जातिदेशकालसमयानवच्छिन्नाः सार्वभौमा महाव्रतम्

jāti-deśa-kāla-samaya-anavacchinnāḥ sārvabhaumā-mahāvratam

These Great Vows are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance.

Yoga Sūtra 2.31

Our yoga practice doesn’t directly affect the language that we use in day to day conversations, yet the results of a regular yoga practice can affect the types of conversations we are having. I’ve heard it many times in a variety of ways but a common version is either “I tried yoga but I wasn’t very good at it” or “I’m getting better a yoga now (it doesn’t hurt as much the next day).”

I’m sure most of us who practice yoga regularly have said a variation of either of these phrases or at least said them to ourselves. When describing a physical practice involving a skill set it’s common to use words such as good, better or easy and hard. But what does it mean to be good at yoga? Do you know the names of the postures? You have perfected standing and balancing? Or maybe you are super bendy and flexible?

The ways in which yoga itself describes competence has, of course, nothing to do with physical prowess or flexibility. In the yoga sūtra one of the most repeated words in the whole text is pratiṣṭhāyaṁ, which is commonly translated as: being well established. What is being well established is not flexibility of the physical body but our understanding and development of personal restraints and, in turn our social observances.

It can be said that the actual yoga class is the easy part but making our life arrangements to get to class and controlling the way we think of and interact with others before, during  (ugh they are such a loud breather) and after class is a far greater skill than balancing on one leg.

It is very hard to master the social and personal ethics of yoga (see below) especially if there is no link to the physical practice and the theoretical ideals of yoga. Instead, what if we applied the same persistence and dedication we do to stretching our legs or standing on our head into how we treat others, the conversations (and words we are using) with people who are not only close to us but perhaps even those we have disagreements or conflicts with.

It’s easy (and seems to be more and more common) to relate anything to yoga, however being well established in anything does require persistence, repetition and time (the yoga sūtra confirms this also). While we may only get to a few yoga classes per week and life pulls us in all different directions we definitely have the time outside of the yoga class to practice our personal and social ethics. By practicing them regularly and even admitting when we haven’t, we are able to be well established within ourselves. To not have the world (and our reactions to it) allowing us to become disjointed or out of balance, we then notice when our actions are in line with our thoughts and intentions and when we really do say what we mean and mean what we say.

To be well established in regards to yoga is also to work at different aspects of our being. To ultimately be established in our one true nature is the end result but getting there takes time. Spending time on these different aspects will only increase positives in ourselves and the world around us, so when you can’t get to a yoga class and work on establishing a steady and joyful physical practice you at least have other areas of life to incorporate meaning and purpose.

When we say that yoga is ‘hard’ or that we are getting ‘good’ at it perhaps we can also be referring to days in which we don’t lose our temper or feel like we are more patient with others, we are having clear communication with those with live and work with and even moments where we feel deeply connected with not only ourselves but with something bigger and more expansive that what we can even describe.

The personal restraints are classified as Yama and consists of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-greed.

Ahiṁsā – In the presence of one firmly established in non-harming, all hostilities cease.

Satya – To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.

Asteya – To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.

Brahmacarya – By one established in continence, vigor is gained.

Aparigrahāḥ – When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why of one’s birth comes.

The social observances are classified as Niyama and consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship of God (self-surrender).

Śauca – By purification arises disgust for one’s own body and for contact with other bodies.

Saṁtoṣa – By contentment, supreme joy is gained.

Tapaḥ – By austerity, impurities of body and senses are destroyed and occult powers gained.

Svādhyāyā – By study of spiritual books comes communion with one’s chosen deity.

īśvarapraṇidhānā – By total surrender to God, samadhi is attained.


Doug Whittaker


Sanskrit translations by Vyas Houston