For some of us, the fundamentals of Yoga may include the following: don’t slam your mat down next to a stranger, wear deodorant to every class, make sure your “Om” is well pronounced, and for whoever sake, NEVER leave before Savasana! For others, the fundamentals of Yoga go much deeper. Did you know that thousands of years ago texts were written that outlined a guide for living, complimenting ones Yoga practice and acting as a user’s guide to union with Self and Spirit? Did you also know that Asana (or the poses we’re so familiar with) are only one of EIGHT parts of this guide?!
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a text roughly two thousand years old and is meant to be a guide for self-discovery that is studied over the course of a lifetime (or more). The first section of this guide is The Yamas (or “Restraints”). The Yamas can be compared to The Ten Commandments if that speaks more to your beliefs. They are a set of ethical practices that “transcend creed, country, age and time” as described in Light on Yoga by BKS Iyengar. Basically the Yamas are “the rules” for living a conscientious life in how you act with relation to those outside of yourself.
The second section is the Niyamas. Contrary to but right in line with the Yamas, the Niyamas (directly translated to “Observances”) act as five instructions to righteous living within ones’ self. These instructions begin with Saucha (Purity of ones’ mind and body) and end with Ishavara Pranidhana (Surrender to ones’ Higher Power), bringing us from sound physical form to sound spiritual connection. As you can probably tell, these teachings go far beyond Downward Facing Dog!
The Five Yamas are Ahimsa (Nonviolence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Nonstealing), Brahmacharya (Nonexcess), and Aparigraha (Nonpossessiveness).
The Niyamas are Saucha (Purity), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Self-Discipline), Svadhyaya (Self-Study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender).
Over the next few months we’ll be dancing our way through these standards for living a more enlightened, inspired, and free existence. As Deborah Adele says in her book The Yamas & Niyamas; Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, “…Yoga’s guidelines do not limit us from living life, but rather they begin to open life up to us more and more fully…” And all of these teachings come BEFORE we even get to Asana! After making friends with these wonderful guidelines, we begin to truly take on the challenge of “Yoga off the Mat”. Let’s get started!