and flax milks are some common examples). For more on the dairy issue, watch the film: “The Perils of Dairy”
The ancient Chandogya Upanishad (D II 26.2) says “When food is pure, the mind is pure, when the mind is pure, concentration is steady, and when concentration is achieved one can loosen all the knots of the heart that bind us.” Veganism is one of the main pillars of the purifying the mind.
*In summary – The American equivalent of a traditional Yogic (Sattvic) diet today consists of organic, whole, natural fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains. A modern Sattvic diet emphasizes foods grown in harmony with nature, preferably by organic farmers, planted in good soils, ripened naturally and then prepared with an attitude of love. Foods treated in such a manner carry the highest prana and consciousness. This modern sattvic diet does not include junk and processed foods, excessively spicy or salty foods, fried foods, white “enriched” flour, refined sugars, and other forms of food that unnaturally stimulate your blood sugar and/or your mind. This modern diet avoids meat, fish and alcohol and eggs as well. It does not include genetically engineered (GMO) foods, irradiated foods, microwave foods, foods that have been cooked more than 24 hours previously or stale foods.
The fifth of the five Yamas is Aparigraha, a Sanksrit word for greedlessness or non-grasping. It comes from the word parigraha, which means reaching out for something and claiming it for oneself; by adding the ‘A’ it becomes its antonym. Aparigraha, unlike Asteya, means taking what is truly necessary and no more.
Aparigraha instructs the students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) to consider what they really need, and to diligently question if greed might be driving them to pursue something simply to delight their senses once again. Patanjali says of Aparigraha: “When one is steadfast in non-possessiveness or non-grasping with the senses (Aparigraha), there arises knowledge of the why and wherefore of past and future incarnations.”(Yoga Sutras 2.39 – aparigraha sthairye janma kathanta sambodhah).
The reason yoga insists upon the practice of Aparigraha (non-greediness) is because every time something is pursued that appears on the “outside” of yourself, you get farther away from your own Divine essence which is inherently “within”. Take some time to ponder these words regarding Aparigraha by B.K.S. Iyengar in Light on Yoga: “By the observance of Aparigraha, the yogi makes his life as simple as possible and trains his mind not to feel the loss or the lack of anything. Then everything he really needs will come to him by itself at the proper time.”
While it is important for us have certain material objects in our life so that we can live without undue struggle, hoarding things and/or becoming obsessed with material possessions results in these possessions controlling the direction of our life. Seeing material objects simply as tools that can help us to accomplish our goals in life, can free us from being bound or controlled by these objects. When our focus is no longer directed outward towards the material world, we find we then have opportunity to focus on our inward spiritual journey that frees us up to create positive change and to purify ourselves. The student then recognizes that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in Divine Providence to provide for their future.
Aparigraha also gives us permission to release any fear or clinging we may experience during loss of anything that we believe we “own”. This yama has a huge effect on both suffering and happiness whether momentary or in the long term. All suffering, no matter how intense, is caused by our resistance to loss (or change). It’s so simple, whenever we cling to something, we suffer; and this applies to both material things and concepts.
Implementing the practice of Aparigraha in your yoga routine can be as simple as deciding to let go of something during that session. For example; try letting go of the idea of doing an asana perfectly, or perhaps better than someone else. You can also let go of the fear of some difficult poses and approach them in a different way. When doing this, you’re letting go of your fear of change and loss, and you’re able to break free of habitual ways of thinking and/or doing.
Be mindful of what you are holding on to in your practice and consider what would happen if you simply gave that up. Do you unnecessary hold on to muscle tension? Are there places in your body where you can relax, yield and allow the energy to flow? Are you able to maintain a gentle attitude toward your poses, surrendering the impulse to try to achieve a goal that may be impractical or premature. Do you need to forcefully “own” a certain pose in your mind or can you surrender the notion of “owning” and simply visualize it and experience it through your body? This is a proper way to inquire according to Aparigraha.
A quick summary: Aparigraha is really all about letting go. It’s about living the “now”, this present moment, and doing that with generosity, truth, and compassion; then its very essence can embrace all the other yamas.
