In the last article (read it here), I shared with you my contemplations on minimalism and how I slowly started to discover the parallels between Yoga and minimalism. I adopted a lifestyle many years ago, which I have been building on bit by bit, that strives towards minimalism in everyday living. A lot of people over the years asked if I lived the way I did because I follow Yoga. I had never thought about the connection but these questions made me think about it.
In this article, I share some more of my contemplations, this time on the connections I found between minimalism and ideas given in ancient Yoga scriptures. I was pleasantly surprised with how many such concepts I found once I started looking. I even realised some of this as I was writing this article!
Yoga scripture and minimalism
Yoga, as well as a number of other Indian philosophical systems, recommends restraints and warn against excesses. In that way, minimalism seems to be a broader idea that runs through multiple scriptures and forms part of the foundation of many schools of Indian thought.
In the next bit, I will introduce you to just some of these connections from a few Yogic texts that I am familiar with. We will be looking at a bit of Yoga Sūtra by Sage Patanjali, Hatha Yoga Pradīpika by Svātmārāma, and the Bhagavad Gita.
- Yoga Sūtra
Let us start by looking at the Yoga Sūtra and where we find mention of minimalism. We do not have to look very far. In the second section of the text, in Sādhana Pāda, where the eightfold path of Yoga is suggested, we come across the concept of Yama. We have already discussed Yama in an earlier article (read it here) so we will not get into details here.
Yama itself means restraints. It guides us on the things we should avoid entirely or in excess because of how harmful they can be for us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. These excesses, if indulged in, can lead us away from the path of Yoga and lead us instead to vices, addictions, poor health, and lack of peace of mind.
The five Yama recommend restraints in thought, word, and action in various areas of life:
- Ahimsa or non-violence towards self and others
- Satya with self and others
- Astéya or non-stealing with others and the self
- Brahmacharya or moderation in indulgences
- Aparigraha or non-hoarding
All Yama brings forth the idea of minimalism and Brahmacharya in particular directly speaks about reining in indulgences. Although the concept is often only understood in the context of sexual relations, it refers to moderation of all sensory indulgences, including shopping, food and eating, sexual activities, sleep, work, and so on. For example, just because water is good for us, if we keep glugging water all day every day, it will end up doing more harm than good to our health. Haven’t we all, at some point, over-indulged in something and then suffered for it?
- Bhagavad Gita
I’m still in my early days in the study of this beautiful text, but there are bits that resonate deeply with me already. Seen in the context of Yoga, the Bhagavad Gita is a treasure trove of knowledge and ageless wisdom that is as relevant today as it was when it was written.
There are many wonderful ideas put forth in the text to guide us to live a good, full life. In Chapter 6, verse 16, Shri Krishna talks to Arjuna about over-indulgences and moderation; in the next verse, he says without moderation, meditation and concentration are impossible. Not following these principles are the way to sorrow and pain and the only way to conquer them is to avoid over-indulgence and follow minimalism instead.
All those centuries ago, we were told that excess of anything can only bring pain, poor health, and suffering. We have had this knowledge available to us all along. Ironically, it has been lost to many of us in the barrage of information that technology has opened up for us.
- Hatha Yoga Pradīpika
Hatha Yoga Pradīpika by Svātmārāma, a Nath Yogi, is an ancient text on Hatha Yoga that is highly respected and followed even today. In this text too, I found something that directly relates to minimalism!
There are 6 Bādhaka Tattva or obstacles in the path of Yoga mentioned in this text:
- Atyāhāra or over-eating
- Prayāsa / Prāvasa or excessive effort and exertion / excessive travel
- Janasangha or the company of people who lead you away from your chosen path
- Niyamāgraha or rigid and inflexible adherence to rules, routines, and rituals
- Prajalpa or gossiping and excessive talking
- Laulyam or fickleness of the mind
What Svātmārāma is talking about here is excess of anything is bad; he is talking about minimalism! Stay away from over-indulgence in different areas of everyday living is a reminder these Bādhaka Tattva can bring into conscious thought over time.
I do not know enough about Ayurvéda to go into details of its texts. I do, however understand from listening to experts in the practice that in the past, many of our problems were because of a paucity or lack of things – poor nutrition, less attention to self-care, less awareness of health, poor hygiene, and so on.
Today, Ayurvéda believes that many of our current health problems are a result of excesses – too much food, too many choices, too much thinking, too much work, too much avoidance of looking after ourselves. Ayurvéda professionals often recommend minimalism and restraint along with specialised treatments these days to deal with a variety of physical and mental health issues.
To me, having a plant-based diet falls in this aspect of health, to counter the trend where we are encouraged to consume more and more, taking more than our share from the world to feed our greed. Even within plant-based eating, it is important to eat fresh, local, seasonal food as much as possible to minimise the impact on the environment from our eating habits. Constantly consuming imported, resource-intensive foods (palm oil, avocado, cashew when not local being some examples) is equally harmful for the body and the environment.
Making these connections have been AHA! moments for me. The more I read these texts, the more I feel a sense of connection to the concepts; it is a realisation that what I have been trying to do is, in fact, what Yoga recommended and suggested and guided people to do all those centuries ago!
I hope these articles on minimalism have been as interesting for you to read as they have been for me to write. Do reach out to me here or on Instagram if you wish to go the minimalist route and are unsure where to begin!