Wisdom from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

Happiness Results in Health

Good health and happiness go hand in hand. When we are healthy, we have energy to do things that make us happy. On the flipside, psychological studies have shown that happy people live longer and healthier lives. The question is, how do we become happy? Propaganda may lead us to believe that acquiring material goods leads to happiness. We work hard to earn money to buy the latest trends. Yet something is missing. Frustration is still there. No matter how much we get, it is never enough.

The Yoga Sutras, compiled by Patanjali, teach us about the eight limbs of yoga, an alternative path to happiness and health. The physical exercises practiced in yoga studios are one of the eight limbs. The other limbs focus on breath, morality, meditation, and other aspects of spiritual living. The first limb is called Yamas, or universal principles of morality. According to the sutras, regardless of one’s culture, religion, family traditions or race, universal principles exist that apply to all human beings. Following these principles, not acquisition of material goods, is the key to happiness.

These principles of morality are:

1) Ahimsa (non-violence/compassion) – includes being nonviolent to other living beings in thought, words, and deeds. Following a vegetarian diet is one way to practice ahimsa. Ahimsa also refers to being non-violent to oneself.

2) Satya (truthfulness) – besides not speaking lies to others, satya includes being honest with ourselves.

3) Asteya (non-stealing) – in addition to not stealing others’ property, asteya includes not stealing people’s time with gossip/non-purposeful speech, and not taking from the earth more resources than needed. We can recognize everything as belonging to God, and use resources for universal good rather than “steal” them for selfish purposes.

4) Brahmacarya (sense control) – Just because we see a piece of chocolate cake, we do not have to eat it. Brahmacarya refers to utilizing intelligence rather than sensual inclinations in making choices. In regards to sex, it refers to celibacy in unmarried people, and monogamy and restriction within married couples.

5) Aparigraha (non-hoarding) – Aparigraha refers to keeping what we need, and not more, to maintain a healthy life. When we possess less, life becomes simpler, and we have more time and energy for spiritual cultivation.

Modern society teaches us that more sex, money, and possessions will bring us happiness. To accomplish these feats we sometimes lie, pretend to be who we are not, and commit violence against others to get our own way. Yet such a life does not lead to actual happiness. Let us acknowledge the wisdom offered by spiritual texts such as Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Experiment with these principles of morality for just one week. Try to live a simple, honest, and pure life in accordance with these five yamas, and feel the results for yourself. Happiness and health come from within by the choices we make every day.

Sara is a certified Ayurvedic Educator through California College of Ayurveda and a certified yoga teacher for adults and children. She likes to meditate, sing devotional music, and spend time in nature.

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