Mahavratam – The Great Vow

“Now is no longer a matter of deciding what to do, but of deciding how to decide” Rollo May

Following the five yamas (ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha) in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the sutra on the Great Vows:

“These great vows (the yamas) are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance.”

In giving these practices to everyone, Patanjali is going rogue for his time.  The practices of yoga had always been reserved for men, and for men of the Brahmin caste.  With this sutra, Patanjali opens up yoga to everyone. And more than that, places them as the “Great Vows” – once undertaken, to be undertaken at all times – on or off the mat, in the bathroom, cooking dinner, standing on the subway, buying gas, or brushing your teeth.

valentine-day-vowAnd in that spirit, I would like to go a little rogue myself.  It has gotten a bit pervasive in the yoga world today that it’s enough just to show up. And I disagree.  Yes, there are days when just getting out of bed, or just smiling are victories. And on those days, if you make it to the mat, all that matters is that you showed up.  But for all those other days, that is not enough.

There is a Tibetan Buddhist saying that “Recognizing your true face is easy, living it is hard.”

It is easy to enjoy yoga for all of its benefits. But it is truly only of service when you delve beyond just feeling good. Because the real benefits of yoga come when you make the hard choices, when you realize yoga won’t fix your problems, when you learn that letting go of trying to change things actually makes it possible for things to change and be better.

Depending on how you feel about New Years Resolutions, you have either actively, or not, committed to another year of practicing yoga.  This is an excellent chance to check in with why yoga? Why is this the practice you have chosen to work on? How have you chosen to work on it?

“Our yogic goals may be inner quietude and stillness, but they need to be put to work on contemporary forms of suffering both ecologically and socially. The organism that is yoga is being restimulated by its move westward, and as it grows roots in this new soil, we must help create the conditions for its emergence by offering to it the reality of our personal, cultural, sexual, ecological, and economic lives. Only then will yoga have something real to offer us.”
Michael Stone


We, all of us, are actively creating what will be known one day as American Yoga. Just as Buddhism was shifted to Zen and Tibet Buddhism, and many others – all shaped by the culture and times of the country it met, so too is Yoga in America right now being cultivated into something old and new at the same time.

Is it shaping up as you would like? How would you like? What are you doing to assist that?


* Dave Matthews Band song  “Gaucho” from the album Away from the World

* A Cedary Fragrance
Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water –

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.
by Jane Hirshfield, from Given Sugar, Given Salt, 2001

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