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I have been thinking a lot about benevolence lately.

There seems to be a dearth of it these days, as the Covid restrictions and restraints cause us all to be a wee bit scared about the state of our being and the state of the world. And being a yoga practitioner, I thought about how we could find benevolence through the practice of yoga.

In yoga, whether it be Iyengar, Ashtanga, Hatha, or Kundalini, there are eight limbs to the practice of yoga. (no, you won’t find this approach in mixed disciplines like spin yoga or goat yoga - yes, it’s a thing).

These eight limbs are as follows:

1. Yama

2. Niyama

3. Asana

4. Pranyama

5. Pratyahara

6. Dharana

7. Dhyana

8. Samadi

The first 2 limbs, the Yamas and the Niyamas control the yogi’s emotions and help him/her to be harmonious or benevolent to their fellow man and to themselves.

These two limbs are what every yogi aspires to bring to class, be they beginners or long standing practitioners. The dialogue on the Yamas and the Nijamas is long and deep and impossible for me to cover here. You can find more in-depth information in B.K.S. Iyengar’s book, Light on Yoga.

However, I will try to give you a précise for now.

The Yamas of which there are 5, are the ways to live in society.

  • Ahimsa - non violence

  • Satya - truth

  • Asteya - non stealing

  • Brahmacharya - kindness of speech

  • Aparigraha - non coveting

Ahimsa, is not only about physical violence but also violence in thought. “Our thoughts become our words, our words become our actions and our actions become our destiny.”

It is a yogi’s desire to cultivate positive and loving thoughts.

Often, when someone hurts us, we expect justice while finding excuses for what we ourselves do. A yogi believes that he has to forgive others and find justice for themselves. That said, it is equally important to practice self-forgiveness. To not forgive ourselves is a violence to oneself.

Satya, or truth is considered the highest rule of conduct. Being truthful in words, actions and intentions. This practice requires a deep understanding and awareness as truth as not an absolute. Honesty requires a delicate balance - my rule of thumb is - will it hurt and is it necessary? That answer dictates my truth.

Asteya - means non-stealing. It means abandoning the intent or desire to possess or steal anything - be it material, talent, relationship, achievement or anything that does not belong to you. The urge to steal arises out of greed, a sense of being powerless and comparing oneself to others. Constant craving muddies our tranquility. Asteya encourages us to be content with what we have, and to rejoice in the way things are. When we worry about the future, or brood about the past, we are stealing JOY from ourselves

Brahmacharya - literally, means celibacy. A small minded person will succumb to cravings on a bodily level. They try to find satisfaction through stimulation of the senses. For most of us, celibacy is unrealistic as sex is a part of life. However, an obsession with sex hinders progress. As would an obsession with anything. If we consider Brahmacharya to be self restraint, it’s a much easier objective.

Aparigraha - is freedom from greed, possessiveness or covetousness. It means not taking more than is needed, and non-accumulation, which when practiced can help in developing detachment. And detachment is the road to happiness. This is a big conversation and one that would be interesting to have.

Niyamas are the 5 ways we live with ourselves

  • Saucha - purity

  • Santosha - contentment

  • Tapas - ardour or austerity

  • Svadhyaya - study of self

  • Isvara Pranidhana- dedication to the Lord

Saucha - purity or cleanliness, refers to cleansing on many levels. The physical and mental levels as well as the internal and external. If practiced correctly, Saucha has a profound effect on our well being, through cleanliness, mindfulness of what we put into our bodies and our minds.

Santosha - contentment gives you happiness and happiness gives you joy. How often have you said, “I’ll be happy when….”? This doesn’t mean you sit back and accept the need to do nothing. It means accepting and appreciating what you have and who you are and moving forward from there. This is difficult because it is our nature to want more, to better ourselves. This is what helps us survive as a human race. But when do you consider what goals are truly important? To our lives and to our wellbeing? The answer lies again in non-attachment, or detachment. I came across this when I was worried about the happiness of one of my children. I had to detach from wanting certain things for them. To let them live their life, in their way, accepting this was their journey. Does it mean not loving? No. In fact, it helps your love to grow and accept whatever decisions they make. And once I was detached from what I wanted, I was of much greater support to them.

Tapas - the practice of tapas could be regarded as character building. It means accepting adverse conditions without complaint, cultivating a sense of self-discipline, passion and courage to pave the way to personal growth and inner wisdom.

Swadhyaya - is the practice of self study or education. Observing one’s attitude, balance, sincerity and from these observations, learning to improve oneself.

Iswar Praidhana - surrendering to a higher power. Surrendering oneself, in the context of the universe. This you have probably experienced in savasana at the end of an intense yoga class;

that feeling of surrender, peace and bliss.

These are only two of the eight limbs of yoga, but aspiring to develop the yamas and the niyamas, will make you feel more benevolent to others and to yourself. Think of how you would apply these practices to the mat.


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