Part IV: Ashtanga Yoga – Understanding the Eight Limbs of Yoga and Bitcoin (1 and 2: Yamas and Niyamas)
When studying yoga at the holistic House of Om school in Bali last February during a three-week yoga teacher training course, I was struck by the similarities in the principles that emerged in yogic philosophy and those embedded in Bitcoin. I believe that these elements of universal truths in our human nature emerge. These principles can help us understand ourselves and co-create a better world. A special thank you to Danica for your incredible lessons on yoga history and philosophy.
We can see parallels between Patanjali and Satoshi’s writings as proverbs. “Yoga is the ability to direct the kind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions”, Yoga Sutras 1.2. Similarly, Bitcoin was designed with the single focus and purpose of enabling peer-to-peer transactions without a third party, ceaselessly operating around the clock. “Tick tock, next block”, is a common adage in Bitcoin; every 10 minutes a block is produced that continues to build the truth in an increasingly deceptive world. The same is true in the ashtanga yoga sequence, where practitioners get into a set flow, linking breath to movement into the next asana. In vinyasa yoga, which many readers may be familiar with and has been popularized in the west, there is more room for flexibility in sequencing, and the teacher will guide their students into each pose. While we don’t know what will come next, we can look back with confidence that when we direct our attention, our mind, body, soul and breath come into focus and synchronicity.
In this and the next section, I will describe the eight limbs of yoga as laid out by Patanjali ~2000 years ago and their parallels to bitcoin. The yogic traditions teach that the goal for your inner being is to reach samadhi, a blissful state. The journey is marked with important lessons that enable individuals the freedom to explore. In bitcoin, the open, permissionless network similarly allows individuals to find their way and operate free from the hierarchical, restriction-laden fiat world to discover their own path to freedom. I will begin with the first two limbs, and continue with the next six limbs next week.
1. Yamas – Yamas describe one's attitude towards others, the world outside yourself. These universal ethical and moral guidelines have many similarities to the core values coded into bitcoin. The Yamas provide yogis a compass, just as bitcoin rules drive the thoughts and actions of individual actors and international markets.
Ahimsa – nonviolence: Ahimsa means the adoption of an attitude of nonviolence towards others. In both our words and our actions, embodying ahimsa is the first stance we need to take to move towards samadhi. “Bitcoin is peace” has been uttered by many Bitcoiners, including Jack Dorsey. Rules without rulers, bitcoin significantly limits the ability of governments to wage war. Governments' movement away from a hard money (gold) standard to print and debase fiat currency enabled the atrocities of the 20th century, when governments printed money to finance war. Another feature of ahimsa is an attitude of openness to all humans. Bitcoin doesn’t care who you are. The protocol cannot discriminate based on race/gender/political beliefs; unlike our current financial system, where many humans are left out of the banking system or discriminated against due to where they live, their background or political stances. Bitcoin’s network effect incentivizes collaboration. A bedrock of peace on the base layer of exchange for our civilization would go a long way to aligning incentives against pillaging and war, and towards peace and respect.
Satya – truth: Living in alignment of truth in our thoughts and actions enables individuals to walk the path of yoga. Truth and trust go hand in hand. No longer do you need to trust a third party to store your hard earned purchasing power. Through Proof of Work, the longest chain represents the truth in the world; the most secure ledger of transactions that has ever existed, an objective, digital record of the past transactions. In many ways Bitcoin establishes truth, because it is not in the individual’s best interest to lie, as the transaction will be rejected by other nodes. You also can’t fake or lie about your identity; signature with your private key unlocks your coins that are shown as unspent transaction outputs (UTXOs). Your private key is generated via SHA-256 cryptographic proof that cannot be guessed. This has exposed many charlatans in the space who have claimed to be Satoshi but haven’t signed a transaction with their key. In yoga there are many examples of false gurus or individuals who are practicing yoga that lie to others and take advantage of their position to gain status or prestige. It is important as yogis to speak and engage with others in a truthful manner.
Asteya – non-stealing: Theft of private property has been a challenge for humans for a long time. Yoga teaches that it is immoral to take from others what is not yours. It is important to credit others when due on ideas, just as physical property should not be taken. Stealing is virtually impossible in bitcoin due to cryptographic functions being utilized like SHA256, RIP160, etc. There are more possibilities for your private keys – which boils down to a string of 256 1s and 0s, than there are atoms in the universe. However, if you hold your bitcoin on an exchange or another third party, you are at risk of your bitcoin being stolen, as has happened in the infamous Mt. Gox attack nearly a decade ago to the implosion of Celsius, BlockFi and FTX in 2022. “Not your keys, not your coins” is a famous mantra in Bitcoin and speaks to the security of Bitcoin in preventing theft when you do become the owner of your UTXOs. Bitcoin is the most secure private property in the world. Through improvements to bitcoin core over the years, you can even secure your hard-earned value in 12 words (your seed phrase) memorized in your head. This revolutionary discovery has the potential to unlock property rights for eight billion people globally and put us all further on the yogic path. Similarly in yoga, no one can take your peace from you when you have a calm, centered and present practice. Your inner essence is yours, decentralized, not dependent on anyone else, just unlock and spend your bitcoin with 12 words anywhere on earth.
Bramacharya – non-lust / energy management: This yama represents the importance of an individual to not covet what is not yours, whether other humans or material things. It also describes the ability to conserve your own energy on a day-to-day basis, rather than pursuing a continual chase of something or someone that is not meant to be. Bitcoin is all about energy management in the mining process. Individual actors expend energy towards mining bitcoin when it is profitable to do so, and there is a true marginal cost of production. Another common courtesy in bitcoin is not asking others how many bitcoins they have but encouraging all to opt in and stack sats no matter how much money one has. Another way to conserve your kundalini energy practiced is abstinence or semen retention. These and other grounding practices can deepen one’s spiritual life or experience through discipline, just as Bitcoiners like to “HODL” or “buy the dip” – emphasizing a low time preference, conservation, patience, and not lust over the current fiat price exchange rate.
Aparigraha – non-possessiveness / non-attachment / non-greed: Patanjali outlined this important yogic practice of self-restraint and only owning what one truly needs. This lack of materialism has a very clear relation to Bitcoin, which also encourages people to reduce their materialism. Bitcoin’s value has appreciated 80% year over year for the last decade, meaning there is a high opportunity cost to spending your coins. This leads individuals to HODL bitcoin rather than accumulate unnecessary stuff. HODL stands for “hold on for dear life” but also made famous from a misspelling in an old blog post about holding bitcoin long term instead of trading for quick gains. It shifts time preference from high to low – leading to less possessions and hoarding of things to show status. Unlike fiat that incentivizes high consumption and spending dollars due to inflation and decreasing purchasing power over time, bitcoin’s digital scarcity shifts individuals towards aligned action. This inspires a humbleness that is lacking in today’s fiat showy culture. As we move into the medium of exchange phase of bitcoin’s monetization, Bitcoiners will continue to spend more and more coins as its use cases grow around the world, highlighted by circular economies while fiat money dies.
2. Niyamas- The niyamas are guidelines for attitudes to take for treating yourself. We are often our own harshest critic. One can practice yoga by turning focus inwards and the following values. Similarly, bitcoin continues to be improved through work on its source code and continued adoption by communities worldwide.
Sauca – cleanliness: Yoga teaches the importance of having a clean personal living space, and respecting where you practice yoga. The code of bitcoin is very clean and tidy. It was written in a way that is as efficient as possible. Longtime bitcoin developer Adam Back has said that he spent months searching for flaws in the code, but he was unable to improve it without adding complexity or another tradeoff of security. Keeping it simple and not getting cluttered can go a long way in establishing connection to oneself.
Santosha – contentment/gratitude: Practicing gratitude is one of the most powerful things we can do as humans. It pushes us to focus our thought and energy on what we are grateful for, leading to a sense of contentment in the present. Being content with what you have and practicing gratitude every day has been shown to change neural pathways in our brain. A popular mantra in bitcoin popularized by Matt Odell is to “stay humble and stack sats”. No matter how much bitcoin you’ve accumulated and how many ideas Bitcoiners turn out to be right about the broken central banking system or “shitcoin” ponzi schemes, Bitcoiners continue to stay humble and are constantly grateful for how far the movement to separate money and state has come.
Tapas – self-discipline/austerity/will power: A strong practice of tapas includes individual will power, self-discipline to stay focused on whatever task is at hand. In yoga, it is the focus necessary to be present and move towards a meditative state and samadhi – ultimate liberation. It can also mean producing more than you consume and not falling prey to high time preference consumerism. Bitcoin shifts your perspective by imposing more discipline on your spending. Tapping into the open network unleashes one's will power to work on something bigger than oneself, which many have ignorantly criticized.
Svadhaya – self-study/studying life: Svadhaya is all about continuous education, which is prominent in bitcoin. Bitcoin provides avenues for endless learning, tying together deep subjects such as computer science and cryptography, economics and game theory, psychology and human behavior. There are many connections for bitcoin and different subject areas, and when you look, you will see the high quality and scale of free educational content in the bitcoin ecosystem. There’s always more to learn about bitcoin and yoga. Part of what drew me to both is the openness to learn more about myself and the world around me. Learning about bitcoin and yoga concurrently created new pathways in my own brain and has changed my life for the better. It is what inspired me to also make connections between learning the ways of yoga and going down the bitcoin rabbit hole.
Ishvarapranidhana – connection to divine: In his article about the Messiah and Bitcoin, John Vallis talks a lot about Bitcoin’s connection to the divine.[i] While yoga is not tied to any specific religion, many of the teachings of Patanjali were adopted in Hinduism. Yoga is areligious, just as bitcoin is open to people of all faiths and backgrounds. Many have likened bitcoin to a cult in belief like religion, but this ignores that Bitcoin embodies a source of truth through energy, and that each individual can draw one’s own conclusions. Bitcoin also becomes a “choose your own adventure” endeavor, from building financial products like loans and mortgages on bitcoin, energy and mining infrastructure, or even producing regenerative agriculture products to sell for bitcoin, bitcoin touches all aspect of life. In yoga, there are different ways to connect to the divine or source or god or whatever you believe, whether through vinyasa, kriya and ashtanga for example. I think the essence of this niyama is that we move to a higher frequency when one has a belief in something greater than oneself, rather than nihilism and disrespect for this world.
The next post will dive into limbs three through eight of the yogic path.
[i]Vallis, John, Money Messiah: God, Bitcoin, and the Evolution of Consciousness. Medium. Dec 16, 2021 https://medium.com/@johnkvallis/money-messiah-god-bitcoin-and-the-evolution-of-consciousness-b95be58054f4