Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali Explored – The Ethics of Yoga

 

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:

 

  1. Yama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with society
  2. Niyama – ethical guidance concerning our dealings with ourselves
  3. Asana – the yoga postures
  4. Pranayama- breathing exercises, control of prana, our life force
  5. Pratyahra – sense withdrawal
  6. Dharana – a state of consciousness whereby the mind is directed to one point
  7. Dhyana – meditation
  8. 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:

 

  1. Ahimsa – non – violence
  2. Satya – truthfulness
  3. Asteya- not coveting others possessions
  4. Bramachamera – sexual restraint (not necessarily celebacy)
  5. Aparigraha- to not be greedy

 

The five Niyamas are:

 

  1. Sauca – cleanliness
  2. Samtosa – being content with what you have
  3. Tapas – keeping the body fit,  to create  heat in the body and thus cleanse it
  4. Svasdyaya – self inquiry
  5. 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?

Why Do You Practice Yoga and Does it Matter?

For me yoga is a spiritual practice with physical benefits.  I enjoy it and I practice daily because I have found it transformative.  The term spiritual draws differing responses from each person, depending on how they interpret the meaning of the word. For me its meaning is somewhat fluid, as it exhibits varying qualities at different times.  I like yoga and meditation as they allow me to discover things for myself rather than being told what it is about. Although I also like to read the teachings, it is the fruit of my own practice that leads to understanding.  I find that fairly scientific but it is also very subjective, as all my experiences are interpreted by me.  Yoga certainly helps me to see through these illusions though and to question and experience more of what actually is.  For me mostly I am just trying to get beyond my thoughts and experience more of what actually is, be it spiritual or physical.

 

People practice yoga for all sorts of reasons.  As a teacher, here are some of ones I have come across: inner calm, relaxation, spiritual, losing weight, recovering from injury, increasing flexibility, help with sport (cross-training), help with sleep, anxiety, stress, increasing general health and wellbeing.  The list of reasons is endless.  For me any reason is valid.  Yoga is great and I feel many people can benefit from it.  Yoga in the West is sometimes criticized for having lost its spirituality for the sake of commercialism.  Whilst reading the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with Christine and her students we discussed this as it is brought up a number of times in Swami Muktibodhananda’s commentary

 

“Originally, a sadhaka practiced hatha yoga  for many years to prepare himself for the awakening of kundalini, or in terms of raja yoga, for the experience of Samadhi.  However, in the last fifty years, with the revival of yoga in the West, it seems the real goal of yoga has been overlooked or even completely forgotten.  Today, yoga is generally practiced to improve or restore health, to reduce stress, to prevent the body from ageing or to beautify it.  Hatha yoga does fulfil these of objectives, but it should be kept in mind that they are certainly not the goal.” Swami Muktibodhananda, The Hatha Yoga Pradipika

 

While I think this is a valid point, I feel that more people are practicing and getting benefit from yoga than ever before.  I feel this is a good thing, whatever the reasons and generally people’s reason for practicing changes with time, I know mine has.  As a yoga teacher I try my best to make yoga accessible to the varying needs of my students.  I sometimes feel that this openness does mean that spirituality and philosophy are not discussed as much as they could be.  I make an effort to connect with my students and hope that they will feel they can talk to me about the deeper aspect of their practice.  I am always interested to hear about other people’s experiences.  I also hope that this blog serves to broaden what I share about yoga and what we discuss both here on the blog and in class and so far I am finding this to be the case.

 

If you are interested in exploring yoga philosophy I highly recommend readingThe Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, which contains a translation and commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras at the back.  It is a wonderful book and a great starting point for this vast subject.  If you are practicing yoga to get fitter or loose weight, good for you – you may find you get even more from it than you expected…

 

Why do you practice yoga?  Have your reasons changed since you started practicing yoga? What is your experience about the physical and spiritual aspects of your yoga practice?

Hatha Yoga Pradipika – Sharing the Reading Experience

Christine Weise teaches and practices Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, Florida.  She is also the author of the Blog, Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville, which I have read over the last few years.  I love the way that the practice of yoga connects people.  To me the wider Ashtanga Yoga Community is like a big family of people who do the same practice and as such go through similar experiences.  The internet enables us to connect and share our experiences with people who we may not otherwise meet.   Christine has decided to take this medium and use it so that we can share with her and her community, as they study the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika is thought to have been written in the fifteenth century C.E by and the Indian yogi Svatmara.  It is considered one of the classic texts of yoga.  I first read the Hatha Yoga Pradipika during my yoga teacher training course.  The version I read was translated by Brian Dana Akers, he original text is in Sanskrit.  At the time I liked this version  because it is a does not contain a commentary, just a translation, leaving me to think about the text in my own terms.   The text has four chapters asanas (physical yoga positions),  pranayama (control of prana/ energy), mudras (symbolic gestures) and samadhi (state of oneness).  It explores the spiritual and practical aspects of the practice of hatha yoga, some of the practices explained are extreme and if I remember correctly some of the benefits of the poses are  far out if taken literally.  As much as I like to explore these texts I always like to do so from the point of view of my own experience.  As the Buddha said

“Don’t blindly believe what I say. Don’t believe me because others convince you of my words. Don’t believe anything you see, read, or hear from others, whether of authority, religious teachers or texts. Don’t rely on logic alone, nor speculation. Don’t infer or be deceived by appearances.”

Picture of the book the Hatha Yoga Pradipika

Christine is doing a shared read of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika with her students and she opened this up to the wider yoga community via her blog.  The idea is that we all read a section of the book and then discuss it on Facebook.  I love to read books and the idea of sharing the experience with others appeals to me. Christine is reading a version of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Swarmi Muktibodhananda. This version contains a commentary as well as a translation. I decided to buy Swarmi Muktibodhananda’s version, so that I could delve into this text a little deeper and join in their discussions, I am also re-reading Brain Dana Akers version so that I can compare the translations. If you are interested in joining in that would be great, I intend to write about my journey with the book here on this blog as well as joining in the discussion on Ashtanga Yoga in Gainesville’s Facebook Page. There is no need to have any prior experience of yoga philosophy to join in, just an interest.

Have you read or are you interested in reading The Hatha Yoga Pradipika?