An Ethical Attitude

By Felicity Green

The word “yoga” means a devoted practice that helps us become integrated, authentic people, linking together mind, body, and spirit. It is a spiritual endeavor we launch ourselves into when we start to practice yoga and then decide that we want to teach because we have been inspired.
To cultivate an integrated practice we first have to be devoted to the four practices of Yama, Niyama, Asana, and Pranayama. Most of us start with Asana, and through a daily practice, we learn about our physical selves. It’s also through our daily Asana practice that we learn how to apply the philosophical precepts to our bodies and teach yoga to others.

In Asana we learn to practice Ahimsa, non-violence, and Satya truthfulness, through our bodies. We learn to practice with Brahmacharya, moderation, and Aparigrahja, how not to be competitive with others. Practicing Asteya, non-stealing, teaches us not to overwork one part of the body and allow another part to be lazy and contracted.

These principles are the ethical base for yoga and should be applied at every level.

Saucha, the first of the Niyamas, is not just about external cleanliness but has to do with our practice of Asana and Pranayama and living our lives with purity. Santosa is that state of contentment that we reach when we stop comparing ourselves to others. Tapas, burning zeal, allows us to do everything we do in life with a sense of devotion and commitment. Svadhyaya, the study of ourselves, our actions, and behavior, must be a continuing practice. We need to study our thoughts and attitudes, the stories we tell ourselves, our Samskaras, and our direction in life. Finally, we practice Ishvara Pranidhana, the understanding that there is a power greater than our ego/personality, and we pay devotion to that—to the spark of the Divine that is in each one of us.

We practice Asana and Pranayama to cleanse our systems physically and mentally. These practices create space and freedom in the body, as well as strength. Through them we learn which parts of the body are Rajasic, overactive, and which are Tamasic, under-active. Sattva is the balance point between these two extremes. These are all integral parts of the practice of yoga, but as we are all unique, we will find different ways to express these aspects of ourselves.

With regular practice of Pranayama, we move our awareness to deeper levels including our attitude and understanding of Asana. Remember, B.K.S. Iyengar has said you are a beginner for ten years in Pranayama, so before you teach it, it is ethical that you have an established daily practice for at least a year. It seems difficult for students to establish a practice with their busy lives. But if you are serious about the path, yoga practice has to be number one in your life. Set the same time and place in your daily life for practice; do not try to fit it into the cracks of the day. As a mother with four children, I practiced every morning when they had gone off to school before doing my housewifely tasks, so I know it can be done.

Set the same time and place in your daily life for practice; do not try to fit it into the cracks of the day.

The Bhagavad Gita, another text which gives us a different view of yoga, indicates that selfless service is of prime importance. It tells us not to be attached to the fruits of our labor, and yet to do everything devotedly, and to the best of our ability. We need to apply all of this learning to our individual practice and to our teaching, as well.

B.K.S. Iyengar encourages us to teach with energy, but we need to be in touch with the capacity of the students. Over-activity creates injury, and this is not moderation.

In the system of Iyengar Yoga there are lots of opportunities to practice the ethical aspects of yoga. The organization has been based on students volunteering time and energy to give back to the community. Another way is to not turn away any sincere student because of a lack of money.

We live in a society where money is the measure of success and fulfillment. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, “We all have to have money to live, but we do not teach to make money.” This is a very important attitude to embrace to keep our ethical standard clear and pure and in line with yoga principles. Teaching yoga is a vocation, not a career.

Our teacher, Guruji, is the epitome of an ethical teacher. He does not teach to please his students. He makes a stand when he sees behavior that shows that the student is not open to learning or is not being humble. This sometimes appears harsh, but it is truly compassionate in that he sees that the potential of the person is not being reached.

As Guruji says in Light on Life, “We all receive God-given talents, and it is our duty to develop them energetically to realize their full potential, otherwise it is as if we are turning our nose up at the gifts of life. But more than that, our talents, however much they may vary from individual to individual, when realized to the full, provide the link that will take us back to a reunion with the divine.”

Hopefully all Iyengar yoga practitioners—teachers and students alike—follow this system that is proud of its clarity and ethical stance.

Felicity Green has an Advanced Certificate and was a founding member of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of San Francisco, and she received the 2010 IYNAUS Lighting the Way Award for distinguished volunteer service to the Iyengar Yoga community. She has recently moved from Lopez Island, WA to Seattle. Felicity conducts classes and workshops in Yoga Philosophy and Pranayama. She sees students individually to help them develop a balanced practice. This is specially suitable for those with chronic difficulties.