The Yoga Sutras were written by Patanjali approximately 500 to 200 years B.C. In the opening chant of Ashtanga Yoga we pay homage to Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are an excellent guide for anyone interested in delving deeper into yoga. Despite being written so long ago, they are very relevant to the modern day practitioner of yoga. Each time I have read them I have understood them on a different level as insights from my own practice and life help me to understand them more.
In The Yoga Sutras Patanjali defines the term Ashtanga. Asha mean eight and anga mean limbs. The yoga sutras are not specific to Ashtanga Yoga and are relevant to all that practice yoga and are interested in delving deeper.
The eight limbs are:
- Yama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with society
- Niyama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with ourselves
- Asana – the yoga postures
- Pranayama- breathing exercises, control of prana, our life force
- Pratyahra – sense withdrawal
- Dharana – a state of consciousness whereby the mind is directed to one point
- Dhyana – meditation
- Samadhi- a state of oneness
These eight limbs of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga are not necessarily practiced in that order. Usually practitioners of Hatha yoga, such as Pattabhi Jois’s Ashtanga yoga that I teach begin with asana, the physical postures. Actually the other limbs are also practiced within the physical yoga practice as we shall see when we explore them further.
This is a big topic and I would like to write a series of posts about Patanjali’s eight limbs in order to explore them in my own life and hopefully get some other people’s experiences. I would like to begin with the Yama and Niyama. In the next part I will discuss each of them in more depth, to begin with I will define each one.
The five yamas are:
- Ahimsa – non – violence
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya- not coveting others possessions
- Bramachamera – sexual restraint (not necessarily celebacy)
- Aparigraha- to not be greedy
The five Niyamas are:
- Sauca – cleanliness
- Samtosa – being content with what you have
- Tapas – keeping the body fit, to create heat in the body and thus cleanse it
- Svasdyaya – self inquiry
- Isvarapranidhana – surrender to god
Well my Sanskrit dictionary just grew! Most of these are self explanatory and are practiced by most people anyway. By practised, I mean we know these are things we should do, I am sure we all find it challenging sometimes, I know I do. We all get things wrong some of the time! However they are useful guidelines in which to reflect our choices. As discussed in the previous post about why people practice yoga, often people begin practicing yoga for purely physical reasons and then find that they are inadvertently changing for the better.
I will discuss each yama and niyama in more depth in future posts.
Do you think these ethical guidlines are useful?
Do you think they are challenging?