By Deborah Adele, M.A., ERYT500
Deborah Adele’s bestselling book, The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, is an in-depth journey inside Yoga’s first two limbs. In our first interview (Spring 2010) with her about this book, she reflected on how the yamas and niyamas lay the ground rules for our journey toward union, harmony and wholeness. We asked Deborah if she would reflect on further insights she’s gleaned since the book’s publication in 2009.
In the years since the publication of my book on the yamas and niyamas, this is the first time I have been asked what has changed for me, and I am finding myself delighted by the inquiry. Interestingly enough I am currently in India. A block from where I am staying is a temple to Sri Patanjali and, nearby, is a grove of trees where Patanjali is known to have done his practice.
Patanjali, in his classic text called the Yoga Sutras, gives us a plan for our journey that we call the 8-fold path. The first two limbs of this path comprise an ethical system. I find that fact to be worth pondering: Two of the eight steps are about ethics! So an overriding question for me continues to be why, and how is ethics so vital as the beginning of this process towards awakening that one-quarter of his plan comprises this topic? What was he trying to say to us that was so important?
Patanjali defined Yoga as the cessation of the whirlings of the mind. In other words, the distance between us and the divine is measured in terms of disturbance. The separation ends when the disturbance stops and the mind can rest. The yamas, translated as restraints, become the first step of disentanglement from disturbance. And think of it, we aren’t even asked to do anything grandiose in this first step, we are simply asked to restrain ourselves from things that cause disturbance to ourselves and our environment.
Our myriad acts of violence, our half-truths, our taking, our indulgence and our attempts to possess, all disturb ourselves and others. Patanjali is asking us to restrain ourselves from these acts in order to move towards finding a permanent resting place in harmony and happiness. I’m reminded of something a friend used to say: “There are three rules: 1) Don’t disturb yourself, 2) Don’t disturb others and 3) See #1.”
Disturbance wears a different hat in different cultures, groups and individuals and gives no allegiance to formatted answers. We need to be willing to lose our love for rules in order to engage in the process of scrutinizing where this agitation lies in its grossest places and its most subtle forms. This requires an active engagement with, and discernment of, the moment-to-moment events of daily living. I have come to think of this as similar to pulling weeds from a garden, and each yama as a flashlight that sheds light on where the weeds of disturbance are.
It’s also helpful to be aware of the synchronicity of the outer and inner worlds and how they reflect each other. We are citizens of both worlds, the one we share and our own private inner world. They both seek our attention.
We are afraid of outer attack, but the real brutal attacks come from within. Where do we find more violence than what we do to ourselves in the hidden corners of our mind, where abusive thoughts run on automatic replay? We are caught up in a cultural myth of self-lack that is keeping us in a whirlwind of noise, agitation, tension and high stimulation. This is true around us and within us. We live in a violent culture and a violated body. Yoga practices that cultivate stillness, rest and silence are vital to restoring peace in the spaces within us and around us. So I see this restraint from what builds tension physically, emotionally and mentally as an essential first step.
As we are able to relax into the internal and external spaces of our lives, we need to look at our fears and restrain ourselves from hiding, denying or running away from these fears. Violence, in all its grossest and more subtle forms, can be traced back to fear. I am grateful to the strength of Yoga in the west and to the myriad of writers who support us to be vulnerable, to love ourselves and to assist us with managing these disturbances
The self-work is immense, but it’s not the whole picture. We currently live in a time where there is a war on life itself. We hide in denial or in feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless or we escape into secondary pleasures . . . we need to restrain from taking any of these easy roads out. Yogic texts are replete with bloody battles that were waged on behalf of justice. In the most famous battle, Krishna guides the fainthearted Arjuna to fulfill his duty to restore justice, even though the death toll will be immense. These texts stand as fruit for our contemplation; non-violence is not always pretty…
Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2013 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.