What makes yoga special? People often make claims that their yoga is this or that referring to something outside of a conventional practice. Then there are the people who know nothing about the benefits of yoga outside of stretching. So what makes yoga different than lifting weights or swimming and couldn’t those activities be someone’s version of yoga? One hallmark of yoga is that it cultivates 2 things specific to it that are not intrinsic to most other activities: being and intention. ‘Being’ in the respect that one shifts the frame of their life from ‘doing’ to ‘being’ in a ways that are subtle yet profound. Intention is in the way that we have the ability to tap into an unlimited resource for creativity and creation in our lives. There are caveats to both however, and restrictions to access this potential as they are only within our ability when we play by their rules, so in this week’s installment of the Yoga Living Project I offer an outline for the 6 rules for spiritual practice that, no matter what the activity, will help cultivate the superpowers of being and intention.
6 Rules for Spiritual Practice
1) Loving Kindness- As is stated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the first and foremost practice of the eight limbed path is Ahimsa or non-violence. The flip side of this as one of my friends and brilliant authors, Jennie Lee, defines in her book True Yoga, is kindness. Here we can take it one step further to practice kindness in the spirit of love.
2) Compassion- The root words denote that this word literally implies “to suffer with”; compassion is an active form of empathy. Where we not only take the time to consider the feelings of another by putting ourselves in their shoes, we can actively do something about it even if that only means referring back to rule number one and simply listening or being there with loving kindness
3) Joy- This is not necessarily the ecstatic type of joy we most often associate the term with but joy in the context of recognition that we are connected. This virtuous type of joy can be measured against the preceding two rules, if something that brings you joy causes harm to another or your joy is devoid of awareness of others than we have missed the mark of what is meant here by joy as a spiritual practice. It is a mindset that arises intrinsically and is easily shared rather than a joy dependent on external circumstance and only experienced in a vacuum without the ability to share it and sustain it.
4) Equanimity- This is the ability to maintain an internal locus of control no matter what the external circumstances are and is a building block of the preceding rule. Cultivate an intrinsic source and ultimate countenance of joy to persevere over and above whether things are going well or terrible in the material world.
5) Mystery- Also be a student, know that no one knows everything and never will and this is a huge gift rather than curse or handicap. Maintain curiosity, grounded in a sense of maturity that protects its inherent vulnerability from being taken advantage of by knowing that it is all a mystery. We are all just doing the best we can and the questions are the more important component than the answers, the questions give us what we need rather than what we want.
6) Don’t take yourself too seriously- This old adage goes by the way of saying that there aren’t any other rules and for this very reason, if you can do this one well enough the others really fall into place all by themselves.
These rules may seem familiar as I certainly didn’t come up with them but only put them in this list in this order as a matter of practice and sensibility. The first four are known as the Brahmaviharas from the Buddhist tradition and carry with them ways to safeguard so that they do not fall prey to failure. The fifth step is the common component amongst all schools dealing with seeking some sort of salvation, and the final step I received from my therapist whom got it from somewhere I am uncertain of. This is kind of the point, to put together your own set of priorities that require you to strive to achieve the potential of your best self, if we are not dedicated to realizing the full extent of excellence in the things that we do then we are kind of missing the point. I hope these are helpful to you and I would recommend just trying whichever one resonates with you for a time rather than trying to be perfect with them all of the time. As always I would love to hear your thoughts on this and how it goes for you!