The Bible and Yoga Philosophy: The Niyamas

The niyamas, one of the first two limbs of the eight-limbed path of yoga, are precepts that focus on our attitude and actions toward ourselves. While the yamas  focused on our outward attitude and approach to others, the niyamas are more intimate and self-focused.

In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of Yoga Sutra 2.32 states:

Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship of God (self-surrender).

The next limb, niyama, concerns observances. The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.

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The Pine Hills Church yogin meditating on Isaiah 43:18-19 (Ishvara Pranidhana).

My yoga church small group has walked through the yamas and the niyamas illustrated by Biblical scripture in our weekly practice. These principles from yoga philosophy and the Bible speak directly issues we face in daily life and help to guide our meditation and our personal growth.

 

The following are the niyamas 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 keeping in mind that I am not a Bible scholar.

Niyamas

Santosha – Contentment – This, for me, is about gratitude – spending time being thankful and valuing what I have rather than wishing I had something else, which certainly takes practice.

Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV)

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Tapas ­– Self Discipline – This is not just about self-control, but also learning from difficulty, finding the lesson within the heat of the trial, pain, or challenge of life.

1 Cor. 9:24-25 (NIV)

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Job 23:10 (NIV)

“But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”

Proverbs 25:27-28 (NIV)

“It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to search out matters that are too deep. Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.”

Svadhyaya – Self-study – Like the yama satya, this is a lot about truth. When we turn our light of awareness on ourselves and honestly look at who and what we are, only then, can we grow. No one can grow out of a place of denial or lies.

Ezekiel 18:27-28 (NKJV)

“Again, when a wicked man turns away from his wickedness which he has committed and practices justice and righteousness, he will save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all his transgressions which he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die.”

Haggai 1:5-7 (NKJV)

“Now therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘Consider your ways! You have sown much, but harvest little; you eat, but there is not enough to be satisfied; you drink, but there is not enough to become drunk; you put on clothing, but no one is warm enough; and he who earns, earns wages to put into a purse with holes.’ Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Consider your ways!”

Matthew 7:5 (NIV)

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Ishvara Pranidhana – Self-surrender – Recently I was at the funeral of a lovely and godly woman. The priest’s homily talked of her organization and preparedness in daily life and for her eternal future, which made her a wonderful mother, partner, and friend. The priest’s went on to address the truth that to excel in the way she did she had to be in control. And that she liked control. His point was that she had to learn a final lesson by dying – that she could not control her future. She had to surrender herself to God and his way, even if it means death. This is the truth for all of us.

Romans 12:1(NIV)

“Therefore, I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.”

Galatians 2:20 (NIV)

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

Matthew 16:24-25 (NIV)

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up his cross and follow me.’ For whoever wants to save their life will lose it; but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

The parallels found in the yamas and niyamas, the framework of yoga philosophy, to the word of God is interesting, but also encouraging. It seems that many of us, regardless of our church memberships or spiritual philosophies, believe in and value the same things. Humans are all different, yet the same. Peace.

This was the second post in a two-post series on the yamas, niyamas, and the Bible. You can read the first post by here.

 

 

 

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The Bible and Yoga Philosophy: The Yamas

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.

FullSizeRender 5As 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.

Yamas

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.

 

 

 

 

The Reluctant Yogi

If someone told me five years ago that I would spend most of my free time in yoga pants, stay a weekend at the ashram, and watch Netflix while in relaxing in supta baddha konasana, I would have laughed. No, I would have rolled my eyes. That is my move.

But all of that is true.

Nearly three years ago, during an intense time for me at work and personally, two friends told me that I should give yoga a try. I knew nothing about the practice of yoga or its philosophy. But I figure if I hear something twice from two different people it’s worth a try.

So, I did what I do, and bought a set of 6 private sessions with the founder, master teacher, and yoga therapist at the local studio. There was no way I was going into a group class, even a basics, without knowing what I was doing. The ego knows no bounds.

Shortly after my first session I knew something was happening. I was reading books and signing up for workshops and within six months I was in yoga teacher training. It was a whirlwind romance.

So what was reluctant about it? I am a Christian of the born again evangelical variety, a fun but pretty rigid lawyer by trade, eatin’ up with common sense, and not very open to woo woo. I had heard other Christians, particularly preachers, criticize yoga as heretical, as though it’s a religion. It’s more common for lawyers to release their stress at the bar, not stretching and Om-ing in bare feet and yoga pants. From the outside yoga seems silly to people like me, you know the people who say that they “aren’t flexible” or don’t need to “just breathe.” I am a sixth generation Appalachian-American we are of the tough-it-out-get-over-it-suck-it-up school of dealing with life. And while I think the woo woo (crazy yoga stuff) speaks for itself – let’s say after three years and nearly 500 hours of training I still don’t know if I believe our bodies are filled with 72,000 nadis (little rivers) that move prana through the body.

But, what I do know is that yoga can make a significant positive change in anyone’s life.

I spent the better part of my thirties becoming a whole person, a real adult, emotionally and mentally. So by the time I met yoga three years ago I thought I had myself together. Turns out I was missing one leg of the stool – having your s&*t together emotionally and mentally is not enough. I had to get out of my head and connect my head to my body – as my teacher says, “our issues are in our tissues.” Yoga is the first practice or activity that allows me to quiet my mind. And not to worry the Christians out there – I don’t quiet my mind to empty it, I quiet my mind so that I can hear what is most important. I have a very active mind – sometimes it crosses from a great problem-solving machine to a worst-case scenario generator. Yoga helps me to keep the mind active and moving toward the positive by focusing and concentrating on what matters – changing my behavior, rather than trying to change my mind. It isn’t magic, it’s work but when something changes it certainly feels magical, productive and, more importantly, healthy.

14469634_10157489365085321_7607067573271721235_nOf course there are physical benefits to a regular yoga practice – I am strong (I can see muscles now), more flexible, balanced, and I can stand on my head. I love all those things, but what I love most is that my regular yoga practice has allowed me to become more calm, quiet (literally and figuratively), and more focused (on the right things).

I figure that if yoga is for me then it is for anyone, anyone who wants these outcomes. Turns outs you don’t have to believe it all, you really can take what you need and leave the rest. Maybe one day I’ll need to believe in the nadis. Until then my yoga romance will continue because I can’t wait to experience the depths of healthy that I now know are within reach.