The Yoga Sutra is an ancient text written between 500BCE and 400CE by Patanjali. It is within this text we find the eight-limbed path to purify the mind and body, also known as the Eight limbs of Yoga.
The Yamas (Social Restraints) and Niyamas (Self-disciplines) are the first two limbs of this path.
Do not let the use of the term "God" deter you, let it remind you that there is a power greater than us, a universal presence.
Yamas are relate to the external world and how we treat others.
Ahimsa – Non-violence or non-harm to other living beings through speech or action.
It is from this principle which stems the belief behind a Vegetarian or Vegan diet many modern-day Yogis choose to follow. Although Veganism is quite new, many generations of Yogis believe that a vegetarian diet is one of the keys to purifying the body. It is important to note here that the full interpretation of this principle is non-harm and non-violence through speech OR action, this includes and extends to yourself, others and to all living creatures, through thoughts and deeds, on and off the mat.
Satya – Truthfulness or non-falsehood. You may think this is simply 'don't tell lies' but it extends much further than that. Satya, when studied and practiced as it was intended, encompasses self-truth, being true to yourself. Often, we get caught up in our own head noise and this habit of over thinking often leads us to 'believe the lies we tell ourselves'. Living and practicing truth is a respect to yourself and to others.
Asteya – Non-stealing. To understand Asteya, we must remember that stealing stems from a belief that we are not good enough, that what we have to offer is not enough and so we take from someone else. This includes physical property, words and even ideas that are not ours. To practice Asteya, cultivate the belief in yourself that you are enough, have faith in yourself and what you have to offer the world.
Brachmacharya – Right use of energy, sometimes referred to as celibacy or chastity, but do not let that deter you! Brachmacharya translates to 'behavior that leads to God'. The practice of conserving sexual energy to harness it, and advance further along the Yogic path. Celibacy seems quite extreme in our modern world and I believe each to their own. For me personally (and for many Yogis) this Yama is recommending that we use our energy for good. Overthinking, arguing, hate, wishing we were somewhere else, is all wasted energy. Imagine what you could achieve if you took the time wasted scrolling on your phone or gossiping and instead channeled the energy into something positive, use the time to bring yourself closer to 'God' whatever that means for you.
Aparigraha – Non-attachment, non-greed, non-possessiveness, this one is self-explanatory. Do not become attached to objects or things. Using only what serves us in the moment, to take only what we need. Anything more than this is merely our ego's attachment to an object for the perceived status. With household debt increasing and the economic fallout from Covid 19, it is an exceptionally appropriate time to practice living with less.
Virtuous habits, behaviors, and observances.
Saucha- Cleanliness, the first thought here is of course to how clean our homes are. Although this is a crucial factor in Saucha, it is not the only one. Cleanliness of the body (through diet and bathing regularly) Cleanliness of your environment (Not only your home and belongings, but what you are exposed to mentally too). This makes sense when you think if you come to your mat in a pure state, the real yoga can happen.
Santosha- Contentment. Discontentment stems from 'I'll be happy when' syndrome, wishing away our current reality, believing that we will only be happy when we have x, y or z. Looking to another person or object for contentment is a recipe for disaster and disappointment, you will only find another excuse and continually look for an external source of happiness. The truth is that this moment is all we ever have, and happiness is an internal job.
Tapas- Self-discipline. "Everyone must choose one of two pains, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret" Growth and true ability come from self-discipline, no athlete or expert ever got where they are by resting on their laurels, this ones on you. Tapas includes the discipline it takes to truly apply yourself to anything on a regular basis. It takes self-discipline to get on your mat every day, but only when you do, will you experience the full benefits of Yoga.
Svadhyaya- Study of the self and the texts, sitting with your own thoughts, understand why you do what you do is the only way to work through your issues, there is no quick fix, that is where the growth happens. Svadhyaya also applies to texts, books, manuscripts- study them and make time to reflect on what they mean to you and apply the lesson to your own life. Know yourself, then know God.
Isvarapranidaha - Surrender to a higher power - let go and let God. This one is easier said than done sometimes, but it truly is a pathway to peace. Let go and surrender to a higher power, let go of the need to control everything, let go of the need for perfection.
It is the struggle that causes us the pain, in surrender, we find peace.