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Compassion In Action

You've probably heard of yoga's ethical guidelines known as the yama and the niyama from Patañjali's Yoga Sutras.

The first five yama that Patañjali explains are:

1. Ahiṃsā - Nonviolence

2. Satya - Truthfulness or not lying

3. Asteya - Not stealing

4. Brahmacharya - Fidelity or sexual restraint or sometimes practiced as wise use of energy

5. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness or non-grasping

I've written some posts about these moral imperatives. Aparigraha always feels relevant to me. I've dedicated two blog posts to it here and here. And I recently wrote about ahiṃsā.

More of theYama

In addition to Patanjali's list, there are a number of different texts that describe several more virtuous qualities for consideration. The yama and their counter parts the niyama, on whichever list and in whatever text they appear, are the qualities we are invited to cultivate in order to live an ethical life, be free from suffering, and attain spiritual enlightenment.

Today I'm offering you a consideration of dayá - compassion - as described in the Śāṇḍilya Upaniṣad.

Half Moon Pose as a Vehicle for Compassion

A kneeling variation of Half Moon pose

You might not immediately think of half moon pose as a quintessential pose of compassion. However, there's a great story from the Shiva Purana that might convince you otherwise. Chandra got himself into a bit of trouble with the wrong guy and was cursed. This curse caused him to start wasting away. It got to the point where Chandra began to fear he would disappear entirely. Doubtful that Shiva would be of help to him because it was one of Shiva's devotees who cursed him, Chandra went to plead his case to Shiva anyway. When Shiva heard of Chandra's dilemma, he was overcome with compassion and was compelled to action. Shiva used his yoga practice to generate so much heat and power that he was able to direct that energy to support Chandra. With Shiva's help, Chandra could begin his waxing cycle once again.

Compassion As the Basis for Action

Using this story as inspiration behind our practice of ardha chandrāsana (half moon pose), we can explore how the heat and energy generated in this pose can be directed and extended outward. Physically, this often means we balance with more ease. But the pose also becomes a way to consider how we are using the energy of our yoga practice beyond the yoga mat. Some days we need to direct our compassion inward, towards ourselves. That capacity is critically important. (#selfcarematters) But ultimately, compassion is meant to be the basis for actions that will alleviate the suffering of others.

What else?

If you are looking for another story like this, read one of my favorites about compassion and community here.

And join me for class!

Stories like these lay the groundwork for exploring how the postures we practice on our yoga mats shape the way we move through the world. Check out my live-streaming class schedule. When you sign up for a monthly membership plan, you will also get access to recorded classes on-demand. Learn more about memberships.

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