what does ‘un-yogic’ mean?

this word is perpetually bandied about in yoga circles, but what does it mean? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?! i suppose you’d have to define what ‘yogic’ means first, but how often do you hear people saying: ‘oh, that’s so yogic!’ maybe you do hear it said, but i don’t. ‘yogic’ seems just as nebulous in meaning as ‘un-yogic’.

‘yogic’ should describe something that brings union, either with the self or with the divine or ultimate truth. so i suppose my yoga asana practice is yogic, as long as my intention is pure. which it isn’t sometimes, as i’ve written about here. perhaps it is easier to identify my more ‘un-yogic’ traits:

  • i sometimes eat meat, and i have killed many black flies, horse flies, cockroaches, etc. i’m currently considering how to get rid of a mouse infestation, and though i’d like to have a live-and-let-live policy in the house, when i find mouse poo on the counter my thoughts become very ‘un-yogic’.
  • i often have road rage. i also drive an SUV (though apparently that’s not ‘un-yogic’ anymore as long as i’m not ‘sometimes eating meat’). in any case the combination can be, at times, ‘un-yogic’.
  • i don’t love everyone, and some people i truly detest. sometimes i have a hard time believing that everyone is really just me and i’m them, blah, blah, blah. in short, Maya is my bestest friend in the whole world.

the first two ‘limbs’ in ashtanga yoga are the yamas and the niyamas. these are concepts that (should) regulate our outward and inward behaviors. but the yamas and the niyamas aren’t commandments, they’re invitations. and as teachers are so happy to tell us they take a lifetime, sometimes several lifetimes, to perfect. which is probably why we all skip to the third limb, asana practice, because it’s easier to tie yourself into a pretzel than to accept your current state (santosha), or to be vegan (ahimsa), or [gasp] celibate (brahmacharya- more on that later), or do some serious self-examination (svadhyaya), etc. that is why the eight limbs must be seen as a practice, and not a series of requirements to be mastered.

so if all of us yogis are practicing the yamas and the niyamas then we should understand the challenge and why some people might do ‘un-yogic’ things, right? but to me, a yogi calling someone ‘un-yogic’ is like a christian calling someone ‘un-christian’. it reminds me of a comment i heard wherein a person from a predominantly christian country generalized people in a predominantly muslim country as ‘un-christian’, ironic isn’t it?

i don’t think people who aren’t yogis should be held accountable to a yogic framework, any more than muslims should be held accountable to christian ones. though ideally, moral codes should be pretty generalisable across all religions and philosophies. the real trap is when we aren’t existing in the present. it’s when we leave our practice of the yamas and niyamas, leave union with the present moment, that we identify with another’s acts and judge something as yogic or un-yogic. and by that time we’ve missed the point of yoga.

so the practice of the yamas and the niyamas is really all about staying in the here and now. every moment we have opportunities to be content, non-violent, committed, reflective. and as these moments stretch out through our lives we find ourselves practicing these principles naturally, automatically. so if you’re tempted to label something or someone as ‘un-yogic’, ask yourself if you are truly in the present moment, in union with yourself. and keep practicing.

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