Most people know yoga as a physical exercise system that increases flexibility and teaches them how to relax. However, yoga is a comprehensive discipline that encompasses principles for living in the world and practices to deepen spiritual life, in addition to achieving physical well-being. Yoga is a nourishing practice on all levels!
Yoga means "yoke" in Sanskrit, a technique to yoke or unite all aspects of one's being and to come into union with the greater energy which forms the basis of the Universe. Yoga was first codified and written down by Patanjali around 220 B.C. He devised an eight-limbed system of yoga that included: yamas (ethical behavior), niyamas (personal disciplines), asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing), pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (the state in which consciousness becomes totally absorbed in the soul, described as a state of truth and bliss). The yoga postures Patanjali referred to were primarily seated poses for meditation. The familiar poses of hatha yoga that we practice today did not evolve until about a century ago.
The yamas and the niyamas are the foundation of the spiritual path of yoga in Patanjali's system. The yamas include nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-covetousness. They are principles of right living aimed at creating a better world. Each of the yamas is worthy of an in-depth examination, which is not possible in the short space of this article. However, I would like to elaborate on a few of the ideas. For instance, nonviolence obviously means not harming anyone or anything. However, it extends beyond that to the point of not harboring negative feelings, such as malice or hatred, toward others, and includes developing a love for all living beings. The goal is to see the spirit or soul within each person.
The yama of non-stealing includes not only refraining from theft, but also honoring and caring for whatever things are under our guardianship. The yogic attitude is that nothing in this world really belongs to us; we are merely borrowing it for a while.
The Niyamas are personal practices. They include cleanliness of body and mind, contentment, self-discipline, study of the self, and surrender of all thoughts and actions to God/Universal Consciousness. Cleanliness is based on the recognition that the body is the temple of the soul and external cleanliness is a method of honoring the indwelling spirit. Mental cleanliness is of great significance, and includes remembering constantly the deeper reality, the spirit, residing within each person.
Self-discipline is a major element in a yogic life, and surprisingly, true discipline is considered to be moderation in all things: moderation in eating, recreation, activity, sleep, and wakefulness. It is balance and self-control, always remembering the purpose of discipline, which is to experience the underlying essence within ourselves and others.
Contentment is another subject worthy of contemplation. Cultivating a sense of contentment in life means accepting what is, being free of worry, and developing trust in the Universe that what is happening in our lives is just what we need in order to grow and progress on our spiritual path. Another form of contentment is to smile... to develop the habit of having a faint smile on your face at all times. This simple spiritual discipline can transform your daily life!
Yoga is a complete system for personal development that encompasses ethical principles, personal disciplines, and physical and mental techniques to unite the body, mind, and spirit for health and fulfillment, bringing greater contentment and joy in our daily lives.
I wish you a beautiful summer to experience the deeper nourishment of yoga.