Finding Yoga Wisdom in the Classics. ~ Mary Mann

Via elephant journal
on Apr 7, 2011
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I have a lot of very smart friends. They are engineers, editors, law students, and pursuers of PhD’s. They know a lot about a lot of things, including books, which are my own air and water. One subject, though, that many of them remain dense about is yoga. This ancient school of thought and path to enlightenment is tossed into the pile of “new age trends for dummies,” along with collecting crystals and reading Deepak Chopra.

Leo Tolstoy

These literate and wise friends of mine are, I believe, missing the boat. They don’t know their Salinger from their Dostoevsky if they really think that yoga is so dismissible and faddish. The novelists that stir my soul are yogis at heart. From Tolstoy to Murakami, here are some of the most well written thoughts on Patanjali’s yamas and niyamas—the daily routines of an earnest yoga practice:

Satya (Tell no lies):

“Every lie is a poison; there are no harmless lies. Only the truth is safe. Only the truth gives me consolation – it is the one unbreakable diamond.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Asteya (Do not steal):

“Goddam money. It always ends up making you blue as hell.” ~ J.D. Salinger

Brachmacharya (Avoid meaningless sexual encounters):

“I think if you don’t really like a girl, you shouldn’t horse around with her at all.” ~ J.D. Salinger

Ahimsa (Do no harm to any creature in thought or deed):

J.D. Salinger

“A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

“To get rid of an enemy one must love him. ” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Aparigrapha (Free yourself from greed, hoarding, and collecting):

“Happiness does not depend on outward things, but on the way we see them.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

“To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is, a dissatisfaction with self.” ~ Joan Didion

Ishvara-pranidhana (Be devoted to whatever you consider divine):

“Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love. Everything is, everything exists, only because I love. Everything is united by it alone. Love is God, and to die means that I, a particle of love, shall return to the general and eternal source.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Joan Didion

“Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next. Is he ever wrong?”

~ J.D. Salinger (Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction)

Tapas (Show discipline in body, speech, and mind):

“Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running, and a metaphor for life—and for me, for writing as well.” ~ Haruki Murakami

“But, frankly, if I want to write a large scale work, increasing my strength and stamina is a must, and I believe this is something worth doing, or at least that doing it is much better than not.” ~ Haruki Murakami

Santosha (Cultivate contentment and tranquility):

“Pierre was right when he said that one must believe in the possibility of happiness in order to be happy, and I now believe in it. Let the dead bury the dead, but while I’m alive, I must live and be happy.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Haruki Murakami

“Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys. If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it.” ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky

Shuaca (Keep yourself, your clothing, and your surroundings clean):

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Svadhyaya (Study sacred texts):

“Instead of going to Paris to attend lectures, go to the public library, and you won’t come out for twenty years, if you really wish to learn.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

Fyodor Dostoevsky

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them—if you want to. Just as some day, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.” ~ J.D. Salinger

Not just limited to the rules of right living, here are a few words from writers on a larger scope, the largest actually—the understanding of the universe:

Samsara (the illusion of our daily reality):

“Things outside you are projections of what’s inside you, and what’s inside you is a projection of what’s outside. So when you step into the labyrinth outside you, at the same time you’re stepping into the labyrinth inside.” ~ Haruki Murakami


“Something magical has happened to me: like a dream when one feels frightened and creepy, and suddenly wakes up to the knowledge that no such terrors exist. I have wakened up.” ~ Leo Tolstoy


Mary Mann. Writing is Mary’s passion, yoga is her discipline,
and working with social media is how she pays the bills. She is much
less wordy on twitter, @subwayreader.


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9 Responses to “Finding Yoga Wisdom in the Classics. ~ Mary Mann”

  1. yogiclarebear says:

    fabulous list mary!

  2. Cool stuff, Mary. I am also particularly fond of Thoreau's stuff too!

  3. Good blog, Mary.

    I don't know if you were aware of it or not, but this connection to Yoga is not happenstance. Tolstoy and Salinger were both steeped in the philosophy of the ancient Yoga texts and reflected this in many of their works. (I'm not familiar with the others enough to know about them.) This was actually true of a great many Western writers, scientists, psychologists, artists, philosophers and musicians.

    See my review of American Veda, True or False? Physical Yoga Has Influenced America More than Spiritual Yoga. I was personally startled by the revelations in this book, as it relates directly to the point of your blog!

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  4. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  5. ARCreated says:

    I still consider Dr. Seuss as my first yoga teacher :0

  6. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the new Elephant Yoga homepage.

  7. Mary Mann says:

    Thanks for the comments! And thanks Bob for the link. Yogic leanings are pretty common among American writers, who seem to choose either nihilsm or existentialism as the backbone of their works. Kerouac, Whitman, Thoreau, Tom Robbins, Michael Chabon, Jonathan Franzen… all read more or less buddhist/yogic to me.

    And of course, Dr. Seuss. And Mr. Rogers!

  8. […] the belief in Satya is so strong that we lose sight. Do we insist on being honest to the point of hurting someone, thus […]

  9. Is that his original image, I'm pretty he looked different. Anyway, excellent post, I've never tried Yoga before, would love to know more about its benefits.