When less is more
Make more time for doing the things you love by simplifying your life.
Judy Davis never buys anything new if she can help it. A 58-year-old freelance marketing consultant who lives in Red Bluff, California, she favors thrift store clothing and secondhand furniture. Instead of buying gifts, she gives plants from her garden or bags she has sewn from cut-up vintage gowns. Judy is part of a Bay Area group called the Compact. The Compacters have vowed not to buy anything new for a year except bare essentials: food, medicine, cleaning products, and underwear (although not, of course, lingerie from Paris). Although few people take frugality quite as seriously as the Compacters do, more and more of us are voluntarily cutting back on buying and consumption. Many individuals choosing this lifestyle happen to be yogis. The seminal work of yoga philosophy, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, frowns on materialism, and some yogis find that their asana practice alone helps them be happier with less.
The pursuit of the simple life is nothing new, of course. From Quakers to Transcendentalists, America has always had its share of those who associate simplicity with spiritual growth. Back-to-the-land hippies of the ’60s and ’70s found simplicity appealing for more secular reasons, such as ecological sustainability. But those who practice pared-down living today are not necessarily spiritual ascetics or off-the-grid granola types. Most are ordinary people modifying their everyday behavior-trying to be conscious about what they eat, drive, and buy.
In the past 15 years, “voluntary simplicity,” as it is called, has gained thousands of converts. Many books on the subject have been published, such as Janet Luhrs’s The Simple Living Guide, Cecile Andrews’s Circle of Simplicity: Return to the Good Life, and Linda Breen Pierce’s Choosing Simplicity: Real People Finding Peace and Fulfillment in a Complex World. Dozens of websites have sprung up, and nonprofits like Seeds of Simplicity and Simple Living America champion the cause. When the Compacters publicized their manifesto in January 2006, their Yahoo group swelled from about 50 in February to 1,225 in July, with members across America.
Most spiritual traditions encourage simple living, and yoga is no exception. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali laid out the yamas (moral restraints) and niyamas (observances), a set of 10 principles that are crucial to one’s progress along the yogic path. One of the yamas is aparigraha, often translated as “greedlessness.” But it means more than just taking only what you need, explains David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and author of Yoga and the Sacred Fire. Aparigraha also means “not having a lot of unnecessary things around yourself and not hankering after what other people have,” Frawley says. In other words, aparigraha also means keeping only what you need and wanting only what you need.
Aparigraha leads naturally to one of the niyamas: santosha, or “contentment,” being satisfied with the resources at hand and not desiring more. Ultimately, Frawley says, “Yoga is about transcending the desire for external things, which is the cause of suffering, and finding peace and happiness within.”
adapted from Yoga Journal, by Helena Echlin
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