It has been a while since I studied my first two limbs of Raja Yoga so I make no claim to being close to the source but I believe the do's and don'ts offered by Patanjali are more necessary than ever, they just need some updating. So as an offering of love, to Yoga and Yoginis everywhere, here is my list of suggested Yamas and Niyamas for our weird and wonderful world of Western Yoga.
1. Non-Violence: Yoga Teachers- Please start every class by seriously addressing injuries. Pay attention to students and offer valid alternatives. We all get so excited by the fullest expression of a pose but forget about the rest of the class pushing through pain to impress you/others. Stop practicing and start teaching/assisting/correcting again.
2. Benevolent Truth: Yoga Students- Shut up. Seriously, shhhh! A Yoga Studio is a sacred space. If a casual conversation needs to be had, step off the mat and out of the room. When did Studios and Teachers stop enforcing this?
3. Non- Stealing: Yoga Studios- Class prices are ridiculous! Between the Retreats and Teacher Trainings, Yoga has become the activity of the 1%. If studios are not offering at least two donation classes a day (in a full schedule) they are not doing it right. Pay Teachers fairly- a set rate no matter how many students, based on experience- and offer opportunities for the community to trade time/services/goods for classes.
4. Education and Training: Yoga Studios- What happens after Teacher Training? Are there continuing education classes offered to graduates? What about people curious about more than just Asanas? Open up to suggestions from the community (about what they are looking for or can offer). Workshops and lectures are a great way to create a space that isn't just about breaking a sweat but breaking the mold.
5. Absence of Avarice: We all get greedy with our practice. Our Egos are fighting for space on the mat in every moment. The joy and heartache that each pose brings is the beauty of Yoga and a metaphor for life itself. Celebrate the practice, don't worry about the 22 year old with a perfect 'Dancer.' She is fighting a struggle we know nothing about, or she will eventually. Yoga Studios are not meant to be Country Clubs, if yours is-- find a new one.
1. Cleanliness: Deodorant is not a sin, neither is an antibacterial cleaner on those mats and floors.
2. Happy Satisfaction: Yoga Teachers- When did we decide it was okay to rush through Savasana? Is that not the best part?! Don’t run late trying to cram in 4 postures you are determined to get into your set list. I have places to go after class. Leave at least 10 minutes for relaxation and a proper meditative ending, and at least 5 minutes at the start to bring us into the practice correctly. This isn't Jazzercise- it's a serious spiritual practice. We can leave out the ab crunches if time is running short.
3. Spiritual Effort: Doing Yoga does not make someone a good person. If you move your mat over 5 inches so a latecomer can squeeze in it will tell me far more about your character than your 'Crow' or Vegan bumper sticker ever will.
4. Self- Study: Explore Yoga. Thanks to its popularity in the West, there are countless versions to choose from. Change it up. Try a class in a hot room, on the beach, with live DJ's. Find a class that teaches how to mediate or just allows space for meditation. Yoga is practiced in every moment, not just the 75 minutes in class, so taking those moments of clarity and peace and bringing them into the office, our homes, and traffic is actually why we practice.
5. Surrender: Declare yourself defeated. Yoga postures will never be mastered because our bodies are constantly changing and we are all decomposing. As sobering as that is, it takes the pressure off; the only purpose of Asana is being able to sit in mediation for extended periods of time without discomfort. That's it. A nice ass was never part of the equation, just a pleasant residual.