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Dharma in Yoga

Updated: Jun 28, 2023

Vala House YTT

Dharma is a fundamental concept in Yoga philosophy that refers to the moral and ethical principles that guide an individual’s life and actions. In Yoga, dharma is seen as a means of achieving inner peace, contentment, and spiritual growth. The concept of dharma is closely related to the concept of karma, which refers to the consequences of an individual’s actions.

The term dharma is derived from the Sanskrit word “dhr,” which means to hold or sustain. Dharma is often translated as “righteousness,” “duty,” or “virtue.” However, these translations do not fully capture the complex and multifaceted nature of the concept. Dharma is not simply a set of rules or commandments, but a dynamic and evolving principle that guides individuals and society towards harmony, balance, and spiritual progress.

In Yoga philosophy, dharma is understood in the context of the three gunas or qualities of nature: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva represents purity, balance, and harmony; rajas represents activity, passion, and ambition; and tamas represents inertia, darkness, and ignorance. The practice of dharma involves balancing these three gunas within oneself and aligning one’s actions with the principles of sattva.

The practice of dharma is also closely connected to the concept of svadharma, which refers to one’s individual duty or calling. Each person has a unique svadharma based on their skills, talents, and circumstances. Fulfilling one’s svadharma is seen as essential for achieving spiritual progress and contributing to the greater good.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, dharma is discussed in the context of the yamas and niyamas, which are ethical principles that guide the practice of Yoga. The five yamas are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-attachment). The five niyamas are: saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), and Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).

The practice of dharma involves applying these ethical principles to one’s daily life and actions. For example, ahimsa involves refraining from causing harm to oneself or others, both physically and emotionally. Satya involves speaking the truth and avoiding deception. Asteya involves refraining from stealing or taking what is not rightfully yours. Brahmacharya involves practicing moderation and channeling sexual energy in a positive way. Aparigraha involves letting go of attachment to material possessions and desires.

The niyamas are also essential to the practice of dharma. Saucha involves keeping the body, mind, and environment clean and pure. Santosha involves cultivating contentment and gratitude for what one has, rather than constantly seeking more. Tapas involves discipline and self-control in order to overcome obstacles and achieve spiritual growth. Svadhyaya involves self-study and reflection on one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions. Ishvara pranidhana involves surrendering to a higher power or divine consciousness.

The practice of dharma is not always easy, as it often requires making difficult choices and sacrificing personal desires for the greater good. However, it is seen as essential for achieving inner peace, contentment, and spiritual growth. By aligning one’s actions with the principles of dharma, one can live a life of purpose, meaning, and fulfilment.

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