The Eightfold Path of Yoga-Part 1: Limbs One And Two | Yamas and Niyamas

The Context of Your Reality In Your Family, Community, Society, The World & Self

Yoga is not just about posing (in all possible definitions and connotations of the word).

Yoga is a well-studied and well-practiced way of living and existing that exercises, and works with, all aspects of one’s being, from the physical to the mental, and everything in between.

It is a science of the mind and body that empowers its practitioners with more elevated self-expressions if these practitioners are diligent in their work and devoted enough to their learning and self-study to work toward the ultimate aim of freeing her/himself from the ongoing sufferings of life through self-realization/actualization of her/his divine self.

Asanas, or stretches, which is the limb of the Eightfold path that most people have associated with Yoga in Western society, is only one aspect of this all-encompassing practice.

In order to gain the full benefits of Yoga, one has to be devoted to practicing all eight required limbs of the science. These limbs include Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.

Today, we will focus on the first two limbs of the Eightfold Path of Yoga and their individual components in order to get a clearer idea of where our practice actually begins, in the mind and conscience; specifically in the cultivation of an internal state that has a balanced and healthy relationship with the external world.

Limb One:

Yamas (Our Code Of Conduct): The values, morals, and restraints that we choose to abide by. These are meant to be customized to your individual expression based on your internal compass and the context of your existence. You can add additional and more specific values to this limb in order to underscore each required aspect. Your Yama will include:

  • Non-violence (Ahimsa)– Nonharmful actions, words, thoughts, and intentions toward others and toward oneself. This includes non-judgement and taking care not to carelessly create damage to others’ (or your) physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual well-being.
  • Truthfulness (Satya)– Being honest with others and with oneself in a non-violent way that also does not withhold full reality or hide or distort facts in order to avoid conflict, manipulate a situation (or someone’s mind), or in order to not go against the status quo.
  • Self-control (Brahmacharya)– Having self-restraint against external and internal drives. This includes avoiding overindulgence in all areas of life from overindulgence in foods, to overindulgence in sex, drugs, consumerism, and other addicting things.
  • Non-stealing (Asteya)– Not taking, or taking on, things that do not belong to you, this includes objects as well as intangible things such other people’s as time, freedom, happiness, peace, dignity, rights, and so forth.
  • Non-greed/non-attachment (Aparigraha)– Not being attached to things, people, outcomes, and so forth, or hoarding things that one does not need, fully appreciate, or have use for.

Limb Two:

Niyamas (Our Actions in Support of our Personal Code of Conduct): Habits and ethical practices that support the values and morals that we choose as your Yamas. These include:

  • Self-purification (Shaucha)– Cleanliness of body, mind, words, thoughts, actions and all other aspects of your self/Self. This goes beyond the superficial meaning of purity and cleanliness to mean purity of being. Cleanliness of false ego-sense of self for example is vital here.
  • Contentment (Santosha)– Cultivating happiness/balance within oneself on a consistent basis. Practicing being happy, and not just thinking happy thoughts on a superficial level.
  • Self-discipline (Tapa)– Accepting but not causing pain. These are your vows to remain focused on your work and self-development. It is your commitment to do the hard work that is necessary to fulfill your obligations and achieve your goals to yourself and to others in your vocations, relationships, and self/spiritual development.
  • Self-study (Swadhyay)– This is not only about working on diligently observing and understanding oneself from a place of simply and neutrally “looking” inward in order to gain knowledge about oneself. It is also about studying the Self on all levels based on contemplation, observation, meditation, learnings passed on from teachers, scholars, enlightened beings, the company of like-minded people (Satsang), books, and so forth (but filtering and analyzing these learnings through one’s own being/cultivated/discerning lens of understanding). The ultimate goal of self-study is to gain an understanding of self from within through meditation and contemplation so that you can discover your own answers about who you are.
  • Devotion to a higher path/practice (Ishwara Pranidhana)– Surrendering your will to a higher power/the divine. Letting go of your ego and all of your attachments so that you can practice full trust in your spirit/higher expression and devote yourself fully to it. It is full devotion to your spirit and to the spiritual path.

These first two limbs of Yoga are powerful reminders that much of our work is done internally, and they clearly demonstrate that the basic foundation of our practice is to ultimately create a bedrock of strong inner work that is necessary to be a person who generates good karma (actions that have a cause and effect) in the world from a place of deeper and more meaningful awareness and understanding.

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