Yoga 101 – 8 steps to a clear mind

Yoga 101 – 8 steps to a clear mind

When I say “Yoga”, what comes to mind? Yoga postures, Yoga mat, a specific brand of yoga clothing? Perhaps you’ll think: “I’m not flexible”, “challenging” or: “I love stretching”? Or maybe: “peace, calm, de-stress”? Did you know that originally, the practice of Yoga is not at all about performing physical yoga poses on a yoga mat?

You may have heard of the name Patanjali. We actually don’t know if Patanjali was one person or a group of people, but either way he – or they – lived sometime between 600 BCE – 300 CE. Patanjali systematized yoga as one of the six orthodox systems of Indian philosophy in the classical work Yoga Sutras.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali describes yoga as a way to still the mind, eliminating mental chatter. If you have ever tried to get your thoughts to go quiet, you may have experienced that this is not an easy feat. But, if you take Patanjali’s suggestions you can get there some day. Just follow his 8 steps!

Patanjali enumerates eight limbs (or stages) of yoga to find the True Self as a state of pure bliss. They are:

Yama – (restraints)

Niyama – (observances, self-purification)

Asana – (yoga postures)

Pranayama – (control of the breath)

Prathyahara – (exercises that generate a strong sense of introversion)

Dharana – (concentration exercises)

Dhyana – (meditation)

Samadhi – (total merger with the infinite through deep meditation)

I will address the Yamas in this blog. The other 7 steps will follow in one of my next blogs. You will be surprised how applicable this ancient scripture still is in modern daily life!

The five Yamas are:

Ahimsa – non-violence, or: compassion

Aparigraha – not being greedy

Asteya – non-stealing, not taking what is not yours

Brahmacharya –  to practice moderation

Satya – to refrain from all acts of deception and dishonesty

This may look like an obvious list of things to life by – and I think it is for most people – yet there is more to it than it seems at first sight. The practice of the Yamas is meant to reduce suffering and prevent chaos in society. Only after mastering this practice one is ready to move on to the next step, thus Patanjali. Consider the following as a first step on the path towards a clear mind.

Ahimsa – to avoid all forms of violence or injury to self and others

Practice: love, compassion, understanding, patience, self-love and worthiness.

Affirmation: “I focus on loving awareness. I have compassion for myself and others. I am aware that my mind sometimes entertains thoughts of fear, anger or selfishness, but I do not attach to these thoughts nor do I act upon them. I accept these mental states without judgment. I breathe, relax and release them.”

Aparigraha – to not act upon the impulse to be greedy

Practice: non-attachment to possessions and relationships.

Affirmation: “I have everything I need. I release attachment to other people, to possessions, to achieving success in my actions. I create inner fulfillment.”

Asteya – to not take what is not yours

Practice: cultivate a sense of completeness, not being jealous, not stealing time, energy or the world’s resources.

Affirmation: “I am grateful for all I have. I take and use only what is rightfully mine. I respect the possessions, time and talent of others. I appreciate my life as it is.”

Brahmacharya – to be conscious and responsible in the use of energy in all its forms, to observe moderation

Practice: moderation on all levels of life: food, work, spiritual practice, sex. Not repression but management and balance.

Affirmation: “I respect my own energy, the energy of the world and of those around me. I recognize the inherent divinity in all people. I am moderate in my lifestyle. I eat when I am hungry and sleep when I am tired. I use my energy in ways that bring me closer to God/Spirit/the Universe. When my energy becomes scattered I come home to my Source and to the primary relationship with myself.”

Satya – to refrain from all acts of deception and dishonesty

Practice: honesty, owning feelings, loving communication, speaking your truth, assertiveness, forgiveness, non-judging, letting go of masks.

Affirmation: “I speak the truth to myself and others, while I am sensitive to the feelings of others. I speak in the spirit of love. I live in truth. I take responsibility for my actions and my experiences. I honestly see my own part in every situation.”

You may choose one Yama each day, or every week, and work with it. See what comes up for you. What feels natural, and what requires more practice? You may also find that using the affirmations daily will greatly enhance awareness of your thinking and acting, and will help you to manifest equanimity. When you stop having violent thoughts toward yourself – and others – (Ahimsa), when you are content with what you have (Aparigraha), when you respect other’s possessions, talent and time (Asteya), when you can manage and balance all joys of life (Brahmacharya), and when you speak your truth (Asteya) you are right on your way!

Stay tuned for the next steps in one of my upcoming blogs.



Marije E. Paternotte