In the first few posts about yoga I talked to you about the physical side of yoga, but let’s not forget that yoga signifies body, mind and spirit. Only when you focus on these three planes will you achieve balance, and balance is what will lead you to harmony and well-being.
For most people, yoga is simply a form of physical exercise. For Yogis, however, this discipline encompasses not only a physical practice but en entire way of living. With this practice you will start to learn the art of breathing, meditating, and the kriyas…as well as your most philosophical side.
In order to learn a little more about this discipline, you’ll need to read a few classic texts, like Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. It addresses these questions and outlines that the physical part is only a very small part of the path to whole development.
The eight Sutra steps
Until the Sutras, yoga was transmitted orally from teacher to disciple. Patanjali complied all of these teachings in a collection of 195 aphorisms and he set the bases for classic yoga. Through these declarations yoga’s beginnings were described, along with a system of 8 steps (progressive and successive) which allows one to reach the ultimate goal in yoga: the Union that we previously talked about.
The first steps refer to the ethics of yoga. They are a group of moral guidelines that outlines a Yogi’s conduct (towards others and towards oneself). They are summarized in 5 yamas, or universal precepts, and five niyamas, or individual precepts.
The yamas accentuate one’s obligations towards others, which are: Ahimsa, or that of not causing harm. This may be one of the most commonly repeated, and you’ve already heard me talk about how it is fundamental that we treat each other and ourselves friendly (for example, by not injuring oneself in class). Satya, which is to tell the truth, which refers to the relationship between wht we think, what we say, and what we do, always done with the objective of not hurting others. Asteya, or not taking posession of or depriving someone of something. Brahmacarya, or contentment. Aparigraha, or that of no-greed, as the accumulation of material goods could be dangerous. These last four only support what the first yama points out.
The niyamas focus on obligations towards oneself, which are: Shaucha, or purity of body and mind. Purity of the body implies eating pure foods. Caring for your body not only means keeping it in good shape but also caring for your diet. The majority of Yogis are vegetarian, but you don’t need to be. Simple eat a balanced diet that provides the energy you need from day to day. Regarding purity of mind, this means having pure thoughts which is intimately related to the principles that we were talking about earlier. Samtosha, or being content with the situation you are living at that moment, as it is perfect as it is. The idea is that you should not have anything in excess, nor should you need anything. Tapah, or discipline, but not from the point of obligation, but rather that of passion for what you do. This will make it easier to stick to a stable discipline. Sva’dhya’ya, or the study of topics related to development.
This ethical attitude will help you face the other steps with another perspective. Now is the time to look inside what we all know best:
Asanas (postures) following Patanjali’s instructions, are to be firm and stable. This is achieved by having a good mental state of mind (which is also firm and stable) and by reducing (or suppressing) the effort at reaching it. This is the only way to attain the perfect asana.
Once you have incorporated these steps into your practice you will be able to perform Pranayama, or controlled breathing. This will help you to have more energy, vitality, and control over your emotions.
You could also use Pratyahara, or control of the senses. By closing your senses off from external stimuli you can find peace.
The last few steps refer to meditation. This is the essence of this lifestyle, along with Dharana, or concentration, Dhyana, or meditation, and lastly, Samadhi, or the awakening of consciousness.
Incorporating all of these aspects into your day to day is personal, and each person must decide to do it, and when to do it. Yoga is a style of living, and each person must decide to adopt it or not.