It's all about relationship.

I work with my friend Emily landscaping, and our daily conversations usually have some philosophical bent. The other day at lunch we were talking about relieving the aches and pains of physical work through stretching or asana and she said, "It's all about relationship." The way that you relate to your body in activity,  your level of focus or intention, can determine whether you foster greater physical ease.

I recently encountered this teaching from the Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck:

"Every moment of our life is relationship. There is nothing except relationship. At this moment my relationship is to the room, to my own body, to the sound of my voice. There is nothing except my being in relationship at each second." (Everyday Zen pg. 77)

This brought to mind that on the path of kriyayoga, or the yoga of action, the first step addresses relationship. The yamas are five teachings or guidelines for relationship. The word yama literally means restraint, to bridle or rein in and they are meant to guide the practitioner in focusing their efforts in building a positive relationship with themselves and in turn with others. All five yamas are to be applied to thought as well as action.

  • Ahimsa- non-harming or non violence. Ahimsa can also be interpreted as kindness or care.
  • Satya- truth, honesty.
  • Asteya- non-stealing, non-hoarding, taking only what is needed. To view this differently, asteya could be a recognition of abundance, that we don't lack for anything.
  • Brahmacharya- "to walk with the creator", appropriate use of one's life force, particularly sexual energy, but can also be applied to speech or action.   Sometimes translated as moderation. In Iyengar's book The Tree of Yoga he writes that Brahmacharya means "the soul moving with your action. When there is oneness of the soul with the motion, this known as brahmacharya." Applying your highest intention in action.
  • Aparigraha- non-grasping, non-hoarding, non-covetousness, being without envy.  Also "freedom from rigidity of thought" (Iyengar). I often think of aparigraha as the ability to let go and similar to asteya, the recognition that we don't need to grasp and hang on because we recognize our own essential wholeness, our self worth.

The yamas are often applied to the asana practice because working with the physical body is a tangible way to understand them. When we practice poses with a sense of respect and recognition of our physical limitations, we are practicing all five of the yamas: doing no harm, being honest about our abilities, not trying to attain something that isn't meant for us, using our vital energies appropriately, and letting go of attainment in asana; appreciating our bodies' inherent beauty. As with most of the yogic teachings, the body becomes the ground through which we observe, understand, and possibly transform our habitual ways of relating. This process radiates outward and we gain awareness and greater ease in all of our relations- our partner, friends, co-workers, and community- because life is truly all about relationship.