The yoga we practice in the Western world is, overall, primarily focused on postures. However, before its introduction to the West, yoga was something much broader—more a philosophy than an activity.
Patanjali was an Indian sage responsible for compiling the Yoga Sutras sometime prior to 400 CE. Within the Sutras, Patanjali detailed the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The first four limbs, one of which is asana (yoga postures), are more concrete and tangible actions, while the remaining four limbs are oriented to mental focus and meditation. But they are called limbs because, though they may appear different and seem more or less reachable, they are all part of the same tree: yoga, the union of body, mind and soul.
Patanjali’s first two limbs are daily living practices which some consider a foundation for asana. The five niyamas (blog to follow) are inner observances, while the five yamas look outward to how we interact with the inhabitants of the world around us:
- Ahimsa, non-violence, beckons us to be kind and not harm other beings whether by actions or words.
- Satya, truthfulness, beckons us to be honest and authentic and avoid deception or misrepresentation.
- Asteya, non-stealing, beckons us to take only what has been freely given or that we are competent to posses.
- Brahmacharya, right use of energy, beckons us to avoid excess, to rule our desires than be slave to them.
- Aparigraha, non-grasping, beckons us to let go of attachments and not attempt to clutch what cannot be held.
While the yamas are oriented to how we interact with the world around us, they are equally applicable to how we interact with ourselves: think about it, if you’re not truthful with yourself can you be genuinely truthful with another?
I’ll offer an overview of the niyamas in a following blog. You can also download the 10 Yamas & Niyamas card set, which offer a few of my own interpretations and applications. I designed them to be printed as cards so you can sort them, pin them, choose one as a daily focus, or use them in whatever way might be helpful to your yoga practice.