By Bhavan Kumar
Sometime around 1,700 to 2,000 years ago, Maharishi Patanjali developed what he called the eight limbs of Yoga. Today, only three are widely known: Breathing techniques, postures, and meditation. The other five parts, however, remain as relevant to modern society as they were to ancient India. The first two limbs of Yogic methodology, the Yamas and Niyamas, deal with ethics and morality. These principles still provide the standards for Yoga teachers in the 21st century.
What are the Yamas and Niyamas?
They are universal truths found at the heart of all great teachings, but the Yamas and Niyamas are more than just rules for us to follow. They also embody the knowledge accumulated by Yogis in their search for happiness, health, and harmony over the centuries. The Yamas cover morals, and the Niyamas deal with ethics.
The following quote emphasizes their importance as a foundation for the practice of Yoga: “When a yogin becomes qualified by practicing Yama and Niyama, then the yogin can proceed to asana and the other means.” — Yoga Bhashya Vivarana (II.29)
The Yamas, or restraints, exemplify five principles of right living:
• Ahimsa, or non-violence
• Satya, or truth in thought and word
• Asteya, or non-stealing
• Brahmacharya, or moderation
• Aparigraha, or non-coveting
The Niyamas, or observances, demonstrate actions of balanced living:
• Sauca, or purity
• Santosha, or contentment
• Tapas, or discipline
• Svadhyaya, or self-study
• Ishawar-Pranidhana, or surrender
Although the ethical practice and teaching of Yogic methodology revolves around these tenets, their intention is not to overwhelm or restrict practitioners from living fully. Instead, their goal to help students and teachers embrace life in its entirety, with harmony and joy.
How do these ideals influence classes?
• Yoga becomes a lifestyle for teachers and students.
• Students learn to accept their limitations and be kind to their bodies.
• There is an atmosphere of abundance rather than scarcity.
• Competition gives way to acceptance and cooperation.
• Students are polite and respectful of others.
• Self-awareness leads to fewer injuries and greater satisfaction.
• The practice becomes internally oriented.
When Yoga teachers personify the Yogic philosophy, Yoga becomes a metaphor for life itself. The journey, not the destination, becomes its primary objective.
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