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Yoga Philosophy: Yamas and Niyamas in Yoga
by Rishikesh Yogis
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.
Developing Awareness through Asana and Pranayama
by Sushant Pandey
‘Turning on’ the listening mode When we practice any asana, the body, the breath, and the mind
are equally engaged in the posture. As a result of this we are able to put our bodies into a sort of ‘listening mode’ where the application of focus and concentration causes the body to be more relaxed and more receptive to its own messages. Any Asana will help to clear the mind and pinpoint physical areas of pain or tension, weakness or immobility and as soon as we become aware of this we can employ the mind in further examination and scrutiny. Asanas create the opportunity for the witness to become active. It is in this mind frame that we can make positive changes in our lives. On completion of each posture we can analyse what we are feeling or what is distracting us. This kind of thinking again serves to draw us into the present moment making us more aware of what we need to deal with in the here and now. Asana takes us on a journey of deepening levels of awareness starting from the body and moving inwards to the furthest recesses of the mind. Grounding the awareness into the body Since breath reflects our state of mind, awareness of breath increases our awareness of our mental states. In Pranayama we break habitual patterns of incorrect breathing and in this way we confront and expose our conditioned personalities. The fuller we breathe, the more alive we feel, the less we breathe and the less we feel. Suppressing full breathing tends to fend off feelings, for example, we may discover when practicing Pranayama that one does not breathe sufficiently into the abdomen. According to Bioenergetics a tense abdomen could have been developed as a means of curbing sexual feelings, controlling excretory functions, or trying to diminish an emotional pain. A tight abdomen can of course mean many more things, but the very act of becoming conscious of this tightness can lead one on the road to mental relief. Some may find that they are unable to emit a deep expiration after a deep inhalation, which may be due to tensions in the shoulder girdle and the neck and throat. The Bioenergetics interpretation of this would be that tight shoulders may indicate an act of inhibiting the impulse to strike/reach out. Tight necks and throats may be the result of inhibiting the need to cry or even scream. Pranayama helps us to raise our levels of self awareness and we can employ similar questions as we did in Asana: “Why do I hold my abdomen so tightly?”, “What feelings or thoughts do I have when I consciously relax it?” Full deep breathing makes us feel more alive and in tune with the universe. Becoming conscious of what prevents our deep breathing and removal of these blockages opens up the channel to clarity and mental peace. Asana and pranayama lead to an improved sense of self worth because we are actively involved in our own evolution. It is only when we exercise awareness during our practice that we will be able to discover more about ourselves and pave the way to our physical and mental growth. So important is this concept of awareness that it is said that without it, asana is not asana but a mere physical exercise. We need to move slowly and gradually into each posture maintaining our alertness at all times. We need to stay aware of the breath in pranayama and to keep a vigilant watch in order not to miss a single clue that the techniques are sure to reveal. Awareness of ‘letting go’ We also need to be aware of our attitudes to the practices. A positive attitude is essential in order that we remain open to the practices and have faith in their validity. One must try and let go of any feelings of judgement or striving. People who are under a lot of stress are generally those types who push themselves to the limits and are incredibly hard on themselves if and when they do not reach their unobtainable goals. Such people need to actively employ patience with themselves during the practices. A depressed person will generally have a low self esteem and may quickly be discouraged when he/she does not achieve the final posture immediately or cannot perform it correctly. Awareness of one’s attitudes and expectations is very important as a negative outlook can have destructive rather than constructive effects, in the sense that they may lead to discouragement or frustration. Swami SivanandaRadha says of asana that “It is more important to pay attention to the pattern of developing into the posture, and to observe the psychological implications, then to try to accomplish the posture exactly and thereby miss the purpose of the asana, namely, the discovery of the physical obstacles that have their root in the personality makeup.” Inner reflection before, during and after the practice Before, during, and especially after each asana and pranayama, it is important to take quiet time to relax and allow thoughts or feelings to manifest. We need to take time to reflect on our state of being at each present moment in order that we receive the indeed, mystical messages that our bodies convey to us. It is up to each of us to investigate and enquire about each and every one of these messages. There are certain asanas and pranayamas that can symbolise our problems. By this I mean that a particular pose may help us to embody our feelings of anger or frustration and, a particular pranayama will aid in creating or exacerbating our feelings of introversion/ extroversion. Always, the witnessing character must be employed and used to ask questions: “Am I irritable in this posture?”, “Are my shoulders tensed?” , “What am I thinking now?”, “Can I give a name to my present state of mind, Can I associate a colour with it?” etc. Charles Darwin said that “Attention, or conscious concentration on almost any part of the body produces some direct physical effect on it.” This supports the findings of biofeedback that attention on a specific area will bring a stream of energy to that area. Therefore if we focus our awareness on a specific area during asana, it will increase the flow of blood, prana and energy which will all aid in removing blockages and bringing issues to conscious light.
