How Yama and Niyama Affect Daily Life and Yoga Practise

This is a guest post by Manatita

In this essay, the writer will first show the essentials of Yama and Niyama and its relation to Yoga, and will conclude with the practical aspect of how these two ?abstinences?, has affected his daily life and Yoga practice.

Yama and Niyama are the first steps in Yoga practice. They are considered the foundations of Yoga. They are the first two limbs of the eight-fold Path of Patanjali – the ancient sage – the rest being:-

  • Asana – bodily postures. They combine a series of exhaustive exercises, widely known in the West as Hatha Yoga, for the health and discipline of the physical. They are also useful for the movement of the life-force and the attainment of the Higher Yoga.
  • Pranayama – control of the life-force. It involves the inhaling, retention and exhaling of breath.
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses from the external world
  • Dharana – concentration – control of or steadying of the mind on a particular object to the exclusion of everything else.
  • Dhyana – the gazing or fixing of the mind on a Higher Consciousness. Sri Chinmoy, in his book The Silent teaching, 1985, refers to it as conscious self-expansion?.?silence, energizing and fulfilling?the eloquent expression of the inexpressible?
  • Samadhi – profound contemplation or the tuning of the inner self with the Universal Self. This is a profound state and achieved by only a few. (Gibson, WB: The Key to Yoga, 1958)

Yoga means to yoke, to bring together, and to merge. Yoga is union with God – the union of the individual self with the transcendental Self (Sri Chinmoy: Yoga and the Spiritual Life).

Yama and Niyama are the ?do?s? and ?don?ts or ethical principles of Yoga, sometimes likened to the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. Even ?Effort and Relaxation.? The two, being so closely related, are sometimes described as one, but Yama, nevertheless, is the first step.

  • Yama – self-restraint/forbearance/right-thinking – things to avoid doing because it will bring harm to the individual and to society. These are the ?don?ts?:
  • Ahimsa – Non-injury – to abstain from harming all forms of living creatures through thoughts, words or deeds. Ahimsa is an inner virtue. Here purity of intent is very important. As we may sometimes have to kill to sustain life or even walk on creatures without seeing. Sincerity of purpose and purity of intent is of paramount importance. Ahimsa is an inner attitude in which hatred is replaced by love. It is true sacrifice, forgiveness and power. (Swami Sivananda: Bliss divine, P. 15)
  • Satya – Non-lying or truthfulness – to be true to oneself, ones thoughts, words and actions should agree. However, according to Blake the poet or Sri Ramakrishna, the Great spiritual Master of India, one should never tell a cruel truth.
  • Asteya - Non-stealing or honesty - desire or craving is said to be the root cause of stealing and dishonesty. When one is free of the yearning for material objects or gains, the attraction to gaining objects through immoral means will cease.
  • Bramacharya – Non-sensuality, continence – this is freedom from lust in thought, word or deed. (Swami Sivananda: Gospel of Divine Life, 1985) It includes freedom from physical as well as mental pleasures. Even in the dream state. Here Yoga postures such as Sirshasana and also Sattvic (wholesome) food can help a great deal. One also needs to be careful with immoral company and to be inwardly vigilante at all times. (Prabhavananda Swami: Narada?s way of Divine love, 1972).
  • Aparigraha – non-greed – freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one?s needs. These include coveting something belonging to someone else. Non-greed allows one to be free from the fear of loss, hatred & anger towards what other’s have, or attachment and disappointment when things are lost or unattainable. By the practice of Aparigraha one is aided in the practice of Ahimsa (non-killing), Satya (truthfulness), and Asteya (non-stealing).

The purpose of these ?abstinences? is to seek perfection, following the Yama?s more closely day by day. They lessen desires and produces calm, enabling one to devote oneself to the Higher goal of Yoga.

  • Niyama – observances – it consists of purity, both internal and external (Shaucha), contentment (Santosha), the practice of austerity (Tapas), the study and learning of spiritual books (Swadhyaya), and self-surrender to God (Atmanivedana).
  • Saucha – purity – both external and internal. For internal cleansing one should look to having a right diet eating Sattvic (pure) foods that are conducive to meditation and comes from pure sources. The best foods to eat are ones that come from organic sources grown with respect for the earth and the environment. Cleanliness will assist the Prana or life energy carried through the body.
  • Santosha – contentment or peacefulness – generating and releasing hidden energy of our bodies, brings new light to every cell. The more light we bring into the body, into the cells, the more we shall experience Santosha. An inner peace and contentment shall overcome us and fill us with joy and happiness. This peacefulness generally remains irrespective of the state of the world.
  • Tapas – spiritual discipline – Tapas can be likened to Karma-yoga, the yoga of action, because it requires us to act to keep each part of the body and mind clean and pure. It also requires discipline, steadfastness and a burning intensity for Truth.
  • Swadhyaya – self-study or spiritual study.
  • Atmanirvedana – self-surrender or offering of one?s life to God. This is the Highest Goal. See Sri Chinmoy?s ?Beyond Within? One should be surrendered totally and unconditionally to the Will of the Supreme. It is initially difficult and requires practice, faith, all the above principles plus the company of a realised Soul or God?s Grace.

Having established what Yoga is, we see that Yama and Niyama as expounded by Patanjali, are really steps to discover one?s true nature. It would appear from the teachings, (Narada Bhakti Sutras??that without Yama and Niyama there is no happiness. Without a code for moral and spiritual values, there is only chaos in life. Nevertheless, a life of wholesome thoughts, study, discipline and exercise, accompanied by Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) can and will one day certainly take us to the yogic goal of self-realisation – total and unconditional surrender to the Will of the Supreme.

How Yama and Niyama has Helped me.

Yama and Niyama have put me on the path to a greater awareness of the harmony of living and life?s true purpose. Looking at the Yama?s, especially Ahimsa, has helped me to practice non-violence to all beings. While I still stumble from time to time, my sense of the principles of Patanjali, has deepened my study and sharpened my practice. Naturally this has reflected in my feeling calmer and with a greater acceptance of life here and now.

I feel an acute awareness of the environment and the sacredness of life, and I am less likely to abuse creatures and higher animals. I am now inclined to devote myself to study and spiritual discipline, and also to improve my health so that I can be a better person and instrument for a Higher cause. I move forward positively towards the path of self-restraint.

I strive to be aware of Truth in my Practice, and as best as I can, minimise the hurt that I cause others in my words, thought and deeds. Each Entity is a part of the life energy of Being, and as such, is important to me.

Overall, I eat healthier, encourage positive lifestyles, avoid the negatives of the mundane, and by God?s grace, aim to re-discover life?s true purpose.

-Manatita 2008

Manatita is a member of the London Sri Chinmoy Centre

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