Monday, February 27, 2012

Yamas and Niyamas

As I mentioned at the bottom of the last post, the "yoga" we think of here in the west usually focusses on the physical postures we do in class, known in sanskrit as "asanas". Traditionally however, asanas are only oneof the eight limbs which make up yoga, and are by no means the only, or most important aspect of practicing yoga. In fact, in Pantanjali's "yoga sutras" - the philosophical texts behind yoga - asanas only make it to being the third "limb"!

(I should point out before we get into these that the eight limbs are not strictly hierarchical, instead each ..."is connected to one another through the central body of yoga, [and] just as a child's limbs grow in proportion to one another, whatever limb of practice we focus on inevitably causes the other limbs to grow as well"...)

That out of the way... what kicked asana's ass into third place???

Yamas and Niyamas!

So what are these mystical yogic beasts I hear you ask (probably not in those exact terms but whatevs). Yamas and Niyamas are the moral and ethical principles which guide us in living with others(yamas) and within ourselves (niyamas) in order to live a fulfilled and happy life. They direct us towards health, harmony, peace, satisfaction and well-being. Yay for them! 

They are not however a system of what is "right" and what is "wrong"; rather they are guidelines for living that came about after lifetimes of observation and learning by the sages of ancient India. They devised the Y + Ns not as a way of judging or controlling people (which unfortunately may be what now springs to mind when we think of such things); but as a way of sharing their knowledge of which behaviours lead to a life of health and well-being... and which ones didn't! They did all the hard work of living and observing and making mistakes so we don't have to. We can just get on with the living bit :)

Keep in mind that Y + Ns are suggestions, not rules. You certainly don't have to follow them to come to Broga class. But if you are interested in learning more about how to become happier and more at peace with yourself and the world around you I definitely recommend you read more and take anything on which resonates with you. I will go into them more deeply one-by-one, but as a start here is a list of our new friends...

The Yamas

These are behaviours which control any negative tendencies, and instead offer a more beneficial way of thinking and acting within society:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truth)
  • Asteya (non-stealing, or non-cheating)
  • Brahmacharya (self-restraint and moderation in all you do)
  • Aparigraha (non-coveting)

The Niyamas

These are actions which are necessary to achieve a state of balance and happiness within ourselves:

  • Sauca (Purity)
  • Santosha (Contentment)
  • Ishawar-Pranidhana (Surrender)
  • Tapas (Motivation/ Disclipline - our "inner fire")
  • Svadhyaya (Study, Observation of the Self)

As mentioned, in a series of upcoming blog posts I will go more in-depth into each of these concepts, so don't freak out and think you have to go crazy trying to do all these things at once! Or freak out because they just seem like a list of, let's face it, fairly boring and obvious rules :) The Yamas and Niyamas are far more subtle and enjoyable than that, and can lead to some pretty powerful insights to help you in life - trust me! *earnest and entreating yoga teacher face here* 

The first step to practicing the Y + Ns is simply awareness and observation - learning about the different behaviours and seeing if they could be applicable in your life. When I go through the Y + Ns individually I will suggest you try and practice each one for a week, and simply see what happens. Personally I find reminding myself of each concept and keeping them in mind while going about my daily life really helps. Do I always remember... hell, no! But do I try? Yes!!! 

And that's the best any of us can really do. You included Brogis!

Hope you found this interesting and are keen to learn more. There's more to helping make your lives healthier and happier than just making you stretch you know... :)


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