At Yoga Teacher Training, we recently spent a few hours learning about the yogic philosophy and specifically the 8 limbed yogic path. The philosophy of yoga is very different from the organized religion and beliefs that I have grown to identify with, and in some ways I find it more applicable to my every day life. Normally, I wouldn’t bring up the topic of religion or share my beliefs on this sort of platform, but I feel that some background information on my spiritual journey is necessary here (don’t worry I’ll be brief!).
Growing up, organized religion was always an important part of my life and the beliefs that I was raised on are still a primary aspect of my life that I cherish. What might be considered unique about the spiritual aspect of my childhood, however, was that I was taught to always have an open mind and I knew from the start that ultimately my spirituality was my own to cultivate on a path separate even from my immediate family. My journey with the Divine is just that: my journey with the Divine. While some people choose to follow certain philosophies in their entirety, devoting their whole life to that philosophy and following every single rule or pillar, I’m not at a point in my life where I feel ready to pick one spiritual path and accept it as the only truth or way of life. Maybe one day I will be, but for now I am excited to welcome new aspects of different spiritualities into my life by taking what works for me and cultivating my own spirituality, letting it all be mutually inclusive. At this point so early on in my life, I am enjoying learning about new and different ways of thinking, and opening up my mind to many uniquely beautiful spiritual paths and beliefs.
Learning about the 8 Limbed Yogic Path has been a very spiritual experience for me, and has given me a new lens to view my every day as well as my big picture through. Right now, however, I want to make an effort to start at the beginning of the yogic path and foster my own spirit and soul as well as my outward outlook and behavior. Before I explain how I want to go about focusing on these vital parts of my spirit, I want to briefly go into my (still very elementary and evolving) understanding of the beginning of the 8 Limbed Yogic Path, Yamas and Niyamas:
Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8 limbed yogic path; they form the base of the 8 branches of the yogic tree or the bottom two rungs of the ladder if you choose to view it as such. You must foster your Yamas and Niyamas if you choose to continue along the path or up the ladder.
Yamas make up what could be referred to as your moral compass. They are a set of five broad principles that guide your outward behavior towards your fellow earthlings. Here are the five guidelines, or the five yamas:
- Ahisma: Freedom from harming and from violence of any kind. This includes your thoughts, words, actions, and even your diet.
- Satya: Truthfulness, but not at the expense of ahisma. Keeping your words, actions, and thoughts consistent with one another.
- Asteya: Non-Stealing. This includes material things, but more deeply consider respecting others’ time and energy. Balancing the give and take portion of your life.
- Brachmacharya: Moderation. Avoiding obsession and overindulgence of any kind throughout all aspects of life, including sexuality and dominance as well as moderation itself.
- Aparigraha: Non-Hoarding: Freedom from over attachment to things that you don’t need, namely possessions and material goods.
Niyamas are what make up a more inward facing set of pillars for how you treat your self and go about your life, they come from a more personal and individual perspective. Like Yamas, Niyamas are made up of five broad guidelines:
- Saucha: Purity and cleanliness. Consider your physical environment, personal hygiene and diet, information and social media input, and the people you surround yourself with. Ridding yourself of all types of toxicity.
- Santosha: Innate happiness and contentment in the now. Fill your life with gratitude, and look inward for a source of happiness, appreciating how things are in the present.
- Tapas: Self Discipline. Freeing yourself from bad habits and behaviors, and putting effort into cultivating good ones.
- Svadhyaya: Self study and self-awareness. Be conscious of your actions in the moment as they are occurring, and take time to reflect on them later. Ideally, incorporate journaling into your every day habits and get to know yourself on a deep and reflective level.
- Isvara-Pranidhana: Surrender to a higher power or being. Devotion of actions and of yourself to something outside of yourself, creating a heightened sense of purpose.
So, there you have it. The beginning pillars of a yogic lifestyle and the most basic guidelines for how to conduct yourself, both inwardly and outwardly. No matter which religion you identify with, Yamas and Niyamas are worth opening your mind to and reflecting on. Most of us have room in our lives to benefit from incorporating some of these principles into our day-to-day life, or at least to be aware of these principles as we go about our daily activities and routines.
Moving forward, my goal is to focus weekly on one of the Yamas and one of the Niyamas, working my way down the respective lists. Rather than attempting a complete spiritual cleanse and trying to incorporate focus on all of them into my life at once, I am going to carefully focus on and enrich each one on its own, taking baby steps towards a larger goal of self-improvement.
This means that I will be beginning this week with a special focus on Ahisma (non violence) and Saucha (purity/cleanliness). Working on my Ahisma, I hope to improve my actions towards others and consider ways that I could be harming the people and beings around me without realizing it or meaning to. In terms of Saucha, I have started by putting extra effort into keeping a clean room and a clean self and trying to use fewer curse words. This week, I’ll be reading up more on Ahisma and Saucha and making efforts to incorporate them into my life on even deeper and all-encompassing levels. Stay tuned to hear about my progress and transformations and for my intentions in the weeks to come. For now, keep it compassionate and keep it clean 🙂