Very often, particularly in the west yoga has come to mean the physical postures associated with contortions of the body. Yoga is much more.
The term “ashta” means eight and “anga” means limbs. Also the word Yoga comes from the sanskrit term to bind to join
The eight part or eight limbs refer to a gradual guided path as taught by Master Patanjali. These range from moral and ethical guidelines, to physical postures, breath modulation, techniques to build focus and awareness and recommendations to create internal and external states of meditative realisations.
The First Step: Ethics ( YAMA) :
Ahimsa is often translated as non killing but it goes beyond, non harming oneself or others – be it your yoga practice or relationships is the positive virtue we are trying to cultivate.
Truthfulness is often exalted in many traditions including yoga. Being true to where you are in your practice and to others helps purify the mind and keeps it happy.
Non Stealing: apart from its obvious connotation, it could also include things like showing up on time – so you aren’t “stealing” another person’s time and so on.
Chastity: Being one with divinity or staying abstention from sexual activity is the classical yoga teaching. For the married yogi(ni) this rule is relaxed. In tantric texts there is radical sex positive approach, never hedonistic though.
Greedlessness: Renunciation of those elements which cause us to be needlessly attached because we suffer when they are taken away from us.
The above five are listed by Master patanjali and form the first limb – These constitute the mahavrata or great vow of integrity – the foundation on which the other seven arebuild upon. Five more are listed in other yoga texts:
Kindness or compassion ( daya)
Uprightness ( arjava)
Patience ( kshama)
Steadfastness ( Dhritti)
Moderation in diet (Mitaahara)
Five keys to self restraint:
The five are( by now you are used to lists within lists!) called Niyamas.
Purity: External purity : baths, massages to keep the physical body clean
Internal purity cultivating the mind to a state that becomes a worthy vessel for training by staying away from unwholesome thoughts.
Being clean is not synonymous with slathering make-up anywhere in the texts but if it makes you feel good,a dab of lavender oil isn’t harmful at all, particularly to your fellow yogis in class! Shaucha
Contentment: It is the opposite of what urban consumer culture would have us do- Buy more more and more.
Staying happy where you are, with what you have, is the first step to renunciation. ( Now, do I really need the 64th pair of shoes?) In the yoga practice staying where you are and enjoying practice, for example in janushirshasana the classic forward bend, many of us aspire to touch the toes – now what if we really give up that competition with ourselves? Just stay where we are… and be happy? Santosha!
Austerity or Tapas: No to be confused with the spanish Tapas! Physical rigour – putting oneself through strong continuous practice just like melting gold to create a beautiful ornament is Tapas. This does not mean going on fad diets or needless self-torture.
Study or Swaadhyaya is comprised of two sanskrit terms : swa or own , and adhyaya or study / going into.
When you take time off to study it is no longer an intellectual reading books / Facebook but it becomes your wisdom, your knowledge very much integrated into your very being. Meditative recitations and japa also come under this umbrella of swaadhyaya.
Surrender to the Divine: Being wrapped in the cocoons of “I, Me, Mine” isolates us from opening our own heart.
Being open grace as well as a connect with our inner most higher Self is the meaning of devotion. ( look up bhakti yoga for more)
Kindness and good heartedness are often perceived as a vulnerability or weakness; especially in the modern urban environment. The paradox is that we firmly believe in kindness as a value, but often end up doing the exact opposite when faced with personal situations that challenge our values.
In the yoga tradition there is special emphasis on cultivating kindness through the practice of giving.
Donation of food, medicine, knowledge and protecting / helping someone who is overcome by fear are considered to be four keys to accumulate good karma in the eastern traditions.
Giving ( or Dāna in Pali and Sanskrit) has been defined in traditional texts as the action of relinquishing the ownership of what one considered or identified as one’s own, and investing the same in a recipient without expecting anything in return.
Compassion towards all beings seems a tall order, but each of us can always begin where we are! 🙂