The Context of Your Reality In Your Family, Community, Society, The World & Self
Yoga is not just about posing (by any possible definition and/or connotation of the word).
Yoga is a well-studied and well-practiced universally applicable 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, body, and spirit 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 the Self-Realization/actualization of her/his divine aspect.
Asana, or, more specifically, just the physical stretches aspect of Asana practice (which is the limb of the Eight-Limbed Path that most people have associated with Yoga in Western society), is only one aspect of this all-encompassing science.
In order to gain the full benefits of Yoga, one has to be devoted to practicing all eight required limbs of the science, without exception, and be willing to make their practice a life-long endeavor. These eight limbs include Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi.
Today, we will focus on the first two limbs of the Eight-Limbed 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 of being that has a balanced and healthy relationship with the “external world.”
Yamas (Your Code Of Conduct): The values, ethics, and restraints that you choose to abide by to transcend the tendencies and impulses of your animal nature. 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 basic Yamas, however, will always include:
- Non-violence (Ahimsa)– Nonharmful actions, words, thoughts, and intentions (Karmas) toward others and toward oneself. This includes non-judgment and taking care not to carelessly create damage to others’ (or your) physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual well-being.
- Truthfulness (Satya)– Lying (or believing in lies), gossiping, spreading rumors, projecting negative/hateful fantasies/imagined stories and so forth about others and /or onto others/the world, etc, are all obviously behaviors that are outside of truthfulness. This Yama also involves being honest with others and with oneself in a non-violent way that does not withhold the full reality of a situation or hide or distort facts in order to avoid conflict, in order to get something, in order to manipulate a situation (or someone’s mind), or in order to not go against the status quo for acceptance, comfort, or anything else.
- Self-control (Brahmacharya)– Having self-restraint over external and internal drives. This includes possessing the knowledge and capacity to avoid overindulgence in all areas of life, from overindulgence in foods, to overindulgence in sex, drugs, consumerism, emotions, and other (addicting) things, behaviors, and so forth. This is self-mastery that begins with restraint and conscious choice over thoughts, words, and actions before one is naturally balanced regarding sensual objects, the pull of the senses, and one’s animal urges/tendencies.
- Non-stealing (Asteya)– Not taking, or taking on, things that do not belong to you, this includes objects as well as intangible things such as other people’s time, energy, 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. Non-greed also includes not “taking gifts,” which essentially ensures that you are free from transactional or obligatory (explicitly or implicitly stated, or “good” or “bad”) ties to others over tangible or intangible objects.
Niyamas (Your Actions in Support of Your Personal Code of Conduct): Habits and ethical practices that support the values and morals that you choose/are called to live by, and from those gained in your Yama practice. These include:
- Self-purification (Shaucha)– Cleanliness of body (in every sense and beyond the surface–this is not mainly about showering/taking a bath), mind (especially down to intentions), words (spoken to yourself in private and/or to others), thoughts (and their accompanying emotions), actions (seen and “unseen”), and purity in all other aspects of your self/Self. This goes beyond the superficial meaning of purity and cleanliness to mean purity of being. Cleanliness from false ego-identity, for example, is vital here.
- Contentment (Santosha)– Cultivating happiness/balance within oneself on a consistent basis. Practicing being content/satisfied with what is (no matter what form it shows up in), and not just thinking happy thoughts on a superficial level (superficial positivity) is what truly defines this practice.
- Self-discipline (Tapa)– Accepting but not causing pain. These are your vows to remain focused on your True and higher work, and on your inner development. It is your commitment to do the hard work that is necessary to fulfill your obligations to achieve your higher goals for yourself and others (without attachment) 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-higher-minded people (Satsang), books, and so forth (but filtering and analyzing these learnings through one’s own being/cultivated/discerning lens of understanding in order to not be led astray). The ultimate goal of self-study is to gain an understanding of self from “everything,” and specifically 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/greater Truth. Let 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 your work on this journey to Realization/Liberation is done internally, and Yama and Niyama practice clearly illustrate what is required as the basic foundation of your practice. These two limbs ultimately create a bedrock of strong inner fortitude and alignment 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. This sets the right conditions for a deeper knowledge of the Self that goes beyond the distortions accumulated from being born into societies and accumulating distortions and animal/social conditionings in relationship to others and the external world.