The 8 Limbs of Yoga (see previous posts for more information on the 8 Limbs) begin with the Yamas and Niyamas. The yamas begin the process through disciplined actions we take towards the world around us and encourage us to be kind, true, respectful, self-controlled and efficient. Eventually through practice these qualities become our natural response to the world and the distraction of effort it took to become more noble diminishes, while the doorway of consciousness enlarges.
The niyamas represent five observations we apply strictly to ourselves to reduce the friction between outer action and inner attitude, helping harmonize the journey inward. They are saucha, purity of body, santosha, contentment of mind, tapas, intensity of practice, svadhyaya, self-study and isvara pranidhana, surrender to that which is greater then the self.
Saucha is the practice of physical cleanliness and bodily purity that helps us develop an indifference, or non-attachment, to our own body and paves the way towards the empirical experience that we are not this form even though we are housed in and often distracted by it.
Santosha is the practice of purifying one’s thoughts. It can be considered as a weeding of the mental field, where the root causes of mental disturbances are sought and removed to bring around the steadiness of mind necessary for continual concentration, the basis for lasting meditation.
Tapas encourages us to maintain an austerity of practice to help remove impurities from the body and sense organs so that we can sit in meditation undisturbed by the inner functions of the body, again a prerequisite for meditation.
Svadhyaya is the means with which we observe ourselves and begin the process of surrendering to who we really are, right at this moment. This prepares us to accept that we are more then our experiences, however acutely we may feel them, and heralds in the next stage, isvara pranidhana.
Isvara Pranidhanana is the complete surrender to that which is greater then our selves and still remains unknown. It requires a certain degree of faith and trust in the unknown which props the door of possibilities wide open and continually provides us the opportunity to discover more of ourselves in everything we do.
Simple, right? Try putting them into practice, that’s where the dizzying effect takes hold and spins you right ‘round. But yoga is an empirical practice, (that’s what drew most of us in, right?) so pick one and see for yourself. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Posted by: Jen Yaros
Jen Yaros teaches the Yoga Sutras within her asana classes at 8 Limbs Capitol Hill, Wedgwood, and West Seattle. She will offer her perspective on the 4th and 5th limbs of yoga in her workshop at 8 Limbs West Seattle on October 3rd: Pranayama & Pratyahara. Preregistration only: 206.933.9642.