Of the many aspects of yoga which fascinate me, the correlation between the eight limbs of yoga (as described in the second chapter of the Patanjali's Yoga Sutra) and the attitude to the postures always strikes me as being the most significant. For through this, Yoga becomes an integral discipline of postures, behaviour, breathing, concentration, meditation and joy. This article explores the connections between the practice of asanas, and the other limbs of yoga.
Yoga is not a religion, nor does it claim to be a substitute for religion. But although it requires no adherence to a dogma, it does urge the observance of the dual ethic of Yama and Niyama. A sentence which has always affected the ways I practice yoga is B.K.S. Iyengar opening to Part Two of Light on Yoga:
"Practice of asanas without the backing of yama and niyama is mere acrobatics."
Yama - or social moralities, has five principles each of which can be applied in teaching and practicing:
1) Ahimsa (Non-violence / Love) requires a careful and sensitive approach to the postures which should nevertheless be firm and challenging; harmony in the performance of a pose in order to show respect for the body; purification of the mind and body from their limitations and ailments so as to render them a better temple for the soul.
2) Satya (Truth) augments the quality of a pose by right thinking and performance to avoid any possibility of inner change and confusion. When working with truth, fruit of action comes without apparently doing anything.
3) Asteya (Non-stealing) can be interpreted as to mean that teaching should be absorbed, digested and understood, then forgotten and relearned through one's own practice. By application of this principle, the true wealth of asana will present itself to the adept.
4) Bramacharya (Continence) and the "will to direct all bodily and mental energies towards reality" (Hatha Yoga Pradipika)... This implies that degree of physical and mental concentration necessary for the proper holding of a pose. All energies should be channeled toward serving the inner spirit as opposed to the ego; likewise, to imparting knowledge for the service of other and not of self-glorification.
5) Aparigraha (Non-greed)... The urge to develop within oneself the patience to master one's practice with pure dedication and a rejection of all personal rewards. Non-hoarding. Do not take anything without working for it. Be satisfied with what happens.
Niyama - personal ethical code, more spiritual , the ones which humanity is not ready to follow, again has five principles for application to teaching and practicing.
1) Saucha (purity) of the body through the studying and practice of asanas, by thus simulating the physiological functions, one purifies the body and mind so that harmony, balance and self control can be attained as a manifestation of God within oneself.
2) Santosa (tranquility, contentment) is the concentration, mental stillness and physical stability essential for successful practice.
3) Tapas is the constant effort to achieve steadiness and strength in the postures, to remain calm through the discomfort, rewards and possible disappointments of practice, and to keep practicing in a humble and unselfish manner.
4) Svadayaya (study), is the willingness to observe and understand with an enquiring and open mind. It is to work at every move under the guidance of the teacher, and by so doing, to learn to read one's own book of life.
5) Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to God) the realisation of the union between the individual soul and the universal spirit., inspired by devotional practice and constant awareness that ultimately our supreme teacher is God within ourselves. In that final state of joy, the practice takes the shape of a prayer where each movement, each vibration of the skin, each instance of stillness, each breath, each harmonisation are manifestation of the spirit of God on the one hand, and on the other hand, an act of worship.