The First of the Eight Limbs of Yoga In October I began a six-month intensive study and practice of the yoga precepts. I’m doing this practice with a group of people from all over the world (literally) through an online course at the Centre of Gravity in Toronto. The study is led by Michael Stone, teacher and author who we are thrilled will be coming to Be Luminous for a weekend workshop in June 2012. The definition of a precept from Webster’s Third New International Dictionary is: A command or principle intended as a general rule of action. This course defines precepts within the yoga tradition as the first of the eight limbs of practice, the yamas, and they are: Ahimsa: Non-violence, recognizing that I am not separate from all living beings Satya: Honesty, speaking the truth as I perceive it and not deceiving anyone Asteya: Not Stealing, being satisfied with what I have, not taking what is not freely given Bramacharya: Wise use of energy, encountering all with respect and dignity Aparigraha: Non-greed, Using all the ingredients of my life, being generous and non-acquisitive And why take on this practice of ethics? I have been a practicing yogi and Buddhism for ten years and have experienced the many benefits of asana and meditation practice: physical and psychological. What I have come to appreciate most is how my practice has affected my way of being with myself and others. These changes seem to have happened so organically –like my time on the mat and cushion have magically had effects on the rest of my life. While I know my practice has cultivated the qualities like patience, acceptance and my ability to stay present in challenging situations, their more frequent appearance in my life has increased with out too much conscious effort. As my practice has deepened however, I have also become aware of the places in my life where I remain stuck in my reactivity and fear, how my practice can also be an escape or a way to “feel good,” even a way out of having to face the places I am not free. Feeling those frustrations (of forever being human), I began to explore more about yoga philosophy and the connections between yoga and Buddhism. I read Michael’s books, The Inner Tradition of Yoga and Yoga for a World Out of Balance which snowballed into more interest, more depth and ultimately a desire to make a stronger commitment to practice. Taking the precepts course is a way for me to bring yoga into all aspects of my life with the same consciousness and energy I bring to my mat and cushion. “A commitment to ethics begins with recognizing that everything we do makes waves. These waves begin in body, speech, and mind, and ripple through our lives and the lives of those around us. Although we often think of ethics as rules, choosing an ethical way of life is also an expression of deep interconnectedness.” Michael Stone When I started the course it was with a lot of curiosity and also some trepidation. I felt that natural resistance to the rigidity and restriction that ethics inherently implies but was also excited for the unknown challenge. It has been a very different spiritual learning experience than studio practice, silent retreat or group sitting. We dive in fully to each yama over two to four weeks through reading assignments, daily journal exercises, bi-weekly video lectures and online group discussions which offer opportunities to ask questions and share practice struggles. All of it has been rich but the sweetest piece is a weekly skype session with a practice partner. Looking so closely at our own behaviors and sharing those openly has been an incredibly moving and connecting practice. It has definitely demonstrated to me the power of spiritual community. Both the study and topical practice has been much more like wrestling with something you can’t quite get your hands around than learning how to adhere to an absolute. We have explored big, profound and paradoxical issues like abortion - as well as the ways these ethics are relevant in each moment - how we judge and harm with our words both internally and externally. We have looked deeply at what it means to be honest, particularly in how we speak, and why non-harming comes before honesty in the precepts. We are now studying and practicing Asteya, being satisfied with what we have, which is particularly interesting in this season where so much focus is on consumerism. Over the past weeks there has been lots of humility, lots of surrender, experiences just like on the mat or cushion, but happening out in my life, consciously, in the moments of interaction with others. At times I have felt overwhelmed by a deeper and immediate presence to how impossible it is to fully embody these ethics- for example how our life is always at the expense of other life. And there has been the acceptance of simply knowing and understanding it is a process I am committing to. I am continuously amazed at how the simple act of bringing an intention and my attention to these practices make new and different choices possible in every moment and each situation. Ultimately what the precepts practice is doing is helping me pause - and notice more – how many ripples I make. These stops and different starts are opening, softening, and letting me feel a little more intimately how we are truly all in this life together. “We have two wings that keep our practice flying. The first is compassion, the other is wisdom. The precepts offer ways of refining and constructing both of these wings. They offer the possibility to study our actions and their effects. Along with the action we name as stillness.” Michael Stone