The main philosophy of yoga is simple, to connect the mind, body, and spirit.
If you practice yoga, you’re probably already familiar with the physical benefits: improved flexibility and range of motion, enhanced balance, greater endurance, and increased strength and muscle.
While practicing poses is an excellent way to connect the mind, body, and spirit, it’s just the beginning of discovering all that yoga has to offer. To experience the full range of benefits, you also need to take your practice off your mat!
I’ll be sharing a myriad of philosophical ideas surrounding yoga. If you want to explore deeper dimensions of the mind, body, and spirit, this post is for you.
Understanding and Embracing the Philosophy of Yoga With the Yamas
Yoga has much more to offer beyond physical health. For example, some of the teachings of yoga provide guidance on living in accordance with your beliefs.
As a student of yoga, you may be familiar with a scholar named Patanjali. Patanjali conceptualizes centuries of philosophies and practices to provide a step-by-step guide for personal transformation called Yamas.
These Yamas offer guidelines on how to behave in and relate to the universe. In other words, Yamas are guides to leading a conscious, honest, and ethical life.
According to Patanjali, the Yamas are not limited to class and should be practiced on all levels of actions, words, and thoughts. There are five Yamas, and each is briefly outlined below.
Ahimsa is non-violence and refers to physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and the self.
Satya is truthfulness and urges us to live and speak our truth at all times.
Asteya is non-stealing and is best defined as not taking what is not freely given.
Brahmacharya is restraint and states that when we control our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy.
Aparigraha is non-attachment and urges us to let go of everything that we do not need, possessing only as much as necessary.
Engaging in these practices will not be easy, but doing so will fortify your character, improve your relationships with others, and further your journey along the path of yoga.
The Practice of Non-Violence
Ahimsa is the first of yoga’s five ethical principles. Ahimsa is commonly referred to as nonviolence, but it is more accurately translated from Sanskrit as an absence of injury.
While you may think of yourself as a non-violent person, you may be surprised how much Ahimsa can transform your life.
To live by Ahimsa, you need to identify where violence or injury manifests in your daily life.
Harm can go beyond the physical sense of the word and is something we often do to ourselves through negative thoughts.
Disappointment, resentment, guilt, shame, and unforgiveness are all subtle acts of violence upon ourselves, as is acting out of fear. Once you understand the harm those thoughts are doing, you realize those emotions do not serve you.
These negative emotions reflect the war that goes on inside each of us.
Finding inner peace through Ahimsa will, in turn, allow us to communicate peacefully and interact with others. Violence can be very subtle, disguising itself well through words, actions, and inner thoughts.
There are many ways to practice Ahimsa in your daily life. For some, Ahimsa is practiced by not eating meat. Other techniques for practicing Ahimsa are compassion and intention.
Compassion is the ability to accept events as they are with an open and loving heart.
Learning to let go rather than react to a negative situation means showing yourself compassion and others. To live with intention means respecting and even loving the limitations of your own body.
I encourage you to cultivate an awareness of your daily thoughts. Pay careful attention to negative thoughts. In most cases, these negative thoughts are unconscious. By identifying and even questioning unconscious negative thoughts, you can alter your thought stream. This awareness doesn’t require action, just acknowledgment. There is no need to push these thoughts away. Merely observe them.
Practicing Satya Off Your Mat
Satya is the second Yama. You are encouraged to incorporate the pursuit and awareness of truth.
To be truthful in one's life, one's heart, one's presence, and one's mind are to follow Satya.
To become the embodiment of Satya, we must be genuine and authentic. While what we say has the profound power to affect our consciousness, truth is not just what we speak but also what we are.
Our state of being, integrity in our words, deeds, and, most notably, in our intentions all reflect Satya. The practice of Satya is about restraint, slowing down, filtering, and carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first Yama, Ahimsa.
One way to put Satya into practice is to alter judgment language into observation. For example, instead of saying, “This room is a mess,” consider saying, “This room does not meet my 'need' for order.”
Many who seek to practice Satya in daily life turn to this mantra from the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upanishads as a daily prayer for acknowledging their journey towards the highest truth:
Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya Mrityor-Maa Amritam Gamaya Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi!
“Let my journey be From the unreal to the real From darkness (ignorance) to light (knowledge) From mortality (finite) to immortality (infinite) Peace, Peace, Peace!”
This universal prayer reflects our commitment to the highest truth of life.
Satya is an inner knowing and experience of truth, which is believed beyond a doubt. To practice Satya, try following the Four Gates of Speech as a test for delivering spoken words:
1. Are they true? 2. Are they necessary? 3. Is it the right time? 4. Are they kind?