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8 Yoga Guidelines Every Practitioner Should Know

Updated on July 18, 2018
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana is a yoga enthusiast who investigates every aspect of this ancient art with both Zen and zeal.

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Rules but not Shackles

Here's the good news. The world's got so many rules that must be honoured but yoga is different. Its very nature – and reason why yoga is such a successful system — is because it's flexible. The guidelines are no different. The individual retains the right to decide which to incorporate into their lives and at what pace. The thing is, even when starting with just a few, the yogi often finds drawn to more of the guidelines as a natural step in their progress.

Have Some Yamas

The first two paths concerns do's (niyamas) and don'ts (yamas). The latter is basically the things to withhold from in order to attain discipline as well as mental and physical purity.

  • Don't do harm. This includes the obvious physical injury to another living being, using words to hurt somebody, hurting oneself. However, at a deeper level it also encourages vegetarianism and letting go of negative thoughts
  • Don't lie. This one's harder than it sounds. Truthfulness is hard to pin down since it means diferent things to different groups and white lies have their place! At the least, this yama calls for actions and words to be the same
  • Don't pinch. Stealing range from swiping something that doesn't belong to you, taking undeserved credit or even stealing somebody's moment in the sun
  • Don't abuse desire. Feeling attraction and cravings are perfectly natural but when they consume you, self-development takes a nosedive
  • Don't be greedy. Be aware of jealous thoughts, consuming in excess and constantly putting your needs before others

Satisfaction is a Choice

Don't wait for others or the day to bring great moments. Be content with the small things and soon your capacity to experience more joy will grow.
Don't wait for others or the day to bring great moments. Be content with the small things and soon your capacity to experience more joy will grow. | Source

The Fantastic Do's

  • Be satisfied. Discontent about what we don't have is a major source of human suffering
  • Strive for purity. Hygiene, eating well and nurturing good habits bring the cleanliness that is so important to yogis
  • Grow discipline. For any of the do's and don't to work, self-discipline is crucial. Discipline is a hard but achievable trait; just start small and persist
  • Know yourself. Self-exploration never ends. Those who think they know themselves entirely are much mistaken and are trapped inside a very limited view of their potential
  • Be devoted. This niyama involves reverence for whatever represents the divine in the practitioner's life; God, Buddha or nature, it doesn't matter. Use the devotion as a reminder of how the divine is everywhere, especially within yourself

The Active Paths

Two 'rules' are more physically active than the rest – yoga postures and breathing exercises. Both involve a very important part of yoga; body control. Poses are the defining feature of yoga and bring strength, flexibility and health. It would be difficult to have a complete yoga experience without them. Many of us also underestimate the importance of proper breathing. Without it, neither the body nor the mind can achieve their best performance. In yoga, breathing exercises are held in high esteem as a way to boost energy, intelligence, longer life and a step towards enlightenment.

Second Pudding, Anyone? Third?

Heck, if you really feel like a second helping, go for it. But the fifth discipline of yoga requires control over yet another part of what makes us human — the senses. Called “pratyahara,” the senses are disconnected from all stimuli. At first, this sensual withdrawal doesn't make sense. After all, the senses are there for a good reason. Without them, we'd be incapable of tasting something disagreeable or even toxic. We won't be aware that the house is on fire or see the flames, nor hear them crackle. They help us survive and experience pleasurable things.

Overindulging the senses leads to obesity, health problems, addictions and selfishness. Pratyahara doesn't mean you must turn into a robot incapable of experiencing anything. However, it's a powerful tool to enjoy the magnificence of our senses without sacrificing our dignity, bodies or free will. Pratyahara is fostered through meditation, breathing exercises and poses. Remarkably, a yogi who has mastered a degree of this path can diminish, through detachment, the effects of a painful chronic condition.

Pay Attention, Class!

Imagine a world where nobody paid attention to the important things. You know, like while they were driving or flying aircraft, performing surgery or preparing the legal case of somebody accused of a hideous crime (whose really innocent). Talk about messy accidents and stolen lives.

The sixth branch is all about concentration. Modern life applauds multi-tasking, but this kind of fractured focus saps energy. When done too much, it exhausts the body and mind. Focus cannot revive within fatigue and that's when job errors or accidents happen. Health and relationships decline. The mind's ability to focus is often neglected because it needs periods of rest and refreshment.

This branch is called “dharana” and it teaches how to escape mental fluff. Most of what clogs our thoughts at any given moment is not even about that moment. Usually, it's about something in the past or future, a fantasy or discontent. The fractured ability to focus mends when dharana is practiced. Through exercises, the mind is trained to concentrate on a single thing instead of many.

A Path That Remains Popular

Meditation remains a path well trampled by millions seeking its benefits and wisdom.
Meditation remains a path well trampled by millions seeking its benefits and wisdom. | Source

The Path of Meditation

Unsurprisingly, meditation is another of yoga's eight paths. This practice needs almost no introduction, has been widely covered in the media and is practiced by millions of people, some with no desire to do yoga (and that's okay!). Meditation is not hitting a blank spot in the brain and then spending some time in nothingness. As a natural result of concentration, meditation is awareness. It's a heightened state where reality is viewed for what it is. Be it a quiet mind, a troubled thought, feelings or a breakthrough, the truth of the moment is viewed in starkness that can only be described as a kind of freedom. This clarity carries over into every area of life and allows for better decisions and stress management, among its many benefits.

The Final Merge

When all seven paths flow together, they form the eighth – samadhi. In a nutshell, samadhi is pure consciousness. It's a state that goes beyond normal meditation. During samadhi, the practitioner and the object being meditated upon merge completely. When this occurs, all other boundaries disintegrate and in this sense, the person also becomes the universe. Nobody explodes into billions of stars, nothing that literal. However, this merge erases the sense of being different, of being apart and separate. It's unadulterated bliss.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit

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