I am writing from my own study and understanding of first two limbs of the Eight limbs of Yoga, Yama and Niyama. This is an introduction. Further study of the Yoga Sutras is advised for continued learning.
It is important when practicing these restraints and disciplines to be kind and non-judgemental of yourself and your progress.
These are not things generally mastered, one by one, these are similar to lamp posts to guide your way at night or similar to a compass for your journeys. Yet, sometimes lessons will come from wandering off course and in the dark.
They are not mastered in any order, but studied and contemplated frequently. These are ideals that speak to our highest self, but we are here as humans and will likely fall short, maybe even frequently. It is better to have this moral compass, even if we forget to use it, we can learn from wanderings, learn from our errors… and then study them again with new insight. Mindful progress over time and progress is certain.
First consider all Eight limbs (in the usual presented order)- not as steps, for it is best to think of them as 8 spokes of a wheel.
- Yama : Universal morality
- Niyama : Personal observances
- Asanas : Body postures
- Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
- Pratyahara : Control of the senses
- Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
- Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
- Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The 5 Yamas (Universal Morality) disciplines or self restraints that are primarily concerned with the world, and our interaction with it, in our day to day life.
1. Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a compassionate attitude and do no harm.
2. Satya – Commitment to Truthfulness
Satya means “to speak the truth,” and is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government. Asking yourself before speaking, is it true? is it kind? is it necessary?
3. Asteya – Non-stealing
Take nothing that does not belong to you. The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. This includes fostering a consciousness of how we ask for others’ time, for example demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing.
4. Brahmacharya – Sense control
Brahmacharya is abstinence, particularly in relationship to sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths. It does not necessarily imply celibacy. It means responsible behavior, that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
5. Aparigraha – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of or act with greed. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.
The 5 Niyama (Personal Observances) The second limb usually refers to self discipline and also with our actions towards others in our day to day life.
1. Sauca – Purity
Sauca is purity and cleanliness, outer cleanliness, daily washing etc, and Inner cleanliness for healthy, functioning of our bodily organs and also the clarity of our mind. Practicing asanas and pranayama are means for inner cleanliness. Asanas tone the body and removes toxins while pranayama cleanses our lungs, oxygenates our blood and purifies our nerves. Most important is t cleansing of the mind of toxic emotions – hatred, anger, lust, greed, delusion and pride.
2. Santosa – ContentmentSantosa is modesty and being content with what we have. To be at peace within and content with one’s lifestyle, finding contentment even while experiencing life’s difficulties then life becomes a process of growth through all circumstances. We begin to accept that there is a purpose for everything – yoga calls it karma – and we cultivate contentment to accept what life sends us and flow with it.
3. Tapas – Disciplined use of our energy
Tapas refers to the activity of awareness and control of the body’s energy. Literally it means to heat the body and, by so doing, to cleanse it. This is the understanding that we can direct our energy to engage life and achieve the ultimate goal of union with the Divine. Tapas helps us “burn up” the desires that stand in our way of union. Other forms of tapas are paying attention to what we eat, to body posture, , eating habits, and breathing patterns.
4. Svadhyaya – Self studysvadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination”. All activities which cultivate self-reflective consciousness can be considered svadhyaya. It means to intentionally find self-awareness , even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. Learning to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, and to dispel self-destructive tendencies.
5. Isvarapranidhana – Celebration , devotion to the Spiritual
Isvarapranidhana is contemplation on God (Isvara) It is the recognition that the spiritual is everywhere and through our deepening awareness we can attune ourselves with our role as part of the Creator. The practice requires that we make time, each day, to recognize that there is some omnipresent force larger than ourselves that is guiding and moving the the universe. this might be meditation, prayer ,study or service.