For thousands of years in the East, sages of the past have contemplated the human condition and how to work with our basic problems. Through deep meditation, inner reflection and self-realization these great men and women have found a way through suffering to happiness. They called this path to truth and happiness Yoga.
Yoga means to unite, to yoke together the small sense of self with the great Self of all beings. It may come as a surprise to some who have only know yoga as a type of exercise, but yoga is actually an ancient philosophical base of esoteric wisdom that has been foundational to the development of a number of world religions including Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism. These are ancient teachings but they hold true even in today’s world.
In the 8-fold path of yoga, laid down by Patanjali in a seminal text called The Yoga Sutras, written in about 200AD, a clear life style is outlined that not only emphasizes meditation, breath work (pranayama) and yoga postures (asanas) but also practices for how we live our daily lives and relate to those around us. These practices are called Yama and Niyama. They are practical guidelines that help us live our lives in such a way as to make our thinking clear and our perception subtle, so that we can really understand what love means and how to express our hearts in the world.
The practices of Yama and Niyama give us guidance on how to really be a spiritual being in this world and prepare our minds so that we can experience directly the One Eternal Divine Self of all beings. In yoga no beliefs are taken for granted, just on faith. The whole focus of yoga is about personal experience, your personal realization of fundamental truths. This starts with learning how to live love in your life in the world here and now!
The Yamas are things to avoid, and of course their flip side:
- Ahimsa: Nonviolence or avoidances of doing harm. Compassion.
- Satya: Benevolent, deep truthfulness avoiding dishonesty. Self Honesty
- Asteya: Not taking what is not yours. Sounds simple but it can get deep
- Brahmacharya: Avoiding over indulging in desires. Seeing all as part of the One God Self - I’ll explain when we get there.
- Aparigraha: Not accumulating beyond your needs. No hording.
The Niyamas are practices to incorporate:
- Saucha: Cleanliness, Purity of body, mind and heart.
- Santosha: Contentment. Learning how to be at peace with life.
- Tapas: Selfless Love, sacrifice. Learning to get over ourselves.
- Svadhyaya: Seeking knowledge, truth. Reading, studying, learning truth until we know it.
- Ishvara pranidhana: Surrender to God. Letting go and knowing God. Meditation.
In this series we will cover one practice each week for 10 weeks. Next week we will start by talking about non-violence, Ahimsa. A big topic; the root of the civil rights movement, the base of Gandhi’s work freeing India form British rule, a base for South African protests, a very important concept not only in world movements but in each of our lives. Stay tuned for next week!