We all enroll in yoga class expecting to engage in stretching and strenghening movements that, over time will make us look and feel better. Maybe want to lose some weight or have a firmer, more toned body. Or we have stressful jobs and want to work off some of the tension we bring home from them. Or we feel guilty about not exercising and figure we ought to do something physical.
By joining a gym or taking up jogging can only make you lose those extra pounds and accomplish those goals. We are drawn to yoga looking for something more, either consciously or at some deeper level. We may be seeking more meaning in our lives. Or greater self-control. Or to know ourselves better.These are among the promises of yoga.
As individuals, we may have strong spiritual beliefs, but our culture frowns on letting these strongly affct our dealings in the real world. Things were quite different in ancient India, where Yoga developed. There, the touchstone of reality was the spiritual world, and life on earth was seen as a mere reflection, described by the Sanskrit word Maya.
If you have made up your mind to find joy within yourself, sooner or Later you shall find it – Paramahansa Yogananda.
Believing that development of the soul was the purpose of living in a body, yoga’s early teachers would only take on prospective students after they had mastered yoga’s ethical precepts. It is different in the twenty-first century West. Usually only serious students who stay with yoga and study its principles outside class learn the ethical precepts at all. That’s why I am writing about these principles which form a firm foundation for a yogic way of life.
First of the ethical precepts are the yamas (disciplines). They are:
Ahimsa, or non-violence – to avoid harming another being, through though, word, or deed.
Satya, truthfulness – to speak the truth to others and face the truth in ourselves.
Asteya, nonstealing – to refrain from taking what is not ours and to acquire only those possessions that truly enrich our lives.
Brahmacharya, moral conduct regarding sex – to develop standards for ourselves in this area and live upto those standards.
Aparigraha, noncoveting – to keep any greediness in check and not lose ourselves to our desires.
The second set of ethical precepts are the niyamas, or restraints. These are:
Shaucha, cleanliness – to keep our bodies clean, our thoughts pure, and our surroundings uplifting.
Santosa, contentment – accepting what we have with gratitude and finding peace within our current circumstances, even as we work to improve them.
Tapas, ardor – to do away with obstacles to our personal and spiritual growth.
Svadhyaya, self-knowledge – constant striving to know the truth about who we are in every sense.
Ishvara pranidhana, a devotion to a Higher Power – for religious people, this means commitment to that religion and its teachings. For yoga students who are not religious, it is simply a humble acceptance of human limitations and an openness to the existing of something greater than human intellect and human power.
According to the tradition, staying true to the yamas and niyamas clears the path to progress in yoga. Without its ethical underpinnings, yoga could be seen as little more than a combination of calisthenics and concentration. With them, yoga promises a way of life based on principles of conduct that honor the self and others. Following these tenets leads to a life that is rich, fulfilling, and ripe with promise. Although you will benefit from yoga at whatever level of involvement you choose to have, delving deeply into its philosophy and practice will ground you firmly in the yogic way of life. Central to the yogic world view is that everything is connected to everything else. For this reason, no action we take and no choice we make is unimportant. Enlarging our ethical awareness doesn’t just make us better people, it makes the world a better place.