Sunday, January 06, 2013

Philosophical Side of Yoga

Happy New Year! This year I'm delving into the Yamas and Niyamas, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. 

At the beginning of all of my classes, I ask a student to pick one of the eight limbs of yoga, and then I read a brief description about whatever they've chosen and we have a short discussion about it. My intention is to plant a seed (bija in Sanskrit) for the students to think about. 

My passion is yoga and my feeling is that to only teach asanas is doing a disservice to my students. While the majority of them seem eager to do asanas, they also enjoy the bits of information about the eight limbs of yoga. They really seem to want to know what yoga is, not just how to do the asanas. I don't offer a buffet of different styles of yoga, pilates, Zumba, etc., just yoga. I figure if students are looking for the buffet, there are plenty of opportunities in almost any fitness center.

As Deborah Adele puts in her book, The Yamas & Niyamas; Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice:
What are the Yamas and Niyamas?

The Yamas and Niyamas are foundational to all yogic thought. Yoga is a sophisticated system that extends far beyond doing yoga postures; it is literally a way of living. Yoga is designed to bring you more and more awareness of not only your body but also your thoughts. The teachings are a practical, step-by-step methodology that bring understanding to your experiences, while at the same time pointing the way to the next experience. They are like a detailed map, telling you where you are and how to look for the next landmark. They faxilitate taking ownership of your life and directing it towards the fulfillment that you seek.

The Yamas and Niyamas may be thought of as guidelines, tenets, ethical disciplines, precepts, or restraints and observances. I often think of them as jewels, because they are the rare gems of wisdom that give direction to a well-lived and joyful life. In yogic philosophy, these jewels sit as the first tow limbs of the 8-fold path.

The first five jewels are referred to as Yamas, a Sanskrit word which translates literally into the word "restraints" and includes nonviolence, truthfulness, non stealing, non excess, and non possessiveness. The last five jewels are referred to as the Niyamas, or "observances," and include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self study, and surrender. Many guides to ethical conduct may leave us feeling overwhelmed with concepts, or boxed in by rule sets. Yoga's guidelines do not limit us from living life, but rather they begin to open life up to us more and more fully, and they flow easily into one another in ways that are practical and easy to grasp.

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