Yoga has been an increasingly hot topic (in the West) these past few decades, with its roots being established in the early 20th century and growing into the multi-branched tree we see today with its various limbs: Ashtanga, Hatha, Restorative, Yin, Hot, Iyengar, Anusara etc etc. Unfortunately, however, there still is a large misconception on what 'yoga' really is.
Let's take a simple and practical look into what it really is.
Yoga, simply put, is a system to living life that allows each moment we experience to come completely from the heart. There are traditionally 4 ways that someone can practice 'yoga' according to the Bhagavad Gita: Karma Yoga, Raja Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, or Jnana Yoga.
Patanjali was a sage from long ago in India that is attributed to the Yoga Sutras, which stems from the Raja Yoga path. The Sutras are simply an instruction manual for this system. Within the Sutras, Patanjali outlines 10 behavioral and mental rules. It is these 10 rules that have an everyday application.
1) Harmlessness/Non-violence: Fairly straight forward? Not quite. This calls us to think about what exactly is harm? What is it when we are violated, or we violate some other living organism? The simplest place to start (with all of this, of course) is with ourselves. If we can take a moment to sit back daily and reflect on those instances in our lives that we felt harmed, or violated, then we can begin to get a sense of what/how others my perceive our actions and words.
2) Truthfulness: Being true comes from seeing the world 'as it is' without labels. This, like harmlessness, is tougher than it seems. As we grew up, we were exposed to the world through the use of labels. These labels, adjectives/ modifiers, came from how others perceived their own reality, not our own, yet we tend to adopt them unknowingly. To begin practicing truthfulness, we must begin observing how we use adjectives and modifiers to paint a picture of the world that isn't really true. We'll come to notice that many of the observances we have are riddled with poetic deception. Our preferences are what filter out the true word before us and it was the preferences of those that taught us that started the whole process.
To remove the tendency of experiencing the world through our filters, we practice simple observation of the facts. "This morning is cool." "The flower is yellow." "The coffee is hot." vs. "This morning was really nippy." "The flower has a horrible yellow hue." "This coffee is too bitter." Notice that the second set of simple statements contain preferences.
3) Non-stealing: This guideline is pretty straightforward, however, as you analyze it, subtler and subtler levels reveal themselves. This sort of plays into the idea of violation, doesn't it? If we are to take and use the things that don't explicitly belong to us, then we are potentially violating someone, or some being's space and use. Typically, for most of us, we mentally debate what impact will be had if we perform some action with someone else's stuff ie: 'My roommate left this pizza, I wonder if he'll be upset if I eat the last slice?' or 'I couldn't find my hair brush, so I hope Suzie doesn't mind I brushed my hair with it' etc etc. Our own internal prompt to question indicates an innate knowledge that using that which isn't ours should be avoided.
4) Conservation of Vital Energy: Yet again, this is subtler than originally thought also. Vital energy applies to everything, really. All things are resources; our thoughts, physical bodies, emotions, money, land etc etc. Applying this broadly and allowing us to categorize, we can reflectively view each area of our life as reservoirs in which we draw energy. As we continuously draw upon a resource, it diminishes. This is said about fossil fuels, our forests, potable water....so is it any different within our bodies, minds and emotions? Perhaps even extending into our relationships with people and things? Adhering to a regular review of how our energies are being expended (mental, money, physical etc) we can become more aware of imbalances. Correcting imbalances improves the overall environment.
5) Non-avarice/ Absence of Greed: Imagine that you have a bag for picking apples and you set off for the apple grove. You get to the grove and start your task of picking apples for home and begin to think of all the delicious things that will be made of them. Apple pie, tarts, candied apples, stewed apples, apple butter and apple jam! Yum! Eagerly, the bag gets fuller and fuller and, before you thought you even arrived, the bag was full. Walking back through the grove, past all the ripe and delicious apples left unpicked, you begin to feel sad that such a waste they'll become. So, to remedy that dilemma you decide to pick more apples, overstuffing the bag, filling your pockets, but manage to fill over max. Stumbling home and almost there, your arms are so full you can't see the little rock in your way. A simple trip and now you've fallen, the bag is spilt and bruised half the apples. Grandma surely is going to be mad!
In this story, it's the greed of that child to desire more apples, however well intentioned, that resulted in an accident. Don't worry, you didn't get hurt, just had to clean up the mess and fetch more apples. Had you stuck to what you could feasibly manage, perhaps there wouldn't have been such a fuss? So in this way, our desire to have more than what is provided for us can put us out of balance and obstruct our path forward in life.