There are an estimated 300 million yoga practitioners worldwide. The number of Americans practicing yoga has increased by more than 50% in the last decade. Yet the majority of practitioners have no clue that yoga asana (the physical poses), though important and beneficial, is just one limb of the yogic path.
The result of meeting yoga asana with an individualistic, capitalistic and appearance based culture is detrimental to the essence of yoga. The aggression of a competition based culture, when met with yoga asana without the context of the other limbs (especially yama and niyama), is nothing other than another workout routine to contort our poor self-esteem.
It is a great disservice to the potential of healing that could come from this discipline when the dominant colonizing culture appropriates and dilutes it to another workout to commodify and make profit of.
According to the 8 limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga), the first two limbs are Yam and Niyam which are the social code of conduct as well the personal code of conduct. The whole journey of the yogic path is mastery over the mind, studying it, understanding it, knowing it and realizing the truth of its nature.
Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodha is probably one of the most popular lines in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It means the goal of yoga is to restrain the modifications of mind. When the mind is modified, attachment, aversion, ignorance, ego and fear of death all arise. The yogic journey eventually clears all these paths to find the true nature of our mind.
Yogis in the past took this path and realized that in order to know the mind intimately, there are many obstacles on the road, such as our distorted way of relating with our society and the environment, as well as with ourselves. These distortions are caused by ignorance.
There is no yogic path without doing the foundational work of practicing Yam and Niyam. The yoga journey starts when we are finally fed up with playing a game whose rules we are oblivious of. The yoga journey started for me with a heart and mind of renunciation, when I got tired of swinging between the extremes of the pendulum, when I got tired of blaming others for my unhappiness, and eventually when I got tired of blaming and shaming myself.
From my own experience, I can say this spiritual journey is extremely lonely, but most rewarding. Constantly I am faced with my own mind and its projection, and no one else being responsible for that delusion except myself, but not knowing how to wake up and see it without modification, exaggeration, or suppression. A few things that are not talked anywhere in the traditional Indian yogic text but are very much emphasized in Buddhist texts helped make the journey a lot less painful for me. It was Buddhist teachings on compassion, loving-kindness, joyfulness and equanimity which made looking at my own mind more intriguing, and enjoyable.
Once a practitioner becomes familiar and adept at these conducts, naturally the mind is less disturbed and there is harmony within the mind and with the community, so accessing subtler experience such as breathe and prana becomes easier, and getting into meditative states becomes more natural and effortless.
There are 10 codes of conduct:
Yama/ Social restraints
- Ahimsa / Non-Violence
- Satya /Truthfulness
- Asteya / Non-Stealing
- Bramacharya / Moderation
- Aparigrapha/ Non-covetousness/Non Attachment
Niyama/ Self – restraints
- Saucha / Purity of body, thoughts and feelings
- Santosha /Contentment
- Tapas/ Discipline/Austerity
- Swadhyaya/ Self- Study of yogic philosophy and contemplation.
- Ishwarapranidhanam/ Devotion/ letting go of Ego
Hope this gives a little more clarity into your yogic journey.
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