Yoga History

AYC ’13: 10 Lessons in yoga philosophy

Eddie Stern is Brain, and the rest of us were Pinky - in complete awe of Eddie's vast knowledge of yoga philosophy. Image credit: Themico via

Eddie Stern is Brain, and the rest of us were Pinky – in complete awe of Eddie’s vast knowledge of yoga philosophy. Image credit: Themico via

One of the discussion panels was to talk about the 8 limbs of yoga, and each teacher was supposed to cover one of the limbs and then dive deeper into yamas and niyamas. I’ll preface this post by saying I have not done any deep reading on yoga philosophy on my own, so much of everything that was discussed felt like new information. For the yoga teachers in the room who have been exposed to a ton of literature as part of their teacher training, I’m sure they were all nodding their heads while I scribbled down notes in hopes of looking some stuff up on Google later. 

With that said, the panel went on various tangents and didn’t necessarily cover each one in equal depth. So instead of sharing my notes in all its disorganized glory, I thought I’d give you my philosophy noob’s 10 take-aways.

  1. Eddie Stern is a yoga philosophy BEAST. This man – at the young age of 45 – has such a wealth of knowledge to share, and he also has a way of explaining these complex ideas for the common yogi (like me!) to understand.
  2. “We are all sharing an ocean of breath.” – Eddie. The yamas as a whole are about the idea of entanglement – that we are all interconnected – and that we need to treat each other with respect and honesty. What one person does affects those around him/her and has a ripple effect that can spread and carry to even the farthest reaches of the world.
  3. “Before a match can light the fire, it only takes one breath.” – Dena. Ahimsa is the most important yama and addresses acts of harmfulness, and I loved Dena’s phrasing because she talked about nipping things in the bud before they escalate. That one breath can extinguish a situation before it escalates. It’s having strength to step away from a bad situation – to be nonreactive and nonjudgmental.
  4. Patanjali says, “If you practice asteya (non-stealing), all jewels will come to you.” Tim expanded on this yama beyond stealing physical possessions. This addresses stealing someone’s time and ideas without acknowledgement of the source. It’s about being considerate, thoughtful and maintaining integrity.
  5. “Life is a terminal condition.” – David. Aparigraha addresses greed and hoarding wealth. Ashtangis hoard asanas and “collect” them, but the problem with possessions is that it’s all temporary. David said that in terms of asanas, “We use the body to understand we aren’t the body.”
  6. “We are shaped by our thoughts.” – Nancy. The yama satya is about truthfulness. Nancy expanded on this idea, talking about satya graha, which means firmness in truth. Of course, truth to one person may not be the case for another. When we think about conflicts, sometimes it requires us to put ourselves in our opponent’s shoes – have love and compassion for them. And in doing so, it may help us to change our mindset about them (shape our own thoughts), see their version of truth and find a new way to resolve that conflict.
  7. “There is no place for sexual energy in the yoga room.” – Nancy. The rest of the panel didn’t want to touch brahmacharya, which generally means celibacy. But Nancy explained it from another angle in practicing sexual continence in the yoga room. From a teaching standpoint, she and David Williams (when they were married) would switch students if they felt there was sexual energy that needed to be dissipated in order to maintain a neutral teacher-student relationship. Duly noted that male yoga teachers have a harder time with sexual continence. Seems men yogis are more intimated by strong female yoga teachers than attracted to them. Haha.
  8. “Be like the ant moving one grain of sand.” – David. This was a story David shared of an ant and a giant creature who were both tasked to move a mountain. The lesson of the story is that we are all part of this world, and it takes all of us doing small tasks to have a larger collective effect. In terms of sauca (purity and cleanliness), this means picking up after ourselves, conserving resources and even having “clean” thoughts instead of poisonous ones.
  9. “Not everything pleasurable is beneficial. And not everything painful is harmful.” – Tim. We were on the topic of tapas here, and I forget how this connects. But I loved the quote anyway.
  10. “When you realize yourself – find inner understanding and contentment – this is where you grow the most.” – David. In the discussion about niyamas, we talked a lot about samskaras, which are grooves or paths in life that we repeat. You can think of them as habits or patterns formed by past impressions. When you can recognize those samskaras that are harmful or that hold you back, it’s time to break the cycle and take a different action.
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