The forth of the five Yamas is Brahmacharya – a Sanskrit term that translates into English as “behavior that leads to Brahman”. The word brahmacharya stems literally from two root words – Brahma, (shortened from Brahman), represents the absolute, eternal, supreme God-head. (As opposed to “Brahmā”, the deity in the Hindu triad responsible for creation), and “Charya”, which means “to follow”. So Bramacharya is generally translated as activity, a mode of behavior or a “virtuous” way of life, i.e.; a lifestyle adopted to enable one to attain the ultimate reality.
Brahmacharya dictates the behavior and lifestyle of students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Patanjali says of Brahmacharya: “When walking in the awareness of Brahmacharya (the highest reality) is firmly established, then a great strength, capacity, or “virya” (vitality) is acquired.” (Yoga Sutras 2.38– Brahmacharya pratisthayam virya labhah).
Brahmacharya brings virya by recognizing (and remembering) the highest and purest energy or force of reality, then that energy is not dissipated. Because it is not dissipated, it seems as if it’s acquired, attained, or gained and this keeps growing. Although we appear to gain virya, which is strength, vigor, vitality, and courage, virya is actually an inherent aspect of our subtler nature, which we have never been without.
Most often celibacy is considered to be the primary practice of Brahmacharya. However, celibacy isn’t the cause, instead it’s the effect. The practice, or cause, is of constant remembering of the highest reality, absolute truth, the divine, or the presence of God (Brahman). This very recognition and remembrance is the cause, and celibacy is the inevitable result. Since the end result might be so visible when observing a spiritual person, or practicing yogi, we tend to mistakenly reverse cause and effect, and imitate what we see on the surface and try to practice, starting with the restraint of sensual urges. Once again, the practice of Brahmacharya is focused on walking in the awareness of the highest reality, absolute reality, remembering the divine, or practicing the presence of God. When the yogi reaches the point where remembrance of the Divine is seamless all sexual urges drop away by themselves along with other primitive urges and desires.
The practice called Brahmacharya, does not necessarily mean total or absolute abstinence from sex as it is often mistakenly translated. The word literally translates as “resting in Brahman,” or “cultivating awareness of the Absolute Divine Reality”. The positive effect of this practice is that the senses are not so easily distracted. Therefore, the regulation and control of the senses is the natural outcome of the yogi’s resolute practice of remembrance of Truth. It is definitely not a case of a forced restraint of the sexual urge, or of any of the other sensory desires.
Yoga recognizes two paths in regard to Bramacharya; the path of renunciation, and the path of worldly (or family) life. In one (renunciation) there is a gradual progression to the complete abstinence from sex, and in the other (family life) there is wise and intentional regulation of the sex life. Both are recognized by most schools of yoga as valid paths.
In summary: The issue of balancing sex and sadhana (spiritual practices) is very practical. Regardless of one’s background, especially with such a diversity of peoples, societies, and cultures, it should be self-evident that a poorly regulated sex life can (and often does) lead to external problems in life, as well as internal anxieties. A well-balanced, healthy sex life leaves one with peace of mind and mental/emotional stability. That peace and stability, while not directly causing meditation, allows a stability and provides a fertile ground from which meditation can more easily arise, greatly assisting us in cultivation of our awareness of the Divine (Bramacharya).
Stay tuned, coming up next: The Five Yamas (Part 5 – Aparigraha)
The third of the five Yamas is Asteya – a Sanskrit term that translates into English as “avoidance of stealing” or “non-stealing”. But in principle Asteya means more than that, referring also to not coveting, nor hoarding, as well as not obstructing other people’s desires in life.
Asteya guides students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) in the practice of cultivating an awareness of what is theirs and what isn’t. Patanjali says of Asteya: “When Asteya (non-stealing) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.” (Yoga Sutras 2.37– Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam). In other words, when the heart is pure, all means will come.
