Yoga’s Forgotten Ethical Practise – Yama and Niyama
Astanga refers to the eight limbs of yoga, a fact that is often overlooked in the modern practise of yoga. The idea behind the eight limbs is that when all are practised, they provide a practical guideline to living happily whilst we progress and grow internally, drawing our awareness and consciousness inwards to our internal self. The limbs enable the union between the individual self and universal consciousness and are as follows:
- Yama – social awareness and ethics.
- Niyama – personal ethics.
- Asana – postures, so that the body is flexible and strong and is not an obstacle in meditation.
- Pranayama – breathing.
- Pratyahara – withdrawing the mind from pursuit of thought leading to profound relaxation.
- Dharana – focus & concentration.
- Dhyana – meditation.
- Samadhi – complete absorption.
Whilst the limbs are not necessarily linear and can be worked simultaneously, to progress our body, mind and spirit, we must master the preceding limb to fully advance into the next limb. Commonly we see many modern yoga practitioners focussing only on the 3rd and 4th limbs, being the physical asanas and the pranayama, with little or no attention given to Yoga’s ethical practise which are the aspects of Yama and Niyama.
Yama is our awareness towards society and those with whom we must try to coexist in a peaceful manner; social ethics towards other people and peoples. It is the practise of developing healthy and harmonious relationships with others. Non-violence (ahimsa) is the first and foremost of the ethics. The other ethics are truthfulness (satya), honesty/non-stealing (asteya), moderation of the senses and self-restraint; proper use of our energy (brahmaccarya) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha). All are key aspects to be understood and mastered by the yoga practitioner.
Niyamas are our personal ethics, self-observation and self-discipline (tapas) which we need to live a balanced life. In developing positive habits and personal ethics we can properly take care of ourselves in terms of body (sauca), mind (svadhyaya) and the external environment. In so doing we achieve a sense of calm and inner contentment (santosa) as the associated physical, mental and spiritual (isvarapranidhana) stimulation all contribute to our personal growth.
Without giving sufficient attention and awareness to these essential foundations of Yama and Niyama, we cannot fully grow and progress through the other limbs of yoga as we are still too distracted by the external world and the distractions of satisfying our five senses.
Lisa Harte – Tirisula 200 TT Blog 3 – 24th May 2017