Read Yama - the First Step

Niyama - the Next Step


As the texts indicate Niyama is corollary to Yama, re-emphasizing the role of Yama in the quest for true yogic experience. Yoga is to be understood in the more modern context of a convergence of energies if you will. As we will see in the coming parts or amgas, the first energy we seek to harness is Prana or roughly translated, life force.

It deduces that the first steps namely the Yama and Niyama are precursors to the practice of Yoga in its best sense. Yoga in this series of articles is not to be understood as the physical exercises that at times torture the body (contrary to rules) and popular worldwide. Hatha yoga is the source text for this type of yoga too having its origin in ancient India. It is from hatha yoga that the physical exercise regimes have evolved but limited in its scope only to the attainment of physical and / or martial prowess. It is to be endorsed here that hatha yoga too can lead one to the higher realms of knowledge provided one does not stop at achievements at the physical or physiological levels. It is to be understood that the prime focus of Yama and Niyama is bringing the body, mind and the vital force under your control.

By mistake it is often believed that the force of the air controls your breathing; to the contrary, it is the amount of control you have on your mental, sensory and muscular activity that actually helps or dictates the pump action of your lungs. Yama and Niyama lay stress on the need for exercising conscious control on every aspect of your physiological and mental behavior prior to entering a serious study of Yoga.

More misconceptions abound on breath control as the first milestone in the yogic path. A wide range of theories and practices exist in breathing regimes while it should be a universal scientific approach which should in no way harm the body systems' functioning! Suffice it to say that “a sound mind rests in a sound body”. The Yama and Niyama deal chiefly those aspects in one's life that prepares the human organism to be aware of his stand in evolution and work your way up and evolve towards more potentials. Unless the site preparation is well done it would be pointless to proceed further.

It is a pity that science and technology have evolved a great extent in their quest to control external nature. But few have attempted and realized success in the more important search for control and mastery of internal nature. Yama and Niyama are to be studied with the clear objectives of ground preparation for the accurate understanding of the differences between external nature and internal nature. Only if the dichotomies are known can a scientific inquiry lead to the final resolution of the apparent dualities in existence!

It is the birthright of every human being to realize his or her potential to the full, that is to ultimately conquer external and internal nature. According to the Yogi, the finiteness is attained as the division between them vanishes. The realization must come under one's own quest as opposed to induced states of hypnosis which not only takes control away from you but paves the way to illnesses beyond cure. To the unprepared, promises of instant nirvana hold imminent appeal as the widely prevalent musical extravaganzas and euphoric 'spiritual' festivals lead the candidate's mind to certain morbidity and thralldom than freedom!

It amounts to fact that success comes from within. All the external aids and props should “fall away” as it were, as you travel the lonely road to liberation. The author is not in any way denying the serious role of the truly sincere guru who can, if genuine, only hasten the time line.

Niyama defines as 'that which restrains'. A rule or discipline in the most general sense. The Yogasutras of Patanjali (200 B.C) show five more disciplines which can ease the passage further. They are: shaucha (utmost hygiene in thought, word and activity), santhosha (contentment – the skill to harness resources to satisfy one's needs knowing the line between need and greed), svaadhyaaya ( the conscious 'uncoerced' study of the scriptures preferrably under the guidance of an accomplished mentor), tapas (literally meaning 'heat' but traditionally interpreted as austerity – but not practiced to the extreme which leads to physical torture and morbidity) and Iswarapranidhaana (devotion to a divine ideal or a committed dedication to achieve ultimate success).

The physical aspects of the practice of Yoga ordains further disciplines. Suffice it to know now that the Yama and Niyama refer to a restricting rule as prevailing over a more general rule. The spiritual seeker will quickly realize that a wanton bohemian lifestyle is ill suited to the quest for higher life-goals and is well advised to maintain a self-audited grip over his personal diet and personal habits, to say the least. The scope of this article series on Ashtaanga Yoga will be limited to an overview of each of the eight parts as the future will bring more detailed studies.

The focus so far is the control of the mind through controlling the body. The perception route being object – senses – peripheral – central nervous systems - mind – intellect, it is not an easy task to control the mind though the body, our only option! It has been compared to an already drunken monkey stung by a scorpion. The flippancy of the human mind is compared to that of a monkey, restless by inborn nature. Uncontrolled desires intoxicate the already turbulent mind. The scorpion sting is Jealousy at the success of others. Lastly, pride assures the road to ruin.

Such being the state of ordinary minds, discipline is the first study prior to all other studies in Yoga. As the first step in practice, allocate a clean, tidy room or space in your general living area, whether an apartment or a villa. Classify this space as the venue for your spiritual practice. In this holy space, maintain all the civic and personal chastity and disciplines that will align your physical life with your high spiritual goal. To help stress this let me quote Vivekananda:

“ .... think of your own body, see that it is strong and healthy, it is the best instrument you have. Think of it as being as strong as adamant, and that with the help of this body, you will cross the ocean of life! Throw away all weakness. Tell your body that it is strong, tell your mind it is strong, and have unbounded faith and hope in yourself”

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