Yoga: Art, Science or A Discipline?
by Rishikesh Yogis
Yoga, also referred to as the ‘yogic science’ since time immemorial, in simple terms, can be
defined as a study or practice of the mind, body, and spirit, which one undergoes to attain unification with the universe. This study or practice requires immense dedication and practice, and often requires a Guru-Shishya (teacher-student) alliance to reach any level of perfection. To say that yoga is a way of life would be true only if we understood why is this ancient science form treated as a way of life and not just any other practice. We practice medicine to become doctors, we study engineering to become engineers, and we practice arts and music to become creative geniuses, then why are these considered professions and not way of life? To explain the above stated question, we must deviate from the clichéd path of bestowing the title of science and art form on yoga and look at it as more of a discipline. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is an eight-limbed path of which the first two, Yama and Niyama, talk extensively about ethics and yoga discipline one much incorporate in their daily lives, internally and externally, to be deemed as a yogi. Yoga as an Art Yoga, as we all know, was first practiced some 5,000 years ago during the Indus-Sarasvati civilization which is now known as North India. Whatever be the reason, for centuries, there were no written texts or codes to follow or practice. The only form of yoga teachings that existed was the verbal and physical knowledge spread by several sages and practitioners of this form. Mythology has it that Shiva was the first yogi and that the art of meditation comes from his endless meditations on Mount Kailash. But then, that is mythology and should be kept for another day. Since there were no written manuscripts and no way that all those teachings could be put together, most practitioners confined themselves to learning the significant theories and indulging mostly into the physical practices of asanas, breathing techniques, meditation, mantra chanting and the likes. Like any other form of art such as dance, music, painting, yoga requires immense practice and an observant eye to master every move of a Guru or a demonstrator facilitating such physical practices. Yoga classes these days have become popular, and thanks to their proximity and abundance, practicing the art of yoga asanas and perfecting them isn’t as difficult as it was in the early days. The key is to mirror every move and to learn the art of adjustment and alignment along with accurate modification to suit your physical limits and requirements. Yoga as a Science Patanjali, though not much is known about him, is accredited worldwide for the first ever written codes or manuscripts on Yoga. Known as the “Yoga Sutras”, the compilation of 196 aphorisms, Patanjali has described the eight-limbs of yoga in as much detail and with as much precision as possible. Though most sutras talk about subjects and customs one needs to imbibe in their life, these aphorisms are nothing but the very foundational science any yogi, professional or in-the-making, must integrate in their lives to the best of their knowledge and capability if they wish to be any closer to achieving the ‘mind, body, spirit’ awareness and oneness everybody refers to in the yogic world. Yoga is also regarded as an alternative medicine or way of holistic healing because of its healing qualities. Critical physical and mental conditions such as Asthma, Diabetes, Hypertension, Indigestion, Migraine, Arthritis, and many more have proven to be cured by practicing yoga asanas. Yoga fitness is another and perhaps the most sought-after benefits of yoga. Flexibility, weight-loss, increased immunity, and a healthy heart – these are among the top motivations deriving the new age yogis to attend yoga classes, even if it’s just three days a week. Yoga as a Discipline Discipline can lead to deliverance. How you ask? When we talk about yoga as yoga discipline, it automatically brings with is the nature of regularity in the sense that a discipline is anything that is practiced and followed regularly and repeatedly. Just like some of us are wired to wake up early and to behave in a certain manner, yoga discipline requires us to be wired to a commitment –a commitment that requires you to keep coming back to it. No matter if you skip one day of physical practice, if you managed to spend that day in positivity, causing no harm to others as well as yourselves, restricting yourself from any ill-behaviour or habit, and under gratefulness for your life and the life around you, you are still following the discipline of yoga. But, this is not easy. With any regular practices, comes challenges. What can be the challenges of yoga, you ask? For starters, the basic requirement to continue this practice every day and every minute of your life and to deliberately or accidentally never deviate from the said path can be tough, really tough. After living a certain number of years in luxury and with the materialistic things around you that you once though are the necessities of life, to give up on all such attachments and bonds can be excruciatingly painful. However, one must keep in mind at all times the realistic and proven benefits in terms of personal and spiritual growth that following the path can bring. Something as small as committing to attend a yoga class every day is giving into the practice of orderliness and bringing regulation in your life. Any discipline must be applied subtly. One cannot be forced into adapting to a way of life. It must come naturally. It must be applied gently and logically. Attending a few yoga sessions just because somebody else we know are doing it won’t make any sense if we do not understand the implications and impact that it would have on us. It is important to prepare ourselves mentally and emotionally before we indulge into the practice of yoga. We must be willing to accept what it brings with it with an open heart and mind. And, we must, at all circumstances, be ready for the change – the BIG transformation it will bring with it!