Yamas and Niyamas

Yoga Philosophy: Yamas and Niyamas in Yoga

Yoga not only means to encourage limiting oneself to physical involvement. It is rather a path centered at the philosophy of mental and spiritual wellness. The process of Yoga itself moves from a restricted sense to move towards enlightenment.

Yoga is about balancing the opposites, making oneself learn to transcend them. Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs in the Ashtanga Yoga Where both the terms are inherited from Sanskrit.

Definition of Yamas and Niyamas:

Yamas has its roots in Yam– which refers to, ‘to harness’, ‘to hold’, ‘to submit’, or ‘to rule’. Niyamas, on the other hand, refers to the Dos which, one has to practice in order to nurture the good spirit within. Niyamas is translated as “Observances” and both of the Yamas and Niyamas contribute to a better state of Awareness and consciousness in us as humans. Yoga tends not to impose a set of rules instead, it helps us lead an enlightened way to live our lives letting us question ourselves.

Origin and Purpose:

The question is not whether something is good or bad, it is to avoid us or restrain us from the deeds that put us in the circumstances eventually making us question our own actions. This is where Yamas and Niyamas step in, where we get to decide how to aid the good and positive and how to neglect the bad and negative.

Yamas are the guidelines that enable to maintain social balance with people surrounding us and focus on our social life (Social Ethics) whereas Niyamas enable us to focus on our personal practices assisting us to develop our inner selves.

The motive is to pull or push ourselves (the inner and outer) to a balanced level to bring ourselves into order and contented state. Consider the example of balancing the growing needs and escalating the level of our working capacity here, what can we do ourselves to improvise the working capacity and reducing the needs.

The purpose should be an ideal state since we are emphasizing on both to overcome this state of imbalance. The purpose of Yama-Niyama is to bring ourselves into a state of mental or emotional stability hence retaining the physiological state in the state of equilibrium with the former. The state achieved then, is called Sukha Sthanam.

As Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad Gita that the one who has reached the state of equilibrium or outgrown the pairs of opposites, he has overcome the obstacles of the extremes situations he had faced. We do not solve a problem, we outgrow one. As said in The Bhagavad Gita. And the one who has conquered the first and last five jewels of Yamas and Niyamas has truly achieved the state as described in the Bhagavad Gita in verse II : 48 as, “Yogastha Kurukarmani Sangham Tyaktva Dhananjaya, Siddhaya Asiddhayo Samabhutva, Samatvam Yoga Uchyate”, which refers to a balanced approach to any and every situation (whether success or failure) as Samatvam (Equanimity).

The Five Yamas of Yoga:

The Pancha Yamas or (the five jewels) are: Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Continence/Walking with God), Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness).

Ahimsa: Ahimsa is not harming or injuring any living being which aims at banishing the trait of a beast from our humans which conforms to not hurting any kind of living creature neither no just killing. The latter jewels are all based on the first one Ahimsa. One who practices Ahimsa, must not even possess unkind thoughts towards others. It is contrary to Himsa which can be any form viz. mistreating your inferiors or bad mouthing about others.

Satya: The second of the five Yamas is Satya which refers to truthfulness. Thoughts must harmonize with words and words with actions. Suppose you are in a temple or at a funeral and at the same time you think of copulating with someone, and you calm people with condolences at the same time.

The self is the truth which can only be achieved by speaking of truth which cannot be achieved by lying as it disturbs your subconscious mind. It is said that if you speak of truth for twelve continuous years, you acquire Vaak Siddhi (Whatever you say comes to pass). Your influence will be over many people as you achieve great power in your speech.

Asteya: This is a form of restraint that means to non-stealing. This puts to question ourselves why do we steal? We do so to gain something using illegitimate means since we lack the ability to get it through legit means. The reason could be any of greed, desire, or lust that triggers us to steal.

A nibble of bread, or a stack of money, stealing is stealing. Besides, eating more than required, hoarding too much money, or serving to your cravings is also a form of stealing.

