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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.
Self-Transformative Approach in Yoga Class
by Sushant Pandey
As we know yoga is a generic term and more accurately it is a path which leads to self-evolvement,
upliftment and refinement of qualities in practitioners. But most of the times yoga is mistaken as a set of physical techniques, which reduces the scope of this discipline of self transformation to merely some sort of sports and physical endeavor. Approaching yoga ‘Yogic way’ When we practice in yoga class our approach in the session guide our whole endeavor in right direction provided it is based on yogic principles. Following are a few principles for practitioners of yoga which will help them to be on right track: Principle of “Here and Now” One of the main ingredients of yogic journey is to ground our awareness in ‘here and now’. If your awareness is not grounded in the moment while practicing asana or any other techniques then you are not doing yoga. Advancement of practices does not imply that one should do difficult asana or become more flexible but doing it with awareness. Asanas help us to enhance and deepen our awareness of the body no matter how easy or difficult posture is. A beginner will practice even difficult poses with scattered awareness and whereas someone who is established in yoga will do practices with focus and un-dissipated awareness. Asanas (Yoga poses), pranayama (Yogic breathing) or meditations are the various tools of yoga to sharpen our awareness and discipline the mind-body complex. When your awareness is scattered then your mental energies are dissipated most of the time and you end up devitalizing yourself. To be focused and aware is the first and the foremost training in yoga class. And this is the meaning of ’being grounded’ in true sense. Non-competitive; letting go Yogic process has always been an individualized process. It is all about the individual who has embarked on the path of self transformation. The focus in the sessions is to withdraw the awareness and to capture the experience in here and now moment. Philosophy of yogic teaching is ‘’to be who you are’’. Therefore any distraction in the classes should be avoided and one needs to be more accepting to one’s own self. Respecting one’s own limitations and proceeding from there is one important element of yogic path. The present state of one’s body and mind is the result of various events, issues as well as experiences of past which are to be resolved at individual level. Therefore comparison of two practitioners should not be done in session as each one carries unique set of experiences, limitations as well as strengths within one self. This is the path you tread alone. A non-competitive awareness helps one to let go the same set of mentality which one carries all day long which creates frustration, tensions, anger, restlessness and dissatisfaction in life. Any transformation taking place in the moment is more important than ‘’what you were’’ or ‘’what you will become’’. If yogic practices are done with this awareness than the whole process becomes more immersive and transformative. Ahimsa (Non-Violence) In every yoga class there should be an element of mindfulness and practitioners should be aware of the effects of yoga techniques on the body-mind complex. We should always be in touch with the body and listen to it while practicing. One of the important codes of yoga journey is to follow Ahimsa (non-violence). Ahimsa is not always for others but it starts with one’s own self. Honoring the pain and having attitude of compassion with non-competitive attitude should go hand in hand. This requires lots of self-reflection and self-acceptance during the practice. The ultimate purpose of practicing yoga is not to satisfy just one’s ego and performing under peer pressure in the class. Rather yoga is a journey of self-transformation, self-awareness and inner growth.
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!