Tonight I attended a lecture on the yamas and niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This (above) is what each student received upon entering.
This slip of paper triggered a combination of reverence … and laughter. I have a love/hate relationship with rules. But I certainly understand and appreciate the need for cultural respect, especially considering the amount of traveling I do in and out of countries unlike America. It’s a requirement to follow certain cultural norms in some parts of the world, otherwise you could get thrown in jail. Or, at least get an eyebrow raise.
I assume that studio management felt compelled to articulate these seven rules after some students embarrassed themselves (and the studio) by unknowingly breaking them during previous lectures given by Indian teachers. Oops.
Once tonight’s lecture began, however, my reverence-laughter quickly morphed into one of … pure laughter. Internal laughter, of course. The teachers, Jayashree and Narasimhan, had us chanting the yamas and niyamas in Sanskrit. Cold. Some of it was call-and-response style. For the most part, however, I was fumbling with a script that was tough to follow.
You try reading this:
And those are just a small “words” within a much bigger chanting script. I was not prepared for that at all. I thought it would be a lecture-lecture. The kind where I would listen and take notes. Not two hours of laughing at myself attempting to chant Sanskrit. (Seriously, I was terrible.) Most of the time, I had no idea where we were in the script. So I made words up, based on what I thought I heard. I also tried to apply my lip-reading skills on the teachers. That didn’t work.
It was frustrating. But also funny as hell. Then again, laughter is one of my “release valves” when situations get uncomfortable …
Thank goodness I brushed up on the yamas and niyamas last night, with a quick review of that specific chapter within “Light on Yoga.” Otherwise, I think I would have been totally lost. At least within some of the chants, I recognized a few of these key terms:
Yamas (universal moral commandments)
- ahimsa (non-violence)
- satya (truthfulness)
- asteya (non-stealing)
- brahmacharya (continence)
- apargraha (non-coveting)
- saucha (purity)
- santosa (contentment)
- tapas (austerity)
- svadyaya (study of self)
- isvara pranidhana (dedication to a higher power)
Along with finding special joy in my terrible chanting skills, I also enjoyed an empowering analogy offered by Jayashree. To paraphrase:
The highest state of consciousness is already within us. (How great is that!!!) This light lies beneath layers and layers of “dust and dirt” that we must work to wipe clean. Just as a shiny floor exists beneath a surface of grit and grime — grit and grime that can be mopped away — so exists this highest state of consciousness within us. Following the Yoga Sutras help us to mop, mop, mop away.
… and I’ve got some serious mopping to do.