Welcome to this series on the Yamas and Niyamas of aṣṭāṅgayoga of Patanjali. It is a classification by the Sage Patanjali for the practice of classical yoga. Why are we writing about yoga in a sound meditation website? These are the principles that guide our founder, and understanding of the aṣṭāṅgayoga (Sansrkit for "eight limbs of yoga") informs how we conduct our sessions.
We hope that you find the explanations and application ideas practical and inspirational.
We're going backwards, starting with the last Niyama, working up to the first Yama that is traditionally listed in a specific order. Yamas translates into "moral discipline"and "restraint". They govern our outward, perceivable actions much like "Do unto others what you want done unto yourselves". Niyamas translates into "observances" and are seen as recommended personality traits and habits that govern our inner world. In yoga, nothing stands alone. Whatever we practice within will eventually radiate outwards, so we can see Niyamas affecting the outside world too. In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, we are prescribed with five Yamas and five Niyamas.
This is the first out of the series of 10.
Isvara Pranidhana = devotion to a higher being, contemplation of a higher power
Of the 10 Yamas and Niyamas, Isvara Pranidhana and Svadhyaya (self-study, and study of the sacred texts) are the two that makes yoga uniquely different from just another workout. A yoga practice is a holistic one combining body, mind and spirit. Isvara Pranidahana is the element that brings the Spirit into the equation.
It took me a long time to wrap my head around this concept, as religion is a very personal and complicated issue. I just take a moment here to define religion - you can believe in any religion you want, you could also be agnostic or atheist. I am using the word “religion” and “God” as a convenient point of reference to a belief system and higher power, not necessarily in the strictest form of the dictionary meanings.
A yoga practice can be a deeply personal one if you weave in this extra element of dedication to something or someone beyond yourself. Believing in a God, or a higher power beyond yourself can be humbling and also hugely supportive in times of crisis. We cannot prove that God or a higher power exist, but we instinctively know that there is something bigger than us. They come in different names - God, Higher Self, Karma, Law of Attraction. The simple innate knowledge in Isvara Pranidhana can form the bedrock of human resilience in times of need.
In the same way, if we practice knowing that it is dedicated to a higher being, or a God, your practice becomes a meditation and a prayer. What is meditation? In its raw essence, it is a period of intense focus on something. In this instance, that something is God.
In religion, we believe God is everywhere. If you look up at the cosmos, the neverending sky that surrounds us, you get a sense of something bigger than yourself. If you look at a tsunami or a hurricane, you get the sense of Nature's power. That is Isvara Pranidhana - knowing and respecting the forces bigger than us. We practice with the 10 Yamas and Niyamas to become a better person on the mat. Isvara Pranidhana helps us bring our practice off the mat and into our daily lives.