Historically, a covenant meant that a solemn agreement took place between two people with the intent of cementing a ‘coming-together.’ This coming-together in agreement was symbolized by a stronger ritual than a signature or handshake, but one that made clear what was on the line.
When striking a covenant, a blood sacrifice accompanied its vow. This was to serve as a warning of consequence to both parties that if one broke the covenant, their blood would be required. Such dire consequences made promise-keeping real and bloody.
We can grasp the tone of such coming-together when we look at the words used as substitutes for covenant: vow, oath, pledge, seal, trust, swear, and more. A covenant was not just a casual “yes” from one to another, but a sacred promise, a promise made with life or death at stake.
That’s why it’s a good idea, before striking (or creating) any covenant, to think about whom or what one is striking a covenant with. If our covenantal partner is unreliable, we won’t get what we agreed to and will likely be left with resentment or anger after the other side breaks the covenant. But when we chose our covenantal partner well, or if we are lucky, and the person on the other side of our promissory arc is reliable, then both of us benefit.
There are no living human partners to the covenantal arc we strike with yoga, so perhaps it’s strange to think of making a promise with a “thing.” But in reality, if we strike a covenant with yoga, we are vowing to walk with generations of those who have gone before us, and with those next to us in our classes.
In our covenant with yoga, we do not inherit guarantees and neither are there predictable outcomes; but a time-tested truth demonstrates if the yogi bears their weight of the oath, the yield will be rich. Yoga will always do its share in this bendable arc of change.
In the West, we are used to establishing our lives and goals around the idea of a clear beginning and ending. Writers call this tendency to plan out a story the narrative arc. But yoga is countercultural because yoga is never finished, it is not defined by a clear beginning or ending, there is always another spiritual and physical level to which one can aspire.
Doing yoga is like stepping into a moving river, one that cleanses and bends as it passes, not allowing the yogi look ahead. In yoga’s traditional religious underpinnings, the river was a goddess that cleansed, and anyone stepping into the river received its benefits.
Yoga too has become a river of change for contemporary people; but it’s a river that has been flowing for thousands of years. When the yogi steps into their practice, they are awash in an evolving covenant and their only responsibility is to do the yoga and everything else will come to them.
When taking up a covenant with yoga, superfluous activity is simply washed away because it doesn’t matter; this is yoga’s teaching of relinquishment and it promises to steadfastly cleanse the yogi of superfluous concerns. Yoga pledges to its covenant partner a clarity of vision, the benefits of which include health, mental acuity, and peace. Anything else is not necessary.
In a day when well-reasoned discernment and relinquishment is rare, this gift is worth the effort we make to bend forward, bend backward, and in that bendable arc, embody an agreement.
Perhaps it’s time to strike your covenant with a partner that will never break its promise; rather, one that will be rock-solid in your coming-together, leading you to the profound gifts of cleansing and relinquishment.