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What Is the History Behind Yoga and Yoga Sutras?

No matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga, there’s always more to learn! Whether you're a beginner or have mastered every pose, applying yoga’s philosophy to your life is an entirely different and lesser-known side of yoga.


The true meaning of Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit. The Yoga Sutras, the yogic guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life, is an ancient text that provides guidance for achieving this union and outlines the eight limbs of yoga.


Little is known about the sutra’s author. However, it is agreed that the Yoga Sutra is a great gift to the world. This sacred text has taken a profound—and yet, purely intellectual—philosophy and presented it in a form that the average spiritual seeker can follow and use.


Yoga Sutra: Yamas


Yamas are the "don'ts" of the yoga lifestyle.


Yoga is more than completing a series of poses. It’s a lifestyle that can bring balance and clarity to all aspects of your life. To fully embrace your practice and integrate yoga into your life, it’s crucial to understand the principles of yoga.


At the heart of any practice are yoga’s core principles, known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga.


Let's start with the Yamas.


There are five Yamas, or guidelines, used by yogis to live ethically. The Yamas can be considered as a way of applying the behavioral codes of yoga to the way the yogi relates to the world. Practicing the Yamas brings peace and health to the individual, positively influences relationships, and strengthens character.


Here are the five Yamas and how to practice each:


  • Ahimsa- non-violence or non-harming. Physical, mental, and emotional violence are all to be avoided. Compassion and non-judgment are tools for cultivating nonviolence both toward others and ourselves.

  • Satya- truthfulness or honesty in words and actions. The practice of this Yama denotes that the need to speak the truth must be balanced with the need to not harm.

  • Asteya- non-stealing. To practice Asteya, we must let go of envy, jealousy, greed, and desire for what others have.

  • Brahmacharya- restraint or moderation. When we control our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy.

  • Aparigraha- is non-attachment. Aparigraha urges us to let go of everything that we do not need. This includes both material possessions and negative thoughts.

As you begin your journey to living by the Yamas, it is recommended that you learn more about each Yama and choose the one which speaks most strongly to you, to begin with.


Attempting to address all five Yamas at once can be overwhelming. Mastering the Yamas is a lifelong practice, but just the act of learning them will lead you to live them out.


To begin your journey, check out this article from Yoga Journal: https://bit.ly/3b3zhN2


Niyamas


The second of the eight limbs of yoga are the Niyamas. Think of the Yamas as ‘don’ts’ and the Niyamas as ‘dos.’


Like the Yamas, there are five Niyamas.


  • Niyama: Śaucha- cleanliness, purity The practice of Śaucha is both internal and external. Some examples include eating clean foods and relieving the body of stress. To purify the mind, practicing Śaucha means nourishing and feeding the mind in positive and pure ways and ridding the mind of impurities such as hatred, anger, and delusion. Consider being mindful of your speech and written words.

  • Niyama: Santosa- contentment, acceptance, optimism This Niyama asks us to feel satisfied and void of expectations in any given experience. Practice acceptance of what is and give up the need to control what we cannot. If there is something in your life that you are avoiding, Santosa encourages you to face it and find acceptance with yourself.

  • Niyama: Tapas- discipline, persistence Tapas can be engaged in all aspects of life, even the most seemingly mundane activities. Tapas gives you the foundation for any ritual practice. Use this Niyama to bring focus and energy to your goals and daily yoga practice.

  • Niyama: Svādhyāya- self-study Svādhyāya is entirely about self-reflection. The methods that we use to study ourselves can be so vast and are so subjective, so it’s up to you to find what works for your needs. Some methods include journaling, meditation, or nature walks. It’s not the how that matters but what is learned and better understood about our own self, body, and mind.

  • Niyama: īśvarapranidhāna- devotion, surrender This Niyama encourages you to tap into your higher power or spirituality. The practice of īśvarapranidhāna acknowledges that there is a force or energy more incredible that is omnipresent and that we should take time to recognize and celebrate that. Whether you turn to a specific religion, follow the belief that the higher power comes from within, or feel connected to something more in nature, surrender yourself to the unknown.

Allow the Niyamas to guide you to your best self.


Asanas


The third limb of yoga is called asanas. This is the limb people are most familiar with, the physical postures practiced in yoga. Traditionally, asana is designed to prepare the body and mind for seated meditation.


Asanas can be divided into three types: meditative, restorative, and cultural.


  • Meditative Asanas The Meditative Poses are designed for practicing meditation and breathing exercises. These are cross-legged seated postures that allow you to find stillness. The meditative asanas are: - Padmasana or lotus - Siddhasana or adept's pose - Swastikasana or locked-ankles pose - Sukhasana or easy pose

  • Restorative Asanas There are three relaxation asanas, each designed so that there is no need to contract any muscle. The restorative asanas are: - Savasana or corpse pose - Abdominal relaxation pose - Garbhasana or child's pose

  • Cultural Asanas These poses are designed to bring about changes in the body through postural correction, building muscle tone, and correcting internal disturbances. Cultural asanas and examples: - Dynamic sequences: sun salutations - Inverted postures: headstand - Forward bending postures: sitting forward bend - Backward bending postures: cobra, locust, or bow - Twisting postures: half spinal twist - Side wards bending postures: triangle pose - Balancing postures: tree pose

To experience different sequences of postures, I encourage you to experiment with different styles of yoga. For example, Yin is more passive and focused on stretching the joints while Hatha is more aggressive and heat-building. Both offer various benefits and can enhance your posture form. Asana refers to an outlook that life is full of opportunities to learn, even through obstacles.


“We cannot change what we are not aware of, and asana practice provides the perfect platform for self-discovery.” -Kaisa Kapanen

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