Additionally, Asteya includes the concept that you should learn to be content with what comes to you naturally and by honest means. If you find yourself dwelling on things that other people have and comparing that to what you don’t have, eventually the thought of taking something that isn’t yours becomes more acceptable, and subsequently this thinking can lead to actual theft. You may even be able to convince yourself that someone else has so much they won’t miss this or that if you take it, in other words you’re giving yourself the permission to steal. This approach might reduce your feelings of guilt, but only temporarily and for a short time, for in the long run this still a violation of Asteya.
Although many people aren’t aware of it, the idea of “hoarding” is another aspect of Asteya. Suppose you are keeping more than what you need for yourself rather than sharing or giving away things that you no longer want or require. Excessive accumulation of money and possessions are good examples or signs of hoarding, as well as other things, including eating too much food. Naturally you should keep what is necessary and reasonable in order to provide for yourself and your family, but a thoughtful analysis should be made, and diligence exercised as to what is actually necessary, compared to what you may be clinging to because of various mental, physical or emotional attachments.
Yoga teaches us that when we relinquish our desire for something it will come to us by itself if and when we really need it. This holds true for Asteya as presented by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. After all, desire is the root cause of taking what doesn’t belong to us, and when we give up our desire for things, all sorts of “treasures” will come to us naturally, and by themselves. To master Asteya we should begin curbing our desires little by little and one by one; through regular Yoga practice, gradually our thoughts and deeds will come under our conscious control.
To summarize: Not hoarding implies taking only what you need and nothing more. If the world offered us a limitless supply of resources, then it might be acceptable to take as much as you want. But of course the world does not have limitless resources, and if we take more than we need, then we leave others lacking, essentially stealing from them by depriving them of their rightful share of the resources. The idea of Asteya, especially when combined with the other Yamas, has a very deep meaning and the more you think about it, the more you begin to realize all the subtle ways that you can steal. Eventually, with regular practice, you’ll be able to recognize any action that might create disharmony and see that Asteya and Ahimsa (like the other Yamas) are closely tied together.
Stay tuned, coming up next: The Five Yamas (Part 4 – Brahmacharya)
The second of the five Yamas is Satya – a Sanskrit term that translates into English as “truth”, “truthfulness” or “honesty”. Satya is also defined in Sanskrit as “sate hitam satyam” which translates to “The path to ultimate truth or Sat is satya (the real truth)”.
Satya is indispensable for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Patanjali says of Satya: “As truthfulness (satya) is achieved, the fruits of actions naturally result according to the will of the Yogi.” (Yoga Sutras 2.36– satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvam)
Basically what is meant by this is; for the one who increasingly practices honesty or truthfulness in all their actions, speech, and thoughts, their will is naturally fulfilled. But there is a cautionary note associated with this sutra, being the exercising of care in speaking truth: Truth needs to be concurrence with thought, word and deed. It must be true to fact and at the same time considerate. If by speaking the truth, another is hurt it ceases to be truth and becomes himsa [harming]. So, the student or yogi is instructed to exercise great care when speaking and each word must be weighed carefully before it is voiced.
The relationship between Satya (truthfulness) and Ahimsa (non-harming) must be balanced, even though, at times, this practice can be extremely challenging, if not downright confusing. It’s important to keep in mind that Ahimsa is the primary focus and central goal when practicing the five Yamas, and that the other four Yamas are in service of it. Learning how to delicately balance not lying, while at the same time avoiding being painfully honest with others, is a real art within Yoga practice.
When you consider the many situations in life when your so-called “truthfulness” might cause pain to others, it can be overwhelming, this may include something as simple as your comments about a meal served by a friend or how you respond when someone asks you about their appearance or clothes when they’re dressing for some special event? If your mind isn’t “in the moment”, and quick enough to artfully maneuver around such a situation, you would have to choose to be either painfully honest, or marginally honest for the sake of not hurting the other person. Of course, we’d all like to be quick-minded enough to balance non-harming and non-lying perfectly, but many of us have not yet developed the skill necessary to master this, and need to remain ever mindful of the most important practice, which is to first and foremost to cause no harm. This principle also applies to practicing the other Yamas.
Throughout the world the greatest spiritual teachings all acknowledge that what we say has profound power to affect our consciousness and the consciousness of others. Buddhism, for example, teaches “Right Speech” as one of its main precepts. In this context, “Right Speech” is taken to mean speech that is non-harming, posessing the intention to support all sentient beings. In his Yoga Sutra (Chapter II, verse 30), Patanjali presents the concept of Satya (truthfulness) as a similar teaching, but he offers a slightly different approach. Satya is one of the five yamas, and because it’s presented as a yama, Patanjali’s teaching on the subject has mainly been associated with restraint rather than with action; focusing on what we should refrain from doing rather than with what specifically we should do. The teaching of satya is not presented in this manner is not meant to be an accident, oversight or negative in any way. Instead, the practice of satya is about restraint in a positive sense: it’s about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering our words so that when we utter them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa. Patanjali and even his major, contemporary commentators agree that no words can reflect the truth unless they flow from the spirit of non- harming and non-violence. And as a result Patanjali is in perfect harmony with the Buddhist teaching of “Right Speech”. Patanjali made it clear that he did not want his students to confuse Satya with speech that is factually accurate but harmful.
To summarize; the yogic practice of Satya instructs the student to mindfully and carefully choose their words so they do the least harm, and most good.
The first of the five Yamas is Ahimsa – a Sanskrit term meaning to do no harm (literally: the avoidance of violence – hinsa). The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hims – to strike; hinsa is injury or harm, a-hinsa is the opposite of this (non harming or nonviolence).
Ahimsa is indispensable for students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga). Along with the other four Yamas (restraints) it establishes the Yoga Sutra’s code of conduct. Patanjali says of Ahimsa: “As a Yogi becomes firmly grounded in Ahimsa (non-injury), other people who come near will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.” (Yoga sutra 2.35 – Ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah)
Ahimsa is perhaps the most famous of the Yamas; usually translated as “nonviolence.” it not only refers to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or even thoughts. Whether we realize it or not, our thoughts about others (or ourselves) can be as powerful as any physical attempt to harm. To practice ahimsa is to be constantly attentive, observing ourselves in all our interactions with others and to diligently watch our thoughts and intentions.
When the practice of ahimsa is perfected, it becomes an integral part of all yoga practice. Whatever practices we engage after Ahimsa and the other yamas and niyamas including the successive “limbs” of yoga must embrace Ahimsa as well. For example, asana and/or pranayama practiced without Ahimsa, diminishes their benefits.
Observing Ahimsa does not necessarily mean we must roll over and play dead, turning our back on violence – its practice is positive, not negative. Protecting ourselves and others does not violate Ahimsa. Practicing Ahimsa simply means we take responsibility for any harmful behavior and attempt to stop the harm caused by others. Being neutral is not the objective. True Ahimsa practice springs from the clear intention to live and act with clarity and love.
Although completely compatible, Ahimsa and love are two different things. Non-harming is not a method where you practice love in order to offset or stop the impulse to harm others. Rather, the first step is to focus fully on the cessation of harming, on all levels (action, speech, and thought). Then, the natural love will effortlessly come shining through. This has extremely practical applications in the student or yogi’s daily life. Trying to directly cultivate love for a person you dislike may be extremely difficult, but working on letting go of the negative is much more effective and immediate. Furthermore, it might then come more naturally to like or even love that person.
A note on Ahimsa and Veganism…
Veganism is a complete lifestyle, which excludes all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, the animal kingdom, and includes a reverence for all sentient life. It applies to the practice of living solely on products from the plant kingdom, excluding all flesh, fish, fowl, eggs, honey and dairy, and encourages the use of plant-based alternatives for all foods and commodities derived either wholly, or in part from animals.
Veganism is not entirely about personal purity or isolating oneself from today’s society, but rather it’s about applying Ahimsa; a sense of compassion and justice to our (often unseen) relationships with animals.
Abstinence from animal products Harmlessness with reverence for life Integrity of thought, action and deed Mastery over oneself Service to humanity, nature and creation Advancement of understanding and truth