Brahmacharya: Brahmacharya is practicing continence and when controlled, the part of human energy which is expressed in the sexual union gets channelized into special spiritual energy called ojas shakti and is stored up in the brain. Brahmacharya is a term composed of two different words “Brahma” and “Charya” referring to having a routine as of God. What its literal meaning refers to is to have restrained the sexual desire and not to suppress it.

Restraint works towards spiritual consciousness whereas suppressed sexual desire works towards nothing but downfall as sooner or later these desires outgrow your conscience and may harm you or others.

Aparigraha: The fifth of Yamas is Aparigraha which, on the contrary means, abstinence of covetousness or greed. This, in other words, refers to kill the craving or the traits that lead you towards anxiety, fear, anger, etc.

Aparigraha assists oneself to achieve a contented and enlightened life diminishing the fear, anger, jealousy, and or depression.  Aparigraha walks along while practicing Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya.

When Craving is uncontrolled, anger takes over and when you are unable to possess something, you try to steal it or grow envious of anyone who has it. Even, you try stealing or lying in order to attain it. Aparigraha banishes all these and is treated as the foundation of all Yogas.

The Five Niyamas of Yoga:

Niyamas consist of five limbs that are Shaucha (Purity; Internal and External), Santosha (Contentment), Tapas (Austerity/ Asceticism), Swadhyaya (Self-Study), and Ishwara Parnidhana (Surrender to Divinity).

Shaucha: Shaucha is attaining a state of purity, both internal and external. External purity generates internal purity and internal purity nurtures the external one, hence, both are correlated. Removing lust, greed, or anger, contributed to internal purification.

For instance, a morning bath helps one to adapt to a calm and peaceful mood as compared to not taking bath early in the morning. Our mind becomes unidirectional and cheerful instilled with love and patience.

Santosha: Santosha is the key to cut all the craving and desires and to gain satisfaction. The one in practice of Santosha succeeds in all the walks of life as he is untouched by Himsa, Greed, Lust, and jealousy. He remains the same in whatever condition he is put in. Contentment is accepting things as they are and to make the best of whatever comes.

Tapas: It is practicing Yoga through dynamic methods. It talks years of practice to turn oneself into a Tapasvi (The one who has mastered his senses through meditation) as this is to do something that your will is against but you have to do it to have a positive effect on your life.

When our will conflicts with the desire of our mind an internal “fire” are created which burns up our mental and physical impurities. It results in full control of the mind which also builds endurance and strength (both mental and physical). Mental Tapas are considered more powerful than Physical Tapas. It is obvious from the difference as one who bears physical stress may not seem to bear an insult or argument.

Swadhyaya: Swa means self and Adhyaya means study hence completing the meaning of this word to Study of Self in other words, Introspection of self. In practice of Swadhyaya, you inquire yourself about yourself and in your context only.

Swadhyaya is an indirect Satsang where only you are in the company of yourself and pose questions to self about yourself only. In this scenario, you are the wise and you are a seeker. Swadhyaya gives a pointed direction and helps us meditate and focus on inner-self including the surroundings.

Ishwara Pranidhana: Surrendering all the fruits of efforts to God or the superior power with selflessness and devotion. Through this simple act of dedication we become reminded of our relationship with our higher power, and what we practice becomes sacred and graceful, filled with inner peace, unbound love.

While surrendering his will to the Divine power the devotee’s will is in confluence with the lord. The divine influence streams into his existence and transforms it into a fit medium for divine realization and divine instrumentality.

Note: We must bear in mind that all five Yamas and Niyamas are not separate but different entities. Indivisible but connected with each other, all the Yamas and Niyamas are inter-linked and codependent on each other. As a practitioner of Yamas and Niyamas, we go along a journey taking one step at a time. Without expecting results, one needs to have patience and be selflessly compassionate of what he practices.





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