Yoga is currently the centre of attention for members of the media, scientists and medical workers, owing to its numerous benefits, which include improving outcomes for women overcoming breast cancer, reducing migraine and back-related pain, and helping mothers in high risk pregnancies achieve better outcomes for themselves and their babies.
Yoga has additionally been found to instigate the regression of atherosclerosis (the thickening of the artery walls), one of the most common causes of heart attack. For those who have been practicing yoga for many years, however, yoga is more than a practice; it is a lifestyle, as set out in the Yoga Sutra, which is often traced back to around 250CE and attributed to Patanjali.
Although Patanjali is often referred to as the ‘Father of Modern Yoga’, he may not have been the author of the Yoga Sutra, since it is not until the 10th century that this work is attributed to him. Regardless of authorship, the Yoga Sutra contains Eight Limbs, which are hailed as the foundation of the yoga lifestyle.
The Eight Limbs comprise:
Yamas (‘restraints’): These represent our attitude towards our environment and other sentient beings.
There are five Yamas
Ahimsa or compassion/non-violence:
This Yama implies living our lives while attempting not to harm others, in our words, deeds and thoughts. Not only is violence towards others shunned; there is an inherent respect for all sentient things, which is why many fervent yogis also happen to be vegan.
Veganism is seen as one of the ways be can be most compassionate to animals and to create positive energy in the world. This is specially true when we consider that the meat industry has changed drastically since the Yoga Sutra was written, and farming methods are much less conscionable than they were in the past. Moreover, by consuming meat from animals which have been overloaded with antibiotics and medications, we may be harming our health in the long run, as well as damaging the environment.
It is vital, of course, that we also have compassion for ourselves, by ensuring we obtain all the nutrients we need. The vegan lifestyle, with its high quotient of phytonutrients, is packed with vitamins and minerals; Vitamin B12 is not found naturally in plants, though this can be overcome through supplementation or through the consumption of fortified foods. Other nutrients vegans may also need extra supplementation for include zinc, calcium, iron and Vitamin D.
Satya or a commitment to honesty:
The yoga lifestyle espoused the importance of speaking the truth without harming others. Honesty is required to build positive human, community and governmental relationships and should govern all our dealings and actions.
Asteya or not stealing:
This yama is self-explanatory: we cannot take what is not ours out of a mistaken sense of entitlement.
Brahmacharya or sense control:
This Yama implies the value of responsible sexual activity; of employing our sexuality to move towards truth. Sex should never be a vessel through which to harm others.
Aparigraha or not being greedy:
The yoga lifestyle implies a commitment to spirituality, since excessive materialism and hoarding of wealth can steer us off the path to truth and harm others in an indirect manner.
II NIYAMA (Personal Observances):
I The Niyamas are rules by which we should live in order to live in a spiritual manner.
Saucha or cleanliness: The aim is to clear the body of harmful toxins through asanas and pranayamas, but also to rid the mind of destructive thoughts and emotions like greed, hatred and vengefulness.
Samtosa or contentment: We have the right to pursue contentment, so long as we do not hurt others in the process.
Tapas or spiritual austerity: This Niyama refers to the importance of exercise and aiming our energy at our ultimate goal, which is being at one with the Divine.
Svadhyaya or self study: Knowing ourselves helps us change the bad habits and destructive thoughts that can get in the way of progress-
Isvara pranidhana or surrender to God: In everyday life, surrendering ourselves to God involves taking the time every day to realise that there are spiritual forces that guide our lives and the world at large; we are not the end, if not a small part of the greater Universe.
III Asanas: These are the postures we perform when doing yoga; they help us control body and mind and develop our ability to concentrate.
IV Pranayama: This involves controlling our breath to connect it with the mind and emotions.
V Pratyahara or sensory transcendence: This stage of the yoga lifestyle encourages us to rise above our senses and observe how our desires can interfere with physical or mental purity.
VI Dharana: This stage involves concentration on one single point, as a precursor to meditation.
VII Dhyana or meditation: Meditation is the constant flow of concentration. Meditation is vital for bringing our stress levels down and focusing ‘on the here and now’ rather than letting our worries and daily events prevent us from reaching true happiness.
VIII Samadhi: This is the state of ecstasy, when we transcend the self and become at one with the Divine. It is the ultimate reward of adopting a lifestyle that enriches the world we are born into, rather than destroying it.
Author Jenni Byers