In today’s day and age where yoga has gained immense popularity in various forms, from the more traditional Ashtanga and Iyengar Yoga to the more recent Dog Yoga and Beer Yoga, it would help us tremendously to understand that the asanas performed are only one of the eight limbs described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
For the purpose of this article we will discuss the precursors to asana practice, which will fortify our resolve to achieve enlightenment.
Lets take a cursory glance at the eight limbs to get a basic understanding. They include:
Yama- universal ethical disciplines/restraints
Niyama-individual ethical observances
Pranayama- breathing practices
Pratyahara- withdrawal of senses
Samadhi- profound meditation
Through asana practice we learn to know the body and through pranayama and pratyahara we are able to explore and penetrate the core of our being.
Let internal exploration be maximized, get Mickeymized!!
But before we are able to perform asanas we need to ensure that we live our lives through correct conduct, which guides us on our path towards liberation. Therefore yamas and niyamas are like a map written to guide us on our life’s journey. Together, they form a moral code of conduct.
The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:
Ahimsa- non violence
Asteya- non stealing
Aparigraha- non covetousness
These should be considered the foundations of our character and should be practiced individually and collectively irrespective of place, time, or career as they are considered as mighty universal vows. They offer us a standard of integrity and a solid ethical foundation.
Ahimsa stresses the idea of living compassionately and in general being in tune with our own thoughts and actions. An important part of ahimsa is to pay keen attention to not inflict any violence towards our body and our mind. Satya guides us to be careful with our words and to speak with clear intention.
It is said that if one adheres to the principles of yamas, all beings around him abandon all hostility and spoken words fructify into action. Also through continence one is able to achieve vigour, vitality and spiritual knowledge.
The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:
Svadhyaya- study of scriptures and of one’s own self
Ishvara Pranidhana- surrender to God
As important as it might be to keep our body clean externally it is equally important to keep our thoughts clean as well. This can be achieved with the quality of feeds we receive through our interactions with people as well as through different forms of media. What we choose to be surrounded by has a direct correlation to the kind of person we mould ourselves into.
Santosha is the ultimate rule to truly living in the moment. It offers us the opportunity to practice letting go of the need to plan ahead, and to enjoy every moment as it arrives.
We spend huge amounts of time worrying about what comes next. By setting a daily intention of gratitude for the wonderful gifts that we already have in life, is a great way to guide ourselves into a life of contentment. It asks us to be content in ourselves and in our own journey.
Tapas purifies the body, senses and mind while svadhyaya enlightens the practitioner with the knowledge of his eternal being. Finally through Ishvar Pranidhana the eternal inner being is brought back to his creator.
They create a firm foundation for practitioners to have a spiritual experience. They prevent us from accumulating any bad karma. Negatives like lust, anger and greed can be directly countered through self analysis and room can be made for peace and harmony within our lives.
It’s important to address our character first as that would be a great support to our physical practice. If we start to perform asanas or pranayama but haven’t addressed that we are violent, depressed, or anxious, it’s going to be counter intuitive. We need that strong spiritual foundation to contain our newfound energy.
Perhaps the best way to learn the yamas and niyamas is to live them.
They can be approached in a very cut-and-dry way, or more subtly. For example, ahimsa, or non-violence, can be interpreted as refraining from hurting another person. But it can also mean not speaking violently about others, or refusing to gossip. Bramacharya, for some might mean managing their energy by abstaining from practices that sap it in unhealthy ways—like drinking excessive amounts of caffeine or having casual sex.
Although all the yamas and niyamas are equally important, it is only through surrender to God that one is able to achieve liberation from the cycle of samsara.
These universal truths teach us how to navigate our daily interactions and assist us in finding the balance that we might need before we begin practicing various yogasanas. They show us how we are all connected biologically and atomically while fostering love and honesty and a yearning for higher knowledge and happiness.
May our connect with the cosmos be eternalized, get Mickeymized!!