We are almost to the end of another year and many of us are reflecting on the year that was…..What we achieved, what we failed at, how we have changed and in what ways that we grew ? So how do we live our best life and what part does yoga play in this?
Perhaps we can look back to the writings of one of the forefathers of yoga Patanjali for guidance here…in his sutras Patanjali suggests that you should follow the eight limbs of yoga. These eight limbs make up what is known as Raja yoga or (royal yoga). The eight limbs include Yamas, Niyamas, Asana Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samhadhi.
As yoga practitioners we are familiar with the terms, Asana, Pranayama and perhaps even Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) but that is only a small part of the system of Raja yoga. It is interesting to note that Patanjali places Yamas and Niyamas ahead of Asana and Pranayama. So what are we talking about here and how can this have any bearing on living our “best life”?
Yamas are guidelines for how we relate to others — the yoga aspirant becomes aware of others and makes greater demands/disciplines on themselves. These yamas include satya (truthfulness), ahimsa (non violence), asteya (honesty), aparigraha (non-possessiveness) and brahmacharya (celibacy or non gratification at the expense of others on any level).
Satya here refers not only simply speaking truth but to an awareness of what is correct, right and true as it is manifesting from within and the ability to express it. Ahimsa or non violence is not just an external act of eliminating violence from our actions but the absence of the violent nature in our personality… with regard to our interactions with others but also ourselves. Asteya relates to finding the honesty, simplicity and sincerity of our true nature.
Aparigraha or non possessiveness is concerned with non attachment. When we become attached to people, things, experiences we can become possessive, driven by the ego and selfishness. This non attachment does not mean not caring but it should not be associated with selfishness and your own desires. Finally Brahmacharya has often been seen as celibacy but in fact the word literally means higher consciousness …Brahma ( higher reality) and acharya (one who is established in ) and of course one established in higher reality is not stuck in the sensorial realm merely wanting to gratify sensual needs.
The Niyamas are guidelines relating to the self — you understand the self better and become more accepting whilst still working to create a sense of discipline in your inner life. The niyamas include shaucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (self-study) and ishwara pranidhana (generation of faith).
Here shaucha or cleanliness refers to cleanliness of the body, the mind and the environment. Santosha refers to finding happiness with whatever one has and enjoying living in the present moment rather than craving more. Tapas or austerity means following a process of change or transformation for the better which may involve some sacrifice. (perhaps getting out of bed earlier for your yoga practice!)
Swadhyaya or self-study is becoming aware of our strengths, weaknesses and the individual qualities that make up our personalities…..observing your reactions and actions in the many different situations of life. Ishwara pranidhana is the cultivation of faith in an unmanifest reality which may take on any form but in itself has no name or form or attribute.
So perhaps as you reflect on the year that was you might consider some of the Yamas and Niyamas in your life. As we move into 2015 you may even wish to take one of these each month and work on it , meditate on it and find ways to incorporate these ancient teachings to help you create your best life.
Om Shanti and Happy New Year !