I committed to a yoga practice about three years ago. As I did I learned more and more about yoga philosophy and spiritual practices. While not a religion the yogic lifestyle is inspired by wise teachings on how to live, how to treat others, and how to care for yourself. This is the eight-limbed path of yoga described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – moral discipline (yama in Sanskrit), moral observance (niyama), physical postures (asana), breath practice (pranayama), withdrawal from the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana), and bliss (samadhi).
Long before I committed to a yoga practice, I committed to loving God and doing my best to follow the example of Jesus. So, when I started practicing yoga I read the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras and other yoga philosophy, but was careful what I accept as truth. If something conflicts with the teaching of Jesus and the Bible I discard it. But what I found has been interesting – aside from reincarnation and not getting caught up in the Sanskrit language (the Bible was not written in English either) there are a lot of similarities in the teachings of the Bible and yoga philosophy.
As part of my yoga and spiritual journey I started leading a weekly yoga group at my church about a year and a half ago. I use scriptural meditation in place of traditional yoga intention-setting and use Christian meditation techniques. As I chose scripture for the yoga group I could not help but connect it to what I’ve learned in yoga teacher training. So, I decided to test out my theory on the similarity of the Bible and yoga philosophy. Over five sessions I took the group through one of the first limbs of yoga – the yamas using Biblical scripture. It worked. The same truth taught by Jesus and the authors of the Bible is mirrored in the teachings of yogic spiritual philosophy. I found this to be a lovely exercise and an encouraging affirmation of my yoga practice.
The yamas, as described by John McAfee in his book The Secret of the Yamas, teaches:
Yamas, or the five conditions of behavior, make up a second limb [of eight-limbed yoga]. These conditions are non-violence, non-stealing, chastity, absence of greed, and truthfulness. The yamas have been loosely compared to rules of behavior that exist in nearly every religious or social philosophy. These rules are generally considered logical guidelines for an orderly society, or as personal guidelines for shaping and improving the individual self.
The following are the yamas and what I believe is the corresponding teaching from the Bible. This is not an exhaustive list. However, I have endeavored to keep the scripture cited here in its original context, but I am not a Bible scholar.
Ahimsa – Non-violence – This violence is physical, emotional or mental. It includes “an attempt to impress our will or beliefs onto others, or to prevent others from infringing on our own ideals and principles,” according to McAffee.
- Romans 12:17 (NIV) – Live at peace and do not do evil.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
- Matthew 7:12 (NIV) – Treat others non-violently as you would have them treat you.
“So, in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV) – Do not defile or be violent toward yourself.
“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies.”
Satya – Truthfulness – This not only means telling the truth to others, but more importantly seeing the truth for ourselves, removing the veils of deception and denial from how we see ourselves and our lives. In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of Yoga Sutra 2.36 he teaches “with establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes. . .. When there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book.”
- John 14:6 (ESV) – The truth of Jesus’s existence in our lives.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
- I Peter 2:9 (NKJV) – The truth about how God sees us.
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;”
Asteya – Non-stealing or the Absence of Jealousy – Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2.37, translated by Satchidananda, teaches this yama saying “If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contended with what we have, and if we keep our minds serene, all wealth comes to us.”
- Philippians 2:3 (NIV) – Humility is the better path.
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
- James 3:16 (ESV) – Jealousy only produces negative consequences.
“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.”
- Ephesians 4:28 (NIV) – When we work hard to share what we earn.
“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.”
Brahmacharya – Chastity – Living in moderation, constraining the senses and desires, which will result in not dwelling on the past or fantasizing about the future, but being fully present in our lives.
- 1 Corinthians 6:12 (ESV) – We are free to do anything, but we should only mindfully do what is best for us, not being controlled by our desires and fantasies.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.”
- Proverbs 25:27 (ESV) – Moderation is good.
“It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.”
- Galatians 5:13 (ESV) – We aren’t free to use our freedom to fulfill our desires, lust and greediness.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Aparigraha – Non-attachment or Possessiveness – McAffee describes this attachment in The Secret of the Yamas: “We want to cultivate non-attachment, yet we generally know little or nothing about attachment. We know that we are attached; our love turns quickly to possessiveness. We cling to financial success, to our cars, televisions and toys. We are attached to ideas, political views, religions, neighborhoods, and nationalities. We clutch at our fading youth, our knowledge and our personal identities. Yet until these attachments are understood, until we discover and expose their root cause, any attempt to create non-attachment will further strengthen the source of attachment.”
- Proverbs 28:25 (NIV) – Our possessiveness and greed just creates conflict with internally and with others.
“The greedy stir up conflict, but those who trust in the Lord will prosper.”
- Luke 12:15 (NIV) – Life is not about what we get or collect.
“Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’”
- Matthew 6:33 (ESV) – All things will come to us if we seek righteous things in life.
“But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
I love this alignment of believes. Yoga spiritual philosophy is largely about personal development and growth – moving toward something positive. This is exactly how I feel about my Christian experience – moving toward a grace and love filled heart, like Jesus. This, of course, is a process with no ending and no shot at perfection, but progress is possible.
The next post will address the next limb of yoga, the niyamas and Biblical scripture.