Yamas, Niyamas and Kingian Nonviolence

mlk-22I recently returned from a week-long advanced seminar in Kingian Nonviolence. While I was there I started seeing a lot of connections between principles of Kingian Nonviolence and principles of yoga that my partner, Alyson has been teaching me.

When I got home from this seminar I immediately sat down and read the Yamas and Niyamas, which are two of the eight branches of yoga. Alyson had encouraged me to read about these before attending the seminar and I wish I had because there is a lot of valuable crossover. This post is an email I sent out to the other 9 seminar participants upon returning home and reading the yamas and niyamas.


Allow me to first share an excerpt from the reading handout prepared by Alyson’s yoga studio explaining what the yamas and niyama are and then I would like to share with you some of the connections I have made to Kingian Nonviolence and some of the other things we discussed this week.

The yamas and niyama are “the ethical precepts or core values of yoga as well as its starting place – meant to be practiced before you do your very first Sun Salutation. They provide a recipe for living in a world with ease. The yamas are about restraining behaviors that are motivated by grasping, aversion, hatred and delusion; the niyamas are designed to create well-being for ourselves and others.”

Here is where the first connection comes to mind for me. Mary Lou mentioned Barbara Deming and her explanation of nonviolence putting forward two hands – one that says NO to the injustice and the other saying YES to reconciliation and the beloved community. I see a similar YES/NO dynamic at play with the yamas and niyamas. Yamas say no to destructive habits, attitudes, and thoughts, while the niyamas say yes to life-affirmation and constructive habits, attitudes, and thoughts.

So what are the values in the yamas and niyamas specifically?

The yamas are: (1) ahimsa – non-harming, (2) satya – truthfulness, (3) asteya – non-stealing, (4) brahmacharya – energy moderation, (5) aparigraha – non-grasping.

The niyamas are: (1) saucha – purity, (2) santosha – contentment, (3) tapas – right effort, (4) svadhyaya – self study, (5) ishvara pranidhana – dedication to the highest.

The 6 principles of Kingian Nonviolence are listed below and I have added experts from the yamas and niyamas underneath the ones that I saw a connection. I think you all will find the connections as well.

(1) Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice, and utilizes the righteous indignation and the spiritual, emotional and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.

  • Tapas (heat or fire) – The root “tap” means “burn, blaze, shine, or consume by heat. Tapas is generally defined as endurance, self-discipline, and the abandonment of desires.  “May I have the strength to burn away desires and devote myself to spiritual discipline – May I immerse myself in the sacred fire and know the love of God.”
    (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)
  • This also reminds me of step 3 in the steps of nonviolent action – personal commitment. As it says in the handout, “Tapas is the willingness to do the work, which means developing discipline, enthusiasm and a burning desire to learn. You can apply it to anything in your life: changing your diet, cultivating an attitude of loving-kindness, or non-judgment. You figure out what you can do, and do it every day. If it’s only 10 minutes, fine – but make that time sacred.”

(2) The Beloved Community is the framework for the future. The nonviolent concept is an overall effort to achieve a reconciled world by raising the level of relationships among people to a height where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.

  • Svadhyaya (Self Study / Study of the Scriptures) – “May I devote my life to learning, may I uplift my soul through mantra, meditation and prayer, may my highest self shine forth and meeting with others to share love and truth.” Another feature of Svadhyaya involves associating with like-minded, spiritually-focused people. We call these gatherings, Satsangs (meetings in truth).
  • Isn’t that we we just did for those 5 days in OH? 🙂

(3) Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil. The nonviolent approach helps one analyze the fundamental conditions, policies and practices of the conflict rather than reacting to one’s opponents or their personalities.

  • Ahimsa (Non-harming) – “May I be gentle to myself today and easy with what comes my way. Kind to each of God’s creatures I meet, with loving compassion for all I greet.” In practicing Ahimsa we cultivate a pure heart, free of fear and resentment and full of forgiveness. There is no harsh criticism of anyone for wrongdoing; there is only loving opposition to the wrong deeds. (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)

(4) Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the cause to achieve the goal. Self-chosen suffering is redemptive and helps the movement grow in a spiritual as well as a humanitarian dimension. The moral authority of voluntary suffering for a goal communicates the concern to one’s own friends and community as well as to the opponent.

  • I see Tapas being connected to this principle, as well, particularly around burning all our impurities through discipline. For example, by fasting, enduring extremes, maintaining silence or doing pranayama, we discipline ourselves to give up desires. (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)
  • In preparing to engage in nonviolent action, I feel like one of those trained and learned disciplines is how to fight back but using nonviolent weapons, which may not be the instinctual response one has in a situation where they are faced with violence.

(5) Avoid internal violence of the spirit as well as external physical violence. The nonviolent attitude permeates all aspects of the campaign. It provides mirror type reflection of the reality of the condition to one’s opponent and the community at large. Specific activities must be designed to help maintain a high level of spirit and morale during a nonviolent campaign.

  • Brahmacharya (Energy Moderation) – “May I be moderate in my body, mind and speech, not consumed with my senses, may I devote myself to the Divine, knowing that all of life’s joy is already mine.” Whatever disturbs the mind and body disturbs the Spiritual life. Become a good energy manager. In our physical practice learn to regulate your effort so that you are not pushing and forcing, which drains our life force. (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)
  • Ahimsa (Non-harming) – Ahimsa teaches us to refrain from harming any being including ourselves. It teaches us to love unconditionally. Every word, thought or action that involves judgment, anger, greed, lust or attachment is a form of violence to be avoided. (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)

(6) The universe is on the side of justice. Truth is universal and human society and each human being is oriented to the just sense of order of the universe. The fundamental values in all of the world’s great religious include the concept that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. For the nonviolent practitioner, nonviolence introduces a new moral context in which nonviolence is both the means and the end.

  • Santosha (Contentment) – “May I accept whatever life may bring, centered in balance, gratitude and delight, may I trust the Divine in everything and see beyond life’s hardships to the light.” In the ultimate practice of Santosha, we maintain an unwavering serenity in the presence of life’s ups and downs. Through eyes of unconditional love, we see pain and pleasure, hardship and ease, without succumbing to emotional disturbance. No matter what happens we maintain a state of peace and emotional eveness, knowing that have God’s love and lack nothing. We have faith that everything that happens is somehow ultimately for the highest good. (Source: YogaLife: 10 Steps to Freedom, Johanna Mosca, Ph.D.)
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