More mindfulness in life with the ten commandments of yoga

Mindfulness is the beginning of yoga practice. This is what the classic guide of “Yoga Father” Patanjali says. To this end, the Indian scholar has formulated ten rules of conduct.

Yoga consists of more than just body and breathing exercises and does not start with rolling out the mat, but in the practitioner’s everyday life. As a holistic practice, yoga addresses the individual’s behavior patterns and attitudes.

Guide to Mindfulness

To this end, the Indian scholar Patanjali formulated a code of ethics consisting of ten rules. The so-called yamas and niyamas are not only the basis of yoga, but also help the practitioner to be more attentive in everyday life. Patanjali wrote down the moral principles of the “Yoga Sutras”, which are considered the classical guide and most important work of yoga. The Indian is therefore often referred to as the “father of yoga”.

A group of people doing yoga

More important than the positions in yoga is the right attitude to life in the practitioner’s everyday life

© Photoshot / Picture Alliance

According to Patanjali’s writings, the goal of yoga is to reach “Samadhi”, a state of highest consciousness in which the practitioner “frees himself from the illusions of the material world”. To get there, the scholar has described an eightfold path, beginning with Yamas and Niyamas. Both complexes consist of five behavioral recommendations. The yamas refer to the relationship with the environment and fellow human beings, the niyamas to deal with themselves.

The Code of Conduct is reminiscent of the Ten Commandments in Christianity. In addition, scientists engaged in the interpretation of the “Yoga Sutras” repeatedly point out the similarity between the ethical rules of conduct and the moral principles of world religions. For the yoga student, they must offer orientation in everyday life and deepen the yoga practice. If you keep reminding yourself of the ten principles, you should be able to treat yourself, your environment, and be more aware in the long run.

Yamas: Mindfulness in the outside world

1. Ahimsa – non-violence

The first and most important commandment is to cultivate compassion and goodwill and not harm any living being. This applies both to fellow human beings and when dealing with oneself. One must also treat one’s own body and mind with care. Any form of violence must be avoided. In addition to the physical level, the principle also applies on the verbal and psychological level – thoughts must be free from violence. Some see the principle as a call for a vegan diet. In any case, Ahimsa is the foundation of life and the foundation of the following rules of conduct.

2. Satya – truthfulness

The other Yama is about sincerity, loyalty and honesty. What you feel inside must always be communicated honestly to the outside world. One should speak the truth and refrain from lying. This principle can also be applied to yourself by being honest with yourself and not fooling yourself. Speaking truth can in some cases have a hurtful effect. Then Satya comes into conflict with Ahimsa. In such cases, diplomatic words matter. But sometimes silence can be a better choice.

Asteya – Do not steal

Asteya goes beyond material goods: one should not rob one’s fellow human beings of property, time, energy or intellectual property. If you use the ideas of others, you should feel this and not sell it as a personal contribution. In some interpretations of Asteya, it is said that theft begins with envy and anger. Do not covet the property of others in the first place. Instead, Asteya should teach the practitioner frugality and modesty. Do not ask for more possessions than you need and be content with what you have.

4. Brahmachary – abstinence

In previous translations of “Yoga Sutras”, Brahmachary was equated with chastity. Modern versions now see the principle as an appeal to loyalty and a moderate life. One should find a middle ground in all his actions and not engage in either restrained or excessive behavior. Almost a healthy self-control in all areas of life.

5. Aparigraha – modesty and imperishability

Aparigraha urges the practitioner not to collect tangible property. Like Asteya, the fifth Yama is about curbing greed and cultivating contentment. In this way, one can also prevent bribery and, for example, learn to reject gifts that are associated with the expectation of something in return. One should not attach to particular situations or emotions more than to material goods. Well-known yoga guru BKS Iyengar saw the “rigidity of thought” as an obstacle to personal development. Therefore, the yoga student should repeatedly question his thoughts, opinions and attitudes and, if necessary, let go.

“The yamas must be observed everywhere, regardless of one’s status, place, time or external circumstances – they represent the great promise,” translates the indologist Georg Feuerstein from “Yogasutrene”. At this point, the essential significance of the moral principles of yoga becomes clear once again. While the yamas regulate social life, the niyamas relate to the practitioner himself. The five rules are a kind of brief guide to a healthy relationship and attentive dealings with oneself.

Niyamas: Pay more attention to yourself

1. Sauca – Purity

The first principle applies to both the internal and the external environment. Purity means both personal hygiene, healthy eating and “clean” thoughts. The therapist should always work on taking a positive attitude towards life. But Sauca also means the spatial environment, that is, a nice apartment and a clean workplace. This in turn has a great impact on the mental state. Researchers have often been able to prove that people in cluttered homes feel more unhappy and more stressed and tend to behave in a more unhealthy way.

Samtosa – Satisfaction

This principle is closely related to Asteya and Aparigraha. Samtosa also encourages you to focus on what is most needed and important. One must be content with his life and his possessions and take all events as they come. That does not mean you should not strive for change or keep evolving. Samtosa, on the other hand, is about developing gratitude for the moment and your own journey, for example by not comparing yourself with other people or by being more relaxed about unpleasant situations.

Tapas – Discipline

Literally translated, “tapas” means something like “warmth”, figuratively meaning the word zeal and discipline. The yoga student must “burn” for his practice and practice constantly. Several interpretations of the “Yoga Sutras” emphasize that this includes mental discipline beyond the physical aspect: renunciation of “comfort that weakens body and mind in the long run”. So do not let unhealthy pleasures like alcohol become a habit.

Man with hands folded in front of chest

“Tapas” refers to physical as well as mental discipline

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In addition, it is also important to discipline his thoughts in order to keep a cool head in all situations. With this attitude and a little patience, the practitioner can overcome any resistance – whether it is physical or mental.

4. Svadhyaya – Self-study

Svadhyaya is about engaging in yourself over and over again. One should become the observer of one’s own inner life. Getting to know your own thoughts and feelings and at the same time asking critical questions about attitudes, thoughts and behavior. In this way, the therapist should in the long run turn to his or her own center.

5. Ishvarapradnidhana – Devotion to the Divine

The last niyama is about believing in something bigger. “The Divine” is not defined in the “Yoga Sutras”. So it’s not a religious belief. It is up to each individual how he interprets “the divine” for himself. Most interpretations of the “Sutras” in Ishvarapradnidhana say that the practitioner must learn to accept his destiny. On the one hand, one should develop confidence in the course of life and on the other hand accept that external circumstances cannot always be affected. As in Samtosa, the yoga student must learn to be grateful for the moment.

Sources: Foundation Teacher Training and Introduction to Yoga, Lotuscraft, Spectrum of Science, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – A New Translation and Commentary, Yoga Journal, Yoga Worlds

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