A blog series on the 8 Limbs of Yoga…
As a review the eight limbs of yoga, as outlined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are as follows:
- Yamas (external/social ethics)
- Niyamas (internal ethics)
- Pranayama (breath work)
- Asana (physical postures)
- Pratyahara (turning inward/withdrawl of senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (connection to source/blissful union)
No one limb is any more important than the rest. Picture it like a tall tree, with its many limbs. Samadhi would be the top limb, pointing high up to the sky, but it cannot exist with all the other limbs that get you there.
The first of our limbs is the Yamas. They are considered the external, or social, ethics, how you treat the world around you. Consider the Yamas and the Niyamas (nee-yamas) like the 10 commandments, guidance for how to live your life. They are broken down into five different yamas, and five different Niyamas.
Our five Yamas are as follows:
Fun to pronounce, right? Remember yoga’s original language is Sanskrit.
Ahimsa starts off our learning process with the very basic thing we should all strive far; consider Ahimsa as the very original hypocritic oath: first do no harm. Not just non-violence, it is non-harming. This is the reason that many yogis practice veganism or vegetarianism. First do no harm, to the earth, to other beings, to yourself. It is non-harming in actions, words, or thoughts. And in this day and age, it’s a toughy for many of us. Keeping a positive attitude is ground zero, it’s assuming the best in others, and it is assuming that often it is better to be kind than it is to be right.
Satya is truthfulness. If you are like me, your first thought was just how this could be in conflict with Ahimsa. Being truthful is not always kind. Approach Satya with the attitude of “it is always better to be honest”. However, the truth does not always require you to be brutal with your honesty. Satya also carries with it an element of respectfulness; respect yourself enough to be honest and true with your word, respect others enough to be honest and true with your words, deeds, and thoughts. And when there is conflict in this, remember sometimes it is better to be silent; if you have nothing nice to say, say nothing at all.
Asteya is your Yama of non-stealing. Do not steal from yourself or others. This takes a whole life approach, not just no shoplifting or robbery. It means non-stealing in all aspects of life. To be late is to steal times from others. Non-sharing is stealing from others the ability to share in your joy. Hoarding is stealing by not allowing others the opportunity to have what you have. And not to forget energy and action, not stealing the energy of others, or not sharing your energy and abilities with others. It approaches helping others when you are able, otherwise you are stealing from them the ability to have what they need. The acceptance of help and gifts from others, allows you to not steal their opportunity to help or provide the sharing of what they have. Embracing the knowledge of what you give out to the world comes back to you, life in balance is giving and receiving. It’s a lot bigger than the word suggests.
Brahmacharya was originally the yama of nonexcess, the concept of everything in moderation, shown through abstinence. That is not the modern interpretation, they are not asking you to commit to celibacy. It is now more focused on getting closer to God (hence the root word of Brahma) through the conservation of energy and focus for what you consider the higher power of the universe. It is the moderation in actions, the lack of addiction or over-indulgence, free from dependency and cravings, and the need to acquire more and do more. Moderation in everything is the key to happiness in all areas of life.
Aparigraha, our fifth Yama, is non-possessiveness. This, for many, is the hardest of the yamas. It requires non-attachment to material things, non-attachment to outcomes and expectations. When something is lost, or damaged, it’s the taking of a breath and letting it go. What is meant to be will be, what is yours is yours. Remember that old addage: if you love something, set it free, if it comes back to you it is truly yours, if it does not, it was never yours to begin with. The foundation of Let That Shit Go is Aparigraha.