Yoga Philosophy – A Basic Guide Into the Yamas and Niyamas For Yoga Beginners
If you have been practicing yoga for a while you will soon realise that underneath all the physical poses and exercises, lies another layer of yoga that underpins your practice.
Known as yoga philosophy or The Eight Limbs of Yoga, this aspect of yoga provides you with clear guidelines on how to live a balanced and healthy life, as well as insights into the workings of your mind.
Most yoga students, especially those in the West are aware of the yoga exercises or asanas and pranayama, breathing exercises. However, did you know that asanas and pranayama are an integral part of Hatha and Raja Yoga?
Hatha Yoga refers to the physical postures and pranayama whilst Raja Yoga explores in more detail the spiritual mind-body connection. Hatha and Raja Yoga are more commonly known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga and form the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga form the ethical and philosophical foundation of your yoga practice. According to Patanajali, in his Yoga Sutras, yoga consists of eight limbs which he called Ashtanga Yoga. Each limb has its own identity yet still forms part of the whole system known as yoga.
The Eight Limbs or Steps of Yoga are:
1. Yama (a set of social codes for communal ethical living)
2. Niyama (guidelines for personal conduct and behaviour)
3. Asana (yoga postures)
4. Pranayama (breath control)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal and control of the senses)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (enlightenment, self-realisation)
In addition, the Yamas and Niyamas are further broken down into 5 specific guidelines which give detailed explanations to guide you through your yoga journey, which are as follows:-
Yama. The Yamas deal with universal social and moral observations and set out guidelines to encourage universal positive behaviours. The Yamas are:
1. Ahimsa – Compassion and non-violence towards all beings, including animals.
2. Satya – truthfulness, speaking your truth in thoughts, words and behaviour. Basically being honest and kind.
3. Asteya – Non-stealing and being generous with your thoughts and actions.
4. Brahmacharya – Self restraint, generally Brahmacharya refers to restraint of the sexual energy, however in its broadest sense, Brahmacharya means self-discipline and moderation in all areas of life.
5. Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness and non-greed. The ability to share and to have freedom from desire. For example, not to take bribes or unasked for gifts.
The Niyamas are more personal observations and relate to actions which you, as an individual are encouraged to do. The five Niyamas are:
1. Shauca – Cleanliness, keeping yourself and immediate environment clean and tidy.
2. Samtosha – Contentment, being satisfied and accepting of your immediate situation; the ideal behind Samtosha is to allow yourself to be happy and appreciate all the blessings and tribulations in your life, yet at the same time to strive towards spiritual enlightenment.
3. Tapas – Relates to self-discipline; the ability to stay focused and maybe go without certain possessions in order to grow, develop and care for yourself and others,.e.g. Tapas could relate to a child giving up sweets for a period of time and giving that money instead to a local charitable cause.
4. Svadhyaya – self study and observation of your thoughts, words and actions. It includes regular spiritual discussions and studying spiritual, philosophical literature in order to gain a richer understanding of life. It includes the ability to be reflective and introspective so that you get to know yourself on a deeper level, which helps to create clarity in your thoughts and behaviours. The more you know yourself the easier it is for you to communicate openly and honestly your desires.
5. Ishvarapranidhana – Refers to devotion to God. To constantly be aware of the sacredness of life and to hold reverence for all being.
As you can see the Yamas and Niyams offer you a set of highly thought of social and personal guidelines to consider as you live your life. Yoga is about balance, striving to obtain self-realization whilst accepting that at any one time you are giving your best and doing your best.
Enjoy the journey. If you wish to discuss or find out more about how relevant the Yamas and Niyamas are to you life, please feel free to contact us.