Yesterday, I talked about Eight Limbs of yoga practice as outlined by Patanjali. These are often referred to as steps in yoga practice, but the term “steps” implies that one comes before another, as grades in school. Finish this step, then you can move on to the next. Really, I don’t think that is accurate. These eight limbs are not meant to be taken one after the other, but rather practiced simultaneously.
That said, I will take them in the order they are listed here, simply for convenience. The first two limbs are the yamas and the niyamas, and are often collectively referred to as the ethical guidelines for practice. Yamas are translated as “abstinence” or “restraints” and as such, are usually listed in the negative – what *not* to do. The Niyamas are translated as observances, and I have sometimes seen them referred to as responsibilities, or moral obligations.
Here are the five yamas:
While they are commonly listed in the negative, I think it is helpful to look at the flip side of what that means as well. For example, Ahimsa could be seen as kindness, Satya as telling the truth, Asteya as integrity and honesty, Brahmacharya as moderation, and Aparigraha as generosity, or letting go.
Here are the five Niyamas:
Saucha = purity
Samtosha = contentment
Tapah = accepting but not causing pain (sometimes translated as heat or perseverance)
Svadhyaya = study of self, study of spiritual books
Isvara pranidhanani = surrender to God, Self-surrender
Together, the yamas and the niyamas make up the ethical guidelines or virtues that are the underlying philosophy in yoga practice. It is worth noting that these show up in the Yoga Sutras in the second book – entitled The Portion on Practice. Ahem. Not the portions on contemplations, accomplishments, or absoluteness. No… these are part of our practice. Ah. Yes, yoga PRACTICE.