What is Yoga

What is Yoga and Niyamas? – Meaning of it, Meditation Or Exercise

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What is Yoga?

Every day in the morning, women in traditional India use rice flour to create patterns known as kolam or rangoli on the floor just outside their house. Woman is joining dots with lines, reminding us how connecting stars to create constellations helps us understand the sky. Likewise, connecting data creates the whole, and joining the limited helps us explore the limitless. This household ritual is a metaphor for yoga. So what is yoga? And did you hear about “yamas” and “niyamas”?
The simplest meaning of yoga is alignment. Indeed this alignment could be between two body parts, two objects or two concepts.
In Indian astrology or Jyotish-Shastra, for example, when stars and planets are aligned in a particular way to create a beneficial pattern. We call it “yoga” as well. The same word we are using in social contexts for the coming together of seemingly unaligned things to bring about success.

Types of yoga

Depending on the context, yoga has come to have different meanings; alignment of the mind with the body, or simply between different body parts. In addition it could be harmony between the front and the back, the left and the right sides, or the upper and lower parts of the body.
Some might say it is the connection of an individual with society; others, the connection between two human beings, whether husband and wife, parent and child, teacher and student, or friends.
Therefore in a religious context, one can say it is the connection between the devotee and the deity.
We now use various adjectives to describe how this connection is achieved. For example, “karma yoga” deals with connecting through action, where we connect our individual activities to a larger social goal; “bhakti yoga” deals with connecting through emotions, with a person or a personal deity; “Gyan yoga” is more intellectual; “hatha yoga” more physical; “tantra yoga” favors rituals and symbols.

Yoga is not only about the Asana practice

In fact “Asanas” comes third in the eight-limbed path of Yoga as described by Patanjali after “Yamas” or abstinence and “Niyamas” or observances.

We will explore the second limb of yoga; Niyama.

Yogic philosophy and teaching as part of the path of yoga recommended Niyama as the Sanskrit term for duty or observance.  Even in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, he outlines five niyamas as part of the second limb of yoga.
These niyamas are all practices that can be considered inner observances. They are a way of applying the ethical codes of yoga to the student’s own mind, body and spirit, helping to create a positive environment internally.
Practicing the niyamas is giving the yogi the inner strength, clarity, and discipline that he/she needs in order to progress on his/her spiritual journey.

The five yoga niyamas are listed as follows:

  1. Saucha: purification, cleanliness, and clarity of mind, communication, and physical body. This recognizes that the yogi’s external environment affects his/her inner purity. Practices such as meditation can help to cultivate the cleanliness of the mind specified by saucha.
  2. Santosha: contentment and acceptance of the world, oneself and circumstances exactly as they are. Therefore, this means letting go of cravings for what one doesn’t have. Doing this end one’s suffering.
  3. Tapas: asceticism or intense self-discipline and willpower, even through discomfort. This recognizes the need to sometimes do what is difficult or unpleasant in order to have a positive effect on one’s life and existence.
  4. Svadhyaha: study of the self, and the practice of self-reflection. Again this may include using the scriptures or sacred texts as a tool for introspection. It means seeing who one is in the moment as well as exploring one’s connection with the Divine.
  5. Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to and contemplation of the Divine or Supreme Being. So this includes dedicating and devoting one’s work to a higher power and dissolving ego-focused desires.
ESSENCE OF YOGA

ESSENCE OF YOGA – THE 8 LIMBS

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Essence of yoga

The history of Yoga dates back to time immemorial, and includes a huge body of scriptures. That scriptures navigate the human experience and how we may train the mind through the body, thereby achieving the union of “Yog” with the all that is. So what is essence of yoga?

To witness the self as a direct expression of all that is. And without attaching to experiences, remaining free from conceptions and ideas. Whilst being spontaneously joyous, spring forth with universal knowledge both verbally and non-verbally as a direct outer of the eternal wisdom of the universal. This can become quite esoteric and difficult to comprehend. But may also be simplified when taken in the pathways of everyday practical Yoga routines available to us in real and tangible teachings.

The simplest of these is arguable the Astanga 8 limbs of Yoga. Which teaches us how we may walk the path the renunciates (Yogis) do, while we are still living in the material and commercial world of modernity and stressors.

Applying teachings

In fact, when we take written teachings and apply them where we are, it is the immediate experience. And this experience provides a learning environment and incentive to change our worldview and view of ourselves in it. And thus, we achieve greater knowledge of ourselves and others, our inner and outer world. So what is essence of yoga?

The Ashtanga teachings include a simplification and elucidation of the core yogic path. This was created to simplify and find an accord between the varying schools of Yoga. So it can sometimes cause much confusion to the beginning practitioner or potential student.

To summarize those principles here are the core 8 limbs as recorded in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:

1) Yama (ethical restraints) 2) Niyama (personal observances) 3) Asana (physical postures) 4) Pranayama (breath control) 5) Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) 6) Dharana (concentration) 7) Dhyana (meditation) 8) Samadhi (a state of unity)

The first two limbs consist of ethical and personal restraints and observances that lead us into more and more peace, thereby ensuring our practice may proceed with minimal obstructions. To go to the third step with no regard for the initial two is only going to create more challenges to your practice yielding the fruits your practice would otherwise provide. So it is best to adhere to the path of the ancient teachings in the acknowledgement that you will proceed more easily, and effectively through the path towards self realization and moksha, liberation and freedom from suffering for want of a better translation from Sanskrit.

The following are the breakdown of steps that make up the Yamas and Niyamas:

YAMAS (ethical restraints)

1) Nonviolence (Ahimsa) – doing no harm to oneself or to any living being or “From harming

ourselves and others to kindness and compassion for self and others”. 2) Truthfulness (Satya) – honesty and forthrightness without doing harm or “From lies and

half-truths to expressing our uniqueness and authenticity”. 3) Non-stealing (Asteya) – removing the tendency to look outwards for satisfaction or

“From theft to cultivating new skills and abilities”. 4) Non-excess (Brahmacharya) – being present to the divinity in life and not seeking more

or “From greed to appreciation and pleasure without excess”. 5) Non-possessiveness (Aparigraha) – freedom from desire to “own” or “keep” people,

status and material possessions or “From attachment to intimacy without possession”.

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NIYAMAS (personal observances)

1) Purity (Saucha) – continual clarification of our intent, thoughts, emotions and actions or

“Cleansing our bodies, our speech, our thoughts”. 2) Contentment (Santosha) – being at peace with the present state of awareness, internal

and external conditions or “Falling in love with our own life”. 3) Self-discipline (Tapas) – maintaining the drive and motivation to embrace eternal

change and create balance of “soft” and “hard” in ourself and practices or “Consciously choosing discipline and growth”. 4) Self-study (Svadhyaya) – to study the universal and small self, to also examine the

mind, its thoughts emotions and feelings arising in reaction to the external world, and learning the essence of our conditioned self to release this, so we may rest fully and completely in the expansive universal self and consciousness, or “Knowing the Self”. 5) Surrender (Ishvara Pranidhana) – to release control and embrace the progression

along the path as being like that of a river you have entered, carrying you downstream towards the ocean of enlightenment you release the need to struggle against perceived obstacles. This is essential for regaining faith in ourselves, and the outside world, embracing change and opening the heart and mind or “Paying attention to what life is asking of us”.

I trust that this brief explanation of the core principles in Yogic practice makes clear what was not before, and hides you along the path to union with truth, bliss, peace and consciousness.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti

By Thomas Clayden Eckersley B.H.Sc

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