Before the Pose

We can engage in yoga practice long before we ever roll out our mat.  As I’ve mentioned in past entries asanas or postures are actually the third out of eight limbs of yoga practice.  So there are many other references points to be had as one travels deeper and deeper upon the path of yoga.

Despite the glossy images in the magazine and the tremendous feeling of integration that can arise through practice, everyone’s passage through life is marked with adversity.  In part, this is why there are so many limbs to yoga practice.  The limbs give us some reference points for how to best maneuver through life’s challenges and achievements and not be defeated in the process.

These core reference points are called Yama and Niyama (restraints and observances) and they are the foundation of yoga practice.  Without them, it does not matter how open our hamstrings are or if we can launch up into handstand.  These practices outline our basic moral instinct and encourage us to challenge our egocentric limitations.  This is how we can practice yoga “off the mat.”

The first rung of our eight-limb yoga latter is called yama or restraints.  Interestingly, the author of this system (a sage named Patanjali born around 200A.D.) begins not by telling us what to do but rather what we should refrain from doing, there by leaving it up to the aspirant to arrive at the appropriate course of action.

These restraints are to be practiced on a physical, verbal and even mental basis.  They offer the student of yoga the opportunity to practice in every aspect of their lives regardless of weather or not they can touch their toes.  The yamas are further broken down into five sub categories, each of them deeply interrelated. The first of these sub categories is called ahimsa or none-harming and it will be the subject of the next entry.