YOGA PHILOSOPHY(yama/niyama)

Kim Hyunjoo
The reason that I started to do yoga was just for the purpose of physical exercises like losing weight and getting toned, because my body was totally changed after giving birth. However, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, YOGA is not just for physical practice. It also contains moral and meditative practices. Yoga is divided into 8 limbs. He recommends YAMA and NIYAMA for moral/ethical practices, ASANA, PRANAYAMA and PRATYAHARA for physical practices and DHARANA, DHYANA and SAMADHI for meditative ones. These 8 limbs are ‘the basis of Ashtanga Yoga practices that guides yogis to Samadhi’. Among the 8 limbs, YAMA and NIYAMA refer to 10 ethical, self-disciplined rules of yoga to live by.
YAMA is a list of 5 Don’ts that you should follow as a yoga practitioner in living at peace with your external world and other people. First, it is Ahimsa, which can be interpreted as ‘non-violence’. Beyond physical abuse to all living beings, your words and actions as well as your thoughts should not injure others. The second rule is ‘no lying’ (Satya). This precept is on the premise that what is unspoken as well as what is spoken should be truthful. Third, the Yoga Sutra says, ‘Do not steal’ (Asteya). Patanjali says that if you try to distant yourself from jealous instincts and great desire for what you do not have, ‘all good things will come to you’. The fourth one in the 5 Yamas in yoga is Brahmacharya. It is related to ‘sexual suppression’ in the old texts, but these days, rather than ‘No Sex’, it tends to be interpreted as controlling the energy for sexual desires. That is, you are advised to re-allocate ‘the energy’ more wisely and use it for something more spiritual. The last yama is Aparigraha, which means ‘non-possession, non-grasping or non-greediness’. The path of practising Aparigraha is to eat what is enough to maintain your body and not to seek the pleasures of materials or senses more than necessary.
NIYAMA consists of 5 self-restraint virtues you should have within your personal world. The first Niyama is Saucha. It requires you to keep your body and mind clean through healthy food and asana. Of course, it means physical hygiene, too. The second Niyama is Santosha which is interpreted as contentment. You are advised to accept what you have and who you are and to feel happy about what you get. The third one of the 5 NIYAMAs is Tapas, which is a practice to train the will-power inside you by trying to live a basic, self-disciplined life. Fourthly, the Yoga Sutra suggests that you can be led to the union with the Divine by looking into yourself, constantly asking who you are and studying yourself (Swadhyaya). The last of the NIYAMAs is Ishwara-pranidha which means ‘commitment to Lord’ in the Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra says that illumination or great happiness comes from total surrender to, and a love for the God(Lord).
None of the Yamas and Niyamas listed above sounds easy to practice in a world where we are living comfortably and surrounded by too many material things. How could I practice the Yamas and the Niyamas? How can I incorporate the Yamas and the Niyamas into my life? What kinds of influences does a self-disciplined life have on me?
When I was a yoga beginner student 2 years ago, my fingers couldn’t even touch my toes. In contrast, some other students beside me were performing asana perfectly and also they were strong enough to hold a plank pose longer than me, which made me feel very frustrated. Holding a pose for 30secs to 1min and stretching beyond my limits seemed like a torture to me. I wanted to give up, but instead of surrendering myself to the moment’s pain and struggle, I just accepted my limitation and decided to keep going to the yoga studio on a regular basis. Now, I can fold forward fully with my palms on the floor. Of course, there are still many asanas challenging and painful to me. However, I believe if I just endure the pain and struggle on the mat and practice every day, someday it will come to me. I think that this is the TAPAS that Yoga Sutra says.
Before learning Yoga theory, I could not even think about incorporating what is happening on the mat into my real life, but now I think I can. Three years or so have passed since I tried to purchase ‘animal-free’ food or products. As a vegetarian, at the beginning, I needed ‘alternative food’ that could make up the pleasure of eating meat. So, I came to be indulgent in junk food such as chocolate, chips or ice-cream. At that time, I used to be a greedy eater, which made me feel very depressed and guilty. However, my eating habit has been changing slowly. Now, I just try to eat enough to feel comfortable. I do not crave for junk food anymore. I think that constant efforts and endurances on the mat might help me train my mind and all my senses to control food craving.
Since I am a vegetarian, whenever I purchase some products, I always check the labels on them, which sometimes bothers me. While I am learning yoga, I push myself through beyond my ability to get the correct yoga alignment. Meanwhile, some muscle strain or muscle pull on my arm and wrist occurs as a result of overusing the muscles or improper postures. Since I started the 200hr teacher training yoga course, I have tried to get up at 5 a.m. every morning. Whenever the alarm rings in the early morning, I want to turn it off and go back to sleep. And I did that quite often. However, I am still trying. I am trying to be a real vegan. I am trying to practice and improve my yoga poses even when I’m experiencing some pain. Some people might say that I am too harsh on myself and they might question me whether I am happy with my strict lifestyle. However, I am lighter and healthier than when I was a meat-eater. I am getting stronger than before. I am happier than before. Also, my attitudes toward the people I love and my life have been changing little by little. I cannot explain in detail, but I can feel it. Yoga has transformed me physically and mentally, and it is still having an impact on my life. I believe someday I will get to the ‘Samadhi’, the state of union with God within myself, if I practice not only Yamas and Niyams but also the other 6 limbs constantly. My journey to yoga is not over yet. It’s just the beginning.
200hr Yoga Teacher Training Manual Book (a lecture on the Yoga Sutras) (a lecture on the Yoga Sutras)

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