Here in our Western society, most of us understand the word “Yoga” as being a type of exercise that involves holding various poses designed to stretch the body. And yes, the physical (asana) practice of yoga is an essential component, but it is actually just one of the components of the greater ancient art/science/philosophy of yoga known as “The Eight Limbed Path”.
The philosophy behind the path is that through the continuous practice and observance of the eight limbs we achieve true alignment of mind, body, and spirit; reaching a state of enlightenment or inner peace, and harmony with the whole.
The Yamas make up the first limb of Pantanjali’s “Eight Limbed Path of Yoga”. There are five principles that make up the Yamas as the standards for our behavior in relation to people and the earths other inhabitants.
Ahimsa– (aah·him·suh)- Non-Violence
Satya– (saa·ht·y·uh)- Truthfulness
Asteya– (aah ·stay· uh)- Non-Stealing
Brahmacharya– (braah·maa·shar·y·uh)- Self -Control
Aparigraha (aah·pari·graa·haa)- Greedlessness
Let us now take a deeper look into these five principles…
Ahimsa (aah·him·suh) is the principle of non-violence in our interactions with others. We should consider this as being mindful not to cause another individual harm by our actions or words.
Satya (saa·ht·y·uh) is the principle of truthfulness. We should not lie or misrepresent others or ourselves.
Asteya (aah ·stay· uh) is the principle of non-stealing. We should not take what does not belong to us. This principle can be applied as physically not taking things from another, as well as not taking credit for someone else’s work or ideas and then labeling them as our own.
Bramacharya (braah·maa·shar·y·uh) is the principle of self-control. This is where we practice controlling the fluctuations of the mind, and our impulses to act on emotional and physical urges.
Aparigraha (aah·pari·graa·haa) is the principle of greedlessness. We should practice living in a way that we use our resources is a way that is not wasteful, light and without excess material items that inflate our ego. We should also practice moderation in our actions and not fulfilling unnecessary desires.
The Niyamas make up the second limb of the“Eight Limbed Path of Yoga”. They are the personal observances, actions, and attitudes to be practiced within ourselves to cultivate non-attachment, and to overcome the illusion of separation from the whole.
The five observances are:
Saucha (sow-ch-ahh) – Purity/Cleanliness
Santosha (san-toe-sh-ahh) – Contentment
Tapas (tah-pahh-s) – Austerity
Svadhayaya (s-vahd-hi-yah-yah) – Self Study
Isvara Pranidanah (iss-var-ahh prod-in-ahh-ahh) – Devotion to God
Now let us take a deeper look into the five observances…
Saucha (sow-ch-ahh) – Cleanliness or purity of the body and mind. Living a clean lifestyle. Physically this is the practice of keeping our bodies healthy by avoiding toxic substances, and keeping our lives in order by attending to our work and our environment to create literal cleanliness, tidiness, and organization. As a mindfulness practice it is attending to our thoughts and working to let go of negative thinking patterns.
Santosha (san-toe-sh-ahh) – Contentment, or accepting life on life’s terms. In practice we accept that we can not control the the future or the actions of others, nor can we change the past. We learn to live in the present moment with the wisdom that what we can control is our own thoughts and actions. The fruits of any other intention are attachment to desire, fear, and worry that separate our minds from peace.
Tapas (tah-pahh-s)- Austerity, zeal, and self discipline. The literal interpretation of tapas is that which generates heat. It pertains to how we approach our practice and observances. We should approach our practice with zeal and self discipline. It is holding the intention to approach our spiritual path and personal growth with fiery determination.
Svadhayaya (s-vahd-hi-yah-yah) – Self-study and self-reflective awareness. It is the practice of learning to understand ourselves by watching our thoughts and actions constantly. In this process we discover who we are. Studying sacred writings and reading inspirational literature is part of this process and leads us to evaluate our thoughts/actions as aids or impediments to union with God. When we identify an impediment, then we can work to change it.
Isvara Pranidanah (iss-var-ahh prod-in-ahh-ahh) – Devotion to God. This is the practice of abandoning the attachment to our egos and surrendering to union with The Divine. Full commitment to God in heart and mind. Cultivation of unfaltering faith.