When a child takes his first two steps, he is into learning to walk. Soon he starts running, but the importance of the first two steps never diminishes. Same is the case with Yoga and its first two steps Yama and Niyama. Without completing these steps, yoga is unimaginable. So today we will learn the constituents of Yama and Niyama which is the ethical preparation for Yoga. Both these limbs of Yoga prepare the mind for the practices ahead and the most difficult poses and meditative exercises become very easy.
It is the first limb of the eight limbs of yoga and is the foundation on which later yoga practices are built. Yama is about following the right principles in life. It is developing the positive traits, and getting rid of the negative traits in the process. When truly practices Yama fills the heart with love, compassion and the divine light. Yamas are five in number viz. Ahimsa( non-Violence), Satya(Truthfulness), Asteya(Non-stealing habit), Brahmacharya (renouncing excesses) and Aparigraha (Non-greediness) and are put into that order.
- Ahimsa – Ahimsa should not be mistaken as only the practice of non-violence. It is the removal of the animal nature of harming others in any way. Even if you are harming anybody without physically touching him/her it is against the first Yama of Ahimsa. Even unkind looks pertain to Himsa (Violence).
- Satya(Truthfulness) – Satya is about being true to one’s word. The word should become practice. The truth should also be pleasant and not hurt anyone. By being truthful you shed the yoke of ego and become unselfish. Practising Satya will give your soul the power of speech which can influence others.
- Asteya (Non-stealing) – It is also another form of abstinence. Stealing is due to non-availability and inability to acquire. Not stealing is just like keeping yourself free from dirt. Dirt will come to you but you need to clean it regularly.
- Brahmacharya(Abstinence) – It is the practice of converting the sexual energy into Ojas or higher level of energy. Restraint will help in keeping sexual thoughts out of the mind, giving in to the divine. It is praying for being included in the eternal light and knowledge through which Brahmacharya is established.
- Aparigraha (Non-greediness) – The removal of greed from thought is known as Aparigraha. The sensual craving is absent in this mental state. Greed leads to fear of loss, anxiety, attachment, jealousy and anger which are automatically removed while practising last of the five Yama.
The Niyama are personal practices which lead to the absolute surrender. These practices are ( Saucha (Purity of thought), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (Austerity), Swadhyaya (Self-study) and Ishwar Pranidhana (Surrender to God). All these practices are not merely words but mean more than what meets the eye.
- Saucha (Purity) – This signifies internal and external purity. The practice of keeping clean helps to meditate and keep the practice of Brahmacharya easy. Removal of negative thoughts and feelings lead to internal cleansing. Internal and external cleaning together are the part of the first of the Niyama.
- Santosha (Contentment) – Being content will remove all desires related to mind and body. This helps the yogic practitioner in becoming stable and enjoy the world around instead of having negative thoughts.
- Tapas ( Austerity) – Taps is the practice of penance and deprivation. Practices like fasting are a part of Tapas. This increases the enduring capacity of body and mind. The real tapasvi( the man who practices Tapas) can endure harsh climate, hunger and also negative words like thrown at him.
- Swadhyaya (Self-Study) – This is the