When one thinks of yoga, it is not a surprise that images of headstands, warrior postures and seated forward folds spring to mind. Mostly, nowadays with a beautiful mid drift bearing model displaying such poses somewhere tropical and picture perfect. When we become so distracted by the jaw dropping yoga postures on Instagram, fashion focused yoga clothes, the latest yoga mat ect ect.... is the true purpose of yoga getting diluted by all of this noise?
In this blog, I want to rewind and remind ourselves of the philosophy that underlies this magical thing called yoga. Let's look at two of the most often over looked, but essential pieces in our yoga practice. The Yamas and the Niyamas.
The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of the Eight Limbs of Yoga written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. A sage and a scientist, Patanjali created a very practical road guide for the spiritual traveler. He wrote 196 sutras ( threads or aphorisms) to be exact, that beckoned the reader to think deeply about the matter of creating a meaningful and fulfilling life. This is not the only ancient text in which the deep tradition of yoga is derived from, but it has, in my own practice at least, been the most foundational. And despite the fact that it was written some 2000 years ago in ancient India, it stands the test of time, even in the modern western world. In fact, the Sutras of Patanjali are needed now more than ever for most of us.
When we study the theory and philosophy behind the yoga, it teaches us how not to just practice the yoga, but how to live it. To motivate us to practice for a lifetime, even when we are no longer interested in arm balances and fancy choreographed flows. The sutras give us a compass in which we can use to find our purpose, our clarity and our peace - both on and off the mat. In fact, the first of the yamas was a real turning point for me in my life, and why I am still so committed to the practice after all these years. More on that to follow.
I once heard them described as the vows we take when we commit to living the yogic way. They are observances, behaviours, moral and ethical guides let's say, that will make our relationship with our practice successful and fruitful. Just as when we take our vows in a marriage with a partner, we know it won't always be easy, and we may even get it wrong occasionally, but we are acknowledging and declaring our intent to do what is right and necessary for a lasting partnership.
Why is this necessary? I don't need 'moral observances' you might say. Well, we all are good in our nature, but sometimes we do silly things. We do. And this is a compass that helps to reign us back in. When we live 'the right way' and accordance to these yamas and niyamas, we have a peace of mind and a clear conscious. Remember that time your conscious wasn't clear? Perhaps you hurt someone you loved, kept a secret, or binged on that large Domino's pizza. Remember how you felt? Do you think it would have been easy to sit and connect with peace in that moment? Probably not. When our conscious isn't clear, our bodies are not kept clean, it makes our practicing so much harder. Not impossible, but hard work. Just like if we don't keep to one of our vows in our marriage, it may not be the end, but boy will it be difficult.
Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing my insights and experiences with the Yamas and Niyamas in separate blogs. For now, here is what they look like in brief.
We will go into more detail about them individually in the blogs to follow. Stay tuned, and make sure you check out the practices that follow along with the theory, from meditations, journal prompts to yoga sequences.
May you remain forever curious may friend, 🙏