The practice of Yoga is not just about Asana – Postures. The practice of Asana itself has to be pre-requisite by Yama (Universal Morality) and Niyama (Ethical Observance). Unfortunately, many people who practice Yoga are not aware of Yama and Niyama let alone the Eight Limbs of Yoga. I had recently came across a Yoga Teacher who had no idea of Yama/Niyama let alone Eight Limbs of Yoga as her Teacher’s Training was heavily emphasized on delivering script and dialogue to teach a Yoga class. However it doesn’t matter as long as that person develop an interest to know more beyond that.
Yoga is the art of right living perfected and practiced in India thousands of years ago and the foundations of Yoga Philosophy were written down in The Patanjali Yoga Sutra. This sacred texts described the inner work of the mind and provide Eight Structure to reach lasting peace.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga:
- Yama (Universal Morality)
- Niyama (Ethical Observance)
- Asana (Body Postures)
- Pranayama (Breathing Exercise, control of Prana/Life force)
- Prathyahara (Sense Control)
- Dharana (cultivation of inner awareness)
- Dhyana (Devotion, Meditation)
- Samadhi (Union with the Divine)
As you can see Asana comes in third after Yama and Niyama. Back in the days, yoga practitioners are not even allowed to practice Asana without full understanding and living life in accordance to the Yama and Niyama because Asana done without the foundation of those, can create an obstacles in one’s life. However, in today’s time, many of us come into contact with Yoga practice through Asana first. It has become the glorified form of the Yoga practice and many never moved deeper beyond that.
What is Yama?
Yama is broken down into 5 characteristics. For me, Yama is to live life Mindfully.
- Ahimsa: Non-Violence. It means to be kind, friendly and bring thoughtful consideration of other people and things . It implies that in every situation we should adopt an attitude of consideration and do no harm.
- Satya: To speak the Truth. In order to speak the truth, we must develop tact, finding the right time, occassions, words and way that is not harming when we speak the truth. Satya should not be in conflict with Ahimsa. Satya is the foundation of honest communication, the ground of building healthy relationship, and community.
- Asteya: Non-stealing. Non stealing not only includes not taking anything that has not been given with permissions, but also not taking other people’s time beyond what is given. This include demanding another’s attention when not freely given to us, that is in effect is stealing. Being late to a set up occasions is stealing time; concealing information from others is ‘stealing truth’ from that person.
- Brahmacharya – Sense control. It is mostly used in the sense of abstinence particularly in relationship to sexual activity. It does not imply celibacy. Practicing Brahmacharya means we use our sexual energy in a responsible way and not using it in ways that might harm others. In short, no ‘one night stand’ or those ‘no string attach’ type of sexual exchange.
- Aparigraha – Non grasping, non possesiveness. It implies to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy We should only take what we have earned, if we take more that is exploiting others. It also implies on letting go of our attachments to things and in a spiritual understanding, hoarding of things shows the lack of faith in God and in ourselves to profide for our future. In means also rather than hoarding to things excessively, maybe donate our extra abundance to others in need or give it away as a present to our loved ones.
As a practitioner, if we adhere to these moral virtues, it will contribute to healthier and happy relationship within self and the people around us. One of the many amazing yoga teacher I had the previleged to gained teaching from, Mark whitwell said, the one easy way to see if you have practiced well is to see the improvements in the quality of your life, meaning less conflict, better relationship with family and established supportive loving friendship.
What is Niyama?
Niyama is a caring mindful attitude we develop towards ourselves.
- Sauca – Purity. There is Outer and Inner aspect of Sauca. The outer simply means keeping ourselves clean, as simple as taking a shower!! Practicing Asana and Pranayama essentials for the inner Sauca. Asana tones the body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses lungs, oxygenated blood and purifies nerves. But more important than all of that is to cleanse the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, anger, lust, greed, pride.
- Santosa – Contentment. It is to be at peace within and finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties. The notion of acceptance that there is a purpose for everything – ‘to accept what happens’ being happy with what we have rather than being unhappy about what we don’t have.
- Tapas – Disciplined. It means cultivating a sense of self discipline, passion and courage in order to burn away impurities from the physical, mental and emotional level to pave our way to our full potential.
- Svadhyaya – Self study. It is to cultivate self-reflective consciousness. It means to Mindfully with intention find self-awareness in all of our activities, even in accepting our limitations. It is the art of studying ourselves, if we are willing to look at behaviors, motivations, and strategies we habitually use to maintain our own self-image, we can use svadhyaya to pierce through the veil that this self-image creates and into the nature of our own essential being.
- Isvarapranidhana – ‘lay all your actions at the feet of God.’ It is the contemplations on God (Isvara) in order to become attuned to God and His will. My beloved brother and teacher, Andrei Ram said Ishvara Pranidhana is an attitude of devotions that you carry with you, to be able to see the Divinity in all so that we are in perpetual communion with God.
Those of us Yoga Practitioner or Yoga Teacher, when was the last time we take a really good look at our life to see if we are in alignment with the Yamas and Niyamas, do we honestly self evaluate ourselves to check if we ‘walk the talk’ because Spiritual Ego is one of the worse Ego that could be develop when one practices wrongly. As a responsible teacher/practitioner must make sure that we do not lead other practitioner astray by not keeping to our own yamas/niyamas.
In this life, we cannot avoid conflict, we can only care to dissolve them in the best possible way. Life tied onto a higher purpose lead to a fulfilling life. If Yoga is your path and you call yourself a Yoga Practitioner or Yoga Teacher and yet you thrive on drama and conflict; your partner is somebody else’s husband/wife or your you cheat on your partner and choose to hide that information for fear of the consequences, it doesn’t matter how many advance poses you can do, you are not a yoga practitioner, you do not practice yoga. As without the Yamas and Niyamas, those poses are just acrobatics.
As a serious practitioner, it is encourage to utilize the eight limbs of yoga as a blueprint to conduct a mindful actions that lead to peaceful life. It is encourage to practice our yoga on the mat and off the mat in alignment with the Yamas and Niyamas. As for me, I am not at all an expert on this, as a practitioner, there are days that I am clearly doing good and all is well but there are many others when I completely thrown out of it. Everyday, I reflect on my days and actions have I done my best in keeping to those guidelines, if I haven’t, I will aim to do better and what I have witness so far, when I do well off the mat with Yamas/Niyamas, poses I struggle with changed as well and I can go deeper into my asanas. Everything is connected, you can’t do one without the other. Ultimately, Yoga is not to achieve fit muscular body, that comes as an inevitable outcome from the practice, but the ultimate goal is to achieve complet Samadhi, Complete Surrender to the Supreme -Ishvara Pranidhana.
Share with me how you practice Yamas and Niyamas in your life and how they have helped you cultivate a better peaceful life.