The Yamas and Niyamas are attitudes and behaviors that we weave into our yoga practice to give it a heart and a soul.
The 10 Yamas and Niyamas are also attitudes and behaviors that will enhance all our daily relationships with greater balance and harmony; with our own selves, with others and with nature.
Ahimsa is the Sanskrit name for non-violence, which embodies compassion, care, loving-kindness, respect and to honor all of life.
Ahimsa is the most important quality that we weave into our Yoga practice to give it a heart and soul. But, how can we cultivate a genuine experience and expression of Ahimsa, of non-violence? I believe violence comes from our frontal brain and non-violence from our ears!
I know that might sound crazy, but let me explain:
What is the truth and what does it mean to be truthful and honest? Vimela Thakar says in Glimpses of Raja Yoga, “Truthfulness means we are dedicated to the truth we perceive, to the truth we understand.”
But often our perception is cloudy and our understanding is full of misapprehension. If our glasses are muddy, we can’t see clearly. Our Yoga practice is a process of taking off layers of tension and tightness, as well as layers of illusion and misconceptions. In Yoga we learn to quiet our minds to cultivate awareness. As the awareness expands, our perception becomes clearer, and we come closer to the truth, seeing life as it is in each moment. To be truthful and honest is to experience the truth with pure perception and then express it with pure understanding and intentions.
“When established in non-stealing, Asteya, one feels as if one is in possession of all the wealth in the world.” – Rohit Mehta
Why do humans steal? Some steal for physical reasons, when their bellies are empty. Others steal for psychological reasons, when their hearts are empty. Rohit Mehta explains in Yoga the Art of Integration that the physical reason for stealing is a problem of socioeconomic organization:“With proper organization of society and with sane economic planning this problem in the strict material sense can be eliminated.” In Yoga we are more concerned with the act of stealing that comes from feeling psychologically empty or incomplete.
This is a fascinating Yoga sutra with a variety of translations and interpretations depending on different backgrounds and belief systems. And here many Yoga students start to worry that they have to say goodbye to sex to reach enlightenment. And some students of Yoga do take the path of celibacy and automatically imagine they are divine.
B.K.S. Iyengar in his Light of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reminds us that the great yogi Vasista had one hundred children, yet he was called a Brahmarchari, and our teacher, Mr. BKS Iyengar himself, was a Brahman and had six children. Rohit Mehta in Yoga the Art of Integration says, “Brahmacharya is commonly translated as celibacy but this is not its real meaning. It really means the cessation of the frittering away of one’s energies.”
One who perseveres on the path of non-covetousness gains deep understanding of life (Yoga Sutra 2.39)
Bernard Bouanchaud explains this sutra well in his book The Essence of Yoga: “Non- covetousness consists in not acquiring superfluous goods, nor desiring them, nor accepting gifts beyond reasonable limits . . . The more one owns, the more one needs to protect it. Accepting more than is necessary and acquiring more and more goods, knowledge, relationships, and mystical states clutters the mind and keeps it from grasping the source of things and the motivations and reasons for life. When the mind no longer worries about acquiring and keeping goods, we understand where we come from, where we are, and where we are going. We discover the meaning of life.”
“When the body is cleansed, the mind purified, and the senses controlled, joyful awareness needed to realize the inner self also comes.” B.K.S. Iyengar explains in his Light on the Yoga Sutras that the body is the temple of our soul. As a temple is kept clean daily, we clean our body and mind daily with our Yoga practice to connect with the sacred core inside.
In Yoga, we say the body has five layers, or koshas. The physical body (Anamaya kosha), energy body (Pranamaya kosha), mental body (Manamaya kosha), intuitive body (Vijnanamaya kosha), and the soul body (Anandamaya kosha). In our Yoga practice we cleanse all the koshas from the outer layer to the core of our being with the use of the Asanas (Yoga postures), Pranayama (breath control) and Savasana (relaxation).
The other day I drove through town and a sign said “Focus not on having, but on being.” This is a challenge in the consumer age we are in. But Yoga, on the contrary, is a practice that cultivates the presence of being and true contentment. Let’s go back to see what Patanjali said 3,000 years ago about contentment: “Santosha brings supreme happiness.”
What is contentment? The dictionary says, “Happy enough with what one has or is; not desiring something more or different; satisfied.” This kind of contentment sounds more like complacency to me. For example, one may say: I’m just going to be happy with my tight hamstrings, I’ll just live with my tender back, or I’ll just stay in Dynamic I forever. Complacency leads to stagnation and lacks vitality, growth, and fulfillment. Personally, I prefer the words I once heard from a Tai chi master describing contentment. “Accept what you have, give what you have, enjoy what you have.”
When I bring up the topic of tapas, self-discipline, in class the faces get serious. And when I ask how their home practice is coming and how many have a daily practice, only a few hands come up. Then I usually follow by asking how many want a daily practice and most hands come up. So what’s stopping us? Is it lack of discipline?? Or what?
The word discipline in our culture is often associated with being restricted and losing our freedom, but in the old Yogic texts from India, Yoga is said to be a discipline of freedom! The origin of the word “discipline” means to train, and a disciple is a trainee. The main purpose in Yoga is to train the mind to become still and present.
Svadhyaya plays an important role in Yoga, to learn to practice mindfully instead of mechanically. The Sanskrit word “Svadhyaya” means to study and to observe what’s been studied. Svadhyaya is to study by first gathering knowledge that has been formulated and passed on to us by other beings. After gathering knowledge, we observe how these facts relate to us in our lives. When we gather knowledge from others, we just have a contact with the facts. But when we observe and reflect, we cultivate an intimate contact and a communion with the facts. Only when knowledge is joined with observation does it lead to understanding.
Interestingly, when we study intellectually by gathering information and facts, we easily forget the knowledge. But when we study experientially with reflection and observation, the knowledge becomes integrated with the substance of our being, and we won’t forget it.
Ishvara Pranidhanat adds a spiritual dimension to our yoga practice, reminding us that there is more to us than our bodies.Ishvara Pranidhanat is the awareness of the divinity around us and within.
The Sanskrit word Ishvara means the Supreme Intelligence that permeates everything due to which there is harmony and order in life, due to which the movements of life become possible. Ishvara is the Supreme Soul, the divinity, the eternal seed in all beings. It’s the omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, the presence of being.
The Sanskrit word Pranidhanat means surrender, letting go, devotion. The complete Yoga Sutra, chapter II, verse 45 reads: Samadhi Siddhir Ishvara Pranidhanat; by total surrender to the Supreme Soul, Samadhi is attained.