Updated: Aug 31, 2021
What Is Yoga?
When you think about “Yoga,” what comes to mind? Touching your toes? Getting twisted up like a pretzel? Artsy handstand pics on the Santa Monica Pier? It’s true that here in Western culture, we spend a lot of time focusing on what Yogis call The Asanas (A-SAAN-AH) or the postures themselves.
Although the Asanas play a role in the yoga practice, we must recognize it’s just one piece of the pie and become a fully realized yogi; we must be familiar with the philosophy of Yoga by way of The Yoga Sutras.
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A Brief History of Yoga
Patanjali (PA-TAN-JAH-LEE) was a wise saint who lived in India somewhere between 200 BC-500 BC. He is famously known for transcribing the Yoga Sutras, a widely referenced text within the yoga community. Patanjali begins with The Eight Limbs of Yoga which gives details on how the Yogis should live their life in accordance with The Divine.
The word Yoga in Sanskrit is derived from the word Yuj which means to join, to unite, or to yoke. The purpose of Yoga is the connect deeply to something beyond your physical self and to harmonize mind, body, and soul. The first limb on the eight-fold path to Yoga is called the Yamas (YA-MA) and Niyamas (NE-YA-MA), the Yogi’s restraints and observances. This article will be focusing on The Yamas, The five disciplines of a Yogi.
The Yamas: The Five Restraints of a Yogi
The First Yama: Ahimsa (Non-Harming)
Of course, thou shall not kill thy neighbor applies here, but what does it mean to practice non-harming actively? You aren’t hurting your friends or loved ones but are you causing harm to yourself? It seems like these days, we are our own worst enemy, and most of the violence happens right in our heads. Practicing Ahimsa (UH-HIM-SAH) can be as nuanced as watching your thoughts and making sure they are kind and productive.
Did you know? You can also practice Ahimsa by practicing regular self-care. Check Out This Post - Self Care Practices for Anxiety
Self-care and self-love are not considered luxuries on a Yogi’s path but rather a necessary step to self-realization.
The Second Yama: Satya (Truthfulness)
No fibbing or fudging the truth is Satya (pronounced SAW-TEE-YA), but when we look a bit deeper, we can see that Satya also means to speak one’s truth no matter what. Often it can be difficult to share how we are really with our loved ones.
We may bend our boundaries at the expense of other people’s comfort, ultimately leaving us feeling uneasy. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our little acts of inauthenticity that we start to convince ourselves that we are, in fact, “okay with this” or that “it’s no big deal.” In Sanskrit, the world Sat translates to true essence or true nature. To be a Yogi, we must practice unapologetic truth-telling every day.
The Third Yama: Asteya (Non-Stealing)
The idea of Asteya (AH-STAY-UH) stands for so much more than stealing physical items from another individual. Have you ever heard of an energy vampire? It’s that person in the office, or maybe it’s a relative who, no matter how little or how long you chat with them, you walk away feeling drained?
Stealing doesn’t always come in the traditional form of theft per se; we can also steal energy from other people without even realizing it. It’s subtle, and we are all guilty of it from time to time too. The restraint here is not to bottle up your feelings and deny yourself the support of friends and family, no. But instead, it’s a call to mindfulness. A Yogi might ask themself, “Am I a good listener as well as a sharer?” “Am I bringing solutions to the conversation, or am I only providing negativity?” “Do I check in on my support system as much as they check in on me?” Like Satya , it can get uncomfortable to face these principles. Be gentle with yourself and go slow. Allow the discomfort to wash over you, and know that the Yog’s I path is long and beautiful.
The Fourth Yama: Brahmacharya (Celibacy or Right Use of Energy)
“The word Brahmacharya translates as ‘behavior which leads to Brahman.’ Brahman is thought of as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and Yogic terms, so what we’re talking about here is behavior which leads us towards the divine’ or ‘higher power.’” - So relax; you need not be a nun or a priest to practice Yoga.
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Perhaps in the olden days refraining from sex altogether was one way to connect with higher intelligence; however, as we evolve as a species, our translations of ancient wisdom must evolve. Today, Yogis understand Brahmacharya (BRA-MA-CHAR-E-UH) as directing our energy away from external desires (people, places, and things) and towards concepts like love, peace, and happiness.
We focus on cultivating those feelings from a source within, meaning we do not need external things fueling our well-being. Of course, we are humans, and we inherently will gather some happiness from somethings sometimes. The key here is not to let it get out of hand by continually checking in with our purpose. “Am I on this planet to spread light and love, or am I on this planet to raise Lamborghinis and eat caviar?” “And if I am here to spread light and love, is my energy directed towards that?”
The Fifth Yama Aparigraha (Non-greed, Non-Hoarding, Non-Attachment)
“Let your concern be with the action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of your action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction” -Krishna, a highly praised God in Hinduism. Do you ever feel like you’re doing everything right, yet you’re aren’t drowning in cash and prizes?
You work hard, pay your bills on time, give the homeless money, love your friends and family and give thoughtful birthday presents! Where is your winning lotto ticket?. What happens to us when we don’t get that reward for our good deeds? Are we let down? Confused? Angry?
In Yoga, we strive to come from a place of fullness, meaning anything we give, we don’t expect back. Yes, we feel good when someone tells us that we are “killing it at work!” Or, when our kid says, “you’re the best mommy or daddy ever!” And that, my friends, is normal. What we are looking at here is how dependent we are on that feedback loop to feel good about ourselves.
Practicing non-attachment may seem scary at first, but it’s actually quite liberating. If you aren’t attached to the outcome, then your creative brain goes wild! No judgment and nobody to please. Just you and your authentic self.
Next week we will discover the Niyamas, The 5 Observances of a Yogi. If this path interests you, we encourage you to pick up a copy of An Introduction to Yoga right around the corner at our virtual bookstore!