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The Yamas & Niyamas - Yoga's Ethical Foundation

It is said, that if you practice just one limb of Patanjali’s 8-limb yogic path in earnest, the other limbs will eventually find their way to you. I believe this, as it reflects my own path. I started practicing asana several years ago, just hoping to regain a little flexibility, strength and balance. I was not aware of the depth of Yoga. After class I was less reactive and more mindful of my actions. I also noticed other shifts happening, long after class was over. I was making better health choices, feeling more confident, calm and clear. Was this happening because of my weekly asana class? The other limbs were finding their way into my life and I needed to learn more.

Asana is number 3 of Patanjali’s 8 limb path. Here in the West, asana is usually our first encounter with Yoga. We are a fitness culture and asana fits perfectly into our world. But there is so much more to yoga - in addition to asana. I invite you to explore the other limbs. In doing so, your asana practice will take on deeper meaning.

Patanjali’s first two limbs are the foundation for the practice of Yoga, the Yamas and the Niyamas. Each of Yamas and Niyamas contain 5 principles and provide guidelines for living life to its fullest. Here’s the short list.

The Yamas are considered our social and moral code toward others.

  • Ahimsa - Non-harming

  • Satya - Truthfulness

  • Asteya - Non-stealing

  • Brahmacharya - Non-excess

  • Aparagraha - Non-possessiveness

The 5 Niyamas are our personal observations

  • Saucha - Purity

  • Santosha - Contentment

  • Tapas - Self-discipline

  • Svadhyaya - Self-study

  • Ishvara-pranidhana - Surrender

At first glance, most of these principles have a very easy understanding but there are multiple layers and depth to each Yama & Niyama. Let’s take a closer look at Astaya, non-stealing. Of course we shouldn’t steal. Easy enough, right? But when we contemplate the more subtle meaning of non-stealing we look beyond helping ourselves to the hotel towels. We might ask ourselves how we steal in our speech? In Deborah Adele’s book, “The Yamas & Niyamas, exploring yoga’s ethical practice” She give this example, “Perhaps someone is sharing their excitement about an upcoming trip. To which we immediately pipe in with a much more exotic trip that we have planned, or maybe we say that we have already been where they are going. Either way the conversation becomes about us and our trip and we have stolen their excitement about their own trip. We do the same with others successes. We can even do it with death. For example, if someone’s mother has passed, and we shift the conversation to our story of losing our own mother we are making the situation about us, instead of being present for the other person.” As you can see, stealing also happens in forms that are not as familiar to us.

Each one of the Yamas and Niyamas are filled with layers for us to explore.

If you are interested in diving in conversation, join me the end of the month at B.Inspired Yoga Studio in Batesville IN for an introductory workshop.

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