There are many aspects to Yoga Philosophy. The history is very rich and very complex. When it comes to Yoga practice, most people think it is just a variety of poses that are strung together. However, Yoga practice is much more than just the poses. The poses are only one piece of eight separate sections of Yoga practice. These sections are called the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga are listed in order of how you should practice, starting with how you treat others and yourself. This leads into the basic postures and then breath control. The next four limbs are the process of meditation ultimately leading to supreme ecstasy.
Many people, myself included, will first focus on the poses alone. There is nothing wrong with this, because once one becomes comfortable with the poses and incorporates these into daily routines, one’s outlook on life often begins to change for the positive, and one will naturally begin to practice the other limbs of Yoga as well.
Personally, I had already been practicing the first two limbs for most of my life. The poses helped me to refine those skills and start to focus on my journey to meditation, and maybe even ecstasy.
The first Limb of Yoga is Discipline (Yama). There are 5 Yamas: Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Wise Use of Energy), and Apararigrahah (Non-Greed). The Yamas are directed mostly to how we treat others. They are our moral integrity and are vital to a successful Yoga practice.
Ahimsa, or Non-Violence, includes all physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual violence. This also includes gossiping, having ill-will towards others, and attempting to impose our own thoughts and beliefs on others.
Satya, or Truthfulness, includes being honest with both others and ourselves. Being honest with ourselves means being honest about our bodies. We must never hide our true intentions and motivations with words or actions.
Asteya, or Non-Stealing, includes not engaging in the act of stealing from or scamming others, and not giving others credit they are due.
Brahmacharya, or Wise Use of Energy, means different things to different groups of people. For Monks, this means celibacy. For modern people, this means taking stock of the energy we have and how we use it. It can include sexual energy, but ultimately refers to all energies moving within our bodies.
Apararigrahah, or Non-Greed, essentially means living a life with as little as we need to survive and not over-indulging in excess. It also means to not have extreme attachment or possessiveness of the objects we do own so that we can easily let them go if necessary.
The second Limb of Yoga is Restraint (Niyama). There are 5 Niyamas: Sauca (Purity), Santosa (Contentment), Tapah (Austerity), Svadhyaya (Scriptural Study), and Isvara Oranidhana (Devotion & Self Surrender). These Niyamas are mostly directed at how we treat ourselves. They are our internal restraints and personal principles.
Sauca,or Purity, means physical and mental purity. It includes cleanliness of mind and body as well as organization, clarity, and precision in both areas also. This happens by having a proper diet, good cleaning and hygiene practices, and practicing meditation.
Santosa, or Contentment, includes being content with who you are, your status in society, and what you have. We must be grateful for who we are and what we have and not be driven for more.
Tapah, or Austerity means being dedicated fully to your practice regardless of any distractions or obstructions that arise.
Svadhyaya, or Scriptural Study, means studying material that promotes spiritual growth as well as studying oneself in depth. It also includes practicing some spiritual actions such as chanting 'om'.
Isvara Pranidhana means devotion and self surrender. This is not specific to one deity. It means to surrender to be a part of the Universe, a part of the greater whole. It is to accept that there is a higher power and to devote all action and thought to that higher power.
Practicing the first two Limbs of Yoga are essential to be a good Yogi as well as a good person. It is essential to strive to achieve each of the 5 Yamas and Niyamas in order to give back to the Universe and attract positive changes to yourself.