The ancient practice of yoga is so much more than the physical practice that we've come to know in modern times. The word "yoga" means union of body, mind, and spirit. If you look closer at the origins of yoga, you'll come to know that it’s an invitation to part the veils that cloak the deepest aspects of your being.
Yoga provides us with an opportunity to get to know ourselves from the inside out—and this knowingness is not based on our positions, possessions, or accomplishments. This is the opposite of what society teaches us. It’s what makes exploring the ancient teachings so profound.
The sage Patanjali was said to have developed the eight limbs of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These branches aren’t intended to be accessed sequentially. Each of them is said to serve as a different access point to a more expansive facet of our core nature.
The first limb is known as Yama, which translates to mean the rules of social conduct. These rules are really guidelines for how best to show up in life, and mindful ways by which we can interact with others and with society.
Here is what we know: While the knowledge passed down for centuries was originally established in times much different than how we live today, the ethics still ring true and can be easily applied to our modern world. Let's explore the five components that make up the Yama.
Ahimsa or Nonviolence
Every thought, word, and action stems from a place of love and equanimity for all sentient beings, our planet, and all of creation. When we come from a place of love in our thoughts, words, and actions, there can be no act of violence. Practicing nonviolence every day would have a tremendously positive impact on our families, communities, and the world.
Satya or Truthfulness
We practice Satya through speaking and living in ways that are truthful for us. This doesn't mean you should go around saying whatever is on your mind because you’re thinking it. It means that you should speak your truth thoughtfully and with purpose. This Yama also suggests that you make conscious choices to live your life in ways that align with your higher purpose.
Brahmacharya or Appropriate Sexual Control
This Yama is often confused with celibacy. It more accurately invites us to engage in a healthy expression of sexual energy. Brahmacharya means to align with the creative forces of the Universe. We can think of it as harnessing sexual energy for creative purposes, as opposed to mindlessly engaging with no real intention. As you use this creative energy more deliberately, you may also find that your sexuality will exude a deeper, more expanded expression of love.
Asteya or Honesty
In this context, honesty means to practice non-stealing and non-cheating. While this one seems pretty self-explanatory, its reach goes far beyond taking material items that don't belong to you. Asteyaencourages us to be honest in our thoughts, speech, and outward behavior. Think about it, dishonesty is almost always rooted in a desire for something we don't have and is driven by the fear of loss of something such as money, love, positions, possessions, and power. Let go and practice content with, and gratitude for, what you already have.
Aparigraha or Generosity
This Yama is focused around cultivating non-possessiveness or non-grasping. This means that we practice letting go of our desire to control and relinquish our attachment to worldly things. In our daily life, we can develop generosity by giving to others, be it in the form of a prayer, a thought, a gesture or smile, or even material things. People often find themselves hoarding possessions because they’re afraid that they don't have enough, or that they will lose what they have. Aparigraha pushes us to spread wealth and abundance to all. In the act of doing so, that which we seek begins to flow more abundantly to us.
Yama doesn't require us to be perfect. These guidelines provide a valuable and worthwhile roadmap that can help us foster more evolutionary ways of thinking, being, and doing. Each of us has an innate knowingness—be it conscious or unconscious—that we exist as a part of something that is greater than ourselves. The Yama propositions us to explore our behaviors at a deeper level and to make choices that unfold greater potential for ourselves as individuals and for others.
The ancient spiritual teachings of yoga hold a lot of wisdom—useful even in today’s modern world. If you’re new to yoga philosophy, the five Niyamas are a great place to start. They are personal rules of behavior that provide a guide to help you live a more balanced life.
The word "yoga" means to unite the three layers of our existence: body, mind, and spirit. The 8thcentury philosopher and theologian Adi Shankara describes this as the physical, subtle, and causal aspects of our being. There are four primary paths of yoga: one is the Royal Path to union. Within the Royal Path, there are eight branches of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Each of these paths serve as different entry points into an expanded sense of Self through various experiences, choices, and interpretations that ultimately lead us back to our true essential nature.
It's important to first understand that the eight limbs are not to be seen as sequential stages, but rather an exploration into various branches of the Royal Path of yoga. The second branch of yoga is known as Niyama. There are five Niyamas—personal rules of conduct or behavior—and each one represents the qualities naturally expressed in human personality. The Niyamas invite us to consider how we live our lives when no one else is paying attention.
The first Niyama is about nourishing ourselves through the five senses of taste, touch, sight, sound, and smell. Everything we take in from the environment flows through these channels and is then perceived as our experience. Here, we are encouraged to reduce or eliminate anything we may distinguish as being toxic, and increase things that provide more nourishment for our body, mind, and soul. Consider the foods you're eating, your habits, the environment you spend most of your time in, and the relationships you have with others. Weed out the habits that don’t support a life of purity.
The second Niyama invites us to relinquish patterns of trying to control other people and outcomes, and to settle, instead, into a place of centered awareness.
There is a saying that “yoga is the progressive quieting of the fluctuations of the mind.” When you settle into periods of quieting the mind, you will experience a state of contentment that reflects your ability to remain at peace regardless of what is going on in your external environment. When you’re in this state of being, you won’t be compelled to expend precious time and energy changing everyone and everything around you. Rather, you will be filled with contentment and gratitude for the beauty and gifts that are abundant in your life.
Discipline is the third Niyama, and it’s often incorrectly perceived as having to refrain from life's pleasures. As human beings, we are meant to experience all aspects of our humanity, including from the physical, material, mental, emotional, spiritual, and ethereal. This Niyama is about creating a strong and balanced foundation from which the other Niyamas may flourish. Eating healthy, organic foods; committing to daily movement or exercise; getting to sleep by 10 p.m. and waking at sunrise; and committing to silence and self-reflective practices are some of the disciplined daily practices that establish a solid foundation for personal care.
Spiritual exploration, the fourth Niyama, is best approached from a place of knowledge and experience. Attending spiritual workshops and reading spiritual literature will give you some level of intellectual knowledge. It’s just as important to develop spiritual awareness through self-study, which will provide you with an experiential understanding of the knowledge you've acquired intellectually. When knowledge and experience come together, wisdom is born. Meditation, journaling, and daily recapitulation are common practices of those who are engaged in self-inquiry.
Surrender to the Divine
The fifth and final Niyama is surrender to God, the Divine, or the Universe. It’s essentially the practice of faith. Faith is defined as confidence, trust, or belief that is not based on proof. Embracing uncertainty is one of the most challenging practices and yet, the paradox of surrendering to uncertainty is precisely what sets us free from limitless constrictions of the mind. Practice accepting the outcome of events and situations—even when they don't unfold in the way you had hoped.
Like everything, the practice of cultivating higher levels of personal conduct begins with self-awareness. Niyamas will emerge naturally when you live a balanced life on spiritual, mental, emotion, and physical levels.
Strengthen your individual personal conduct today by keeping a daily journal of each of the Niyamasand document how you performed within them. This practice will help you to become aware of your thoughts, words, and actions, and enable you to make any necessary course corrections. This is not a competition between you and society. The Niyamas are about your individual personal behavior and they serve as a guide for recognizing and improving how you're living—and loving—when no one is looking.
To find out more about yoga and our yoga training visit our New To Yoga page: http://www.saltpoweryoga.com.au/yoga-for-beginners/