The Philosophy of Yoga

Yoga off the Mat

Yoga on the mat is fabulous for our health and well-being. However, it is actually only a small part of the total yoga practice. Historically, it was expected that a novice yogi would already be proficient in what could also be described as, “Being a decent human being” before beginning the physical aspects of yoga.

We don’t teach yoga to baboons!”

~Alan Watts

Academic Alan Watts once famously said, “We don’t teach yoga to baboons!” A comment that might seem rude to both to the humans he was referencing and to baboons! (Especially when, these days, a quick search online will produce multiple cat, dog, horse and goat yoga videos. Who’s to say there’s not a baboon or two out there practising, too!)
However, his comment stemmed from the fact that traditionally certain qualities were required of someone who wanted to be initiated as a student of yoga. The first layer of these being known as The Yamas.

The Yamas

According to ancient sankskrit texts in which the Yamas are found The Yoga Sutras an aspiring yogi ‘should‘ be already be practicing:-

  • Non-violenceahimsa – First Do No Harm. Not to yourself, to others or to anything at all. Not with your thoughts or your words or your deeds. (This is why you find so many vegan yogis!)
  • Truthfulnesssatya – Both with others and with yourself.
  • Non-stealingasteya – Not just material possessions but ideas, time and energy or even just taking more than we really need. We can steal from ourselves as well, by living too much in the past or in the future.
  • Self Restraint/Moderation brahmacharya – Often simply translated as celibacy. Celibacy certainly prevents us from expending sexual energy unwisely. However, we must also cultivate – and not repress – that energy. When we channel this energy wisely, we are fully practising brahmacharya. This can be done through abstinence but does not depend on it. Think tantric practises… (Oh, now do I have your attention?!)
  • Non-greedaparigrapha – Being happy with what you have. Not grasping for more or hoarding possessions.

These five qualities together are known as the Yamas and are the first step on an 8-limbed path to Yogic Bliss.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga
(in order) are:-

  • The Yamas : Moral Restraints – see above.
  • The Niyamas : Personal observances – Involve practising cleanliness (of body and mind), contentment and discipline, the act of self-study and the realisation that we individually are not the centre of the universe but instead are a part of something greater.
  • Asanas: Physical Practice The part many of us most associate with yoga – the physical part – and according to BKS Iyengar: “This down-to-earth, flesh-and-bones practice is simply one of the most direct and expedient ways to meet yourself.”
  • Pranayama: Breath WorkBreathing techniques and controls that can alter the chemistry of the body and mind.
  • Pratyahara : Withdrawing the senses – Bringing awareness within.
  • Dharana : Concentration – Single-pointed focus
  • Dhyana : Meditation
  • Samadhi : Bliss

Now Yoga is for Everyone

Luckily, these days, no-one is precluded from entering into and reaping the rewards of yoga. These philosophies are often woven into classes without you even realising and all can be practiced “on the mat”. But it’s when we take them “off the mat” and into the world – into our daily lives, our work, our play and our relationships – that we start to really see the magic happen!

To learn more about these Yogic Philosophies:

My personal favourite is this translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda
[Cool bit of trivia: he was the opening speaker the 1969 Woodstock Festival!].

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Swami Satchidananda

I find Swami Satchidananda’s simple explanations and useful commentary help to apply these ancient sutras more easily to our current, modern world.

Profile photo and text: Much Love, Nette xxx

Find out more about Nette here.

Originally written for and published on the Things 2 Do Marbella website September 2016.

Jeannette Amy (Nette) Hopkinson (BSc Hons Sports & Life Sciences) is a certified yoga teacher and Oneness Blessing Giver based in Andalucia. Follow her on IG @nettenirmalayoga or find her on facebook @NirmalaYogaSpain