A few days ago, I was in yoga class, sweating, breathing, moving, and listening to the teacher rattle off Sanskrit words like satya, shaucha, svadhyaya. These words were like ear candy–it felt so good to hear them. It has been a long time since I’ve heard these words. It has been a long time since I endeavored to live by these words.
These particular words–satya, shaucha, svadhyaya–are classified as yamas (satya) or niyamas (shaucha and svadhyaya) in Ashtanga yoga. “Ashtanga” can be a confusing word; for many of us, it refers to the Primary and Secondary series of poses–a set sequence of postures that is usually associated with the city of Mysore and the names K. Pattabhi Jois and Krishnamacharya. And this is true! But the word “Ashtanga” itself means “Eight Limbs” and is the eight-step system of mental mastery described by the ancient yoga sage Pantanjali some 5,000 years ago. Jois and Krishnamacharya just solidified an ancient system of postures to help bolster and support the other limbs.
These are eight limbs–or steps–are:
1. Yama (restraints)
2. Niyamas (observances)
3. Asana (posture–steady and comfortable; also means comfortable seat)
4. Pranayama (breath work or “science of breath”)
5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal or withdrawal of the mind from sensory input)
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (liberation/enlightenment or union with Brahman, the cosmic source energy)
(Do you notice how closely this list resembles the Eight Fold Path of Buddhism? Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration. OK, maybe the resemblances is more at the level of praxis than at the level of nomenclature.)
Steps 1 and 2, the yamas and niyamas, can be further broken down.
–Satya (truth telling)
–Brahmacharya (hmm….tricky…it’s not explicitly celibacy; it’s more like channeling energy for divine purposes or control/mastery of the senses)
–Tapas (austerity or heat)
–Svadhyaya (self study and study of scared texts)
–Ishvara-pranidhana (awareness of the sacred at all times)
As a way to reacquaint myself with these ideas and try to reincorporate them into my life, I’d like to blog about them in more detail. I’ll discuss one limb per post and maybe my tree will bloom (as if anything could bloom in this frigid snowy weather…but it’s all part of the process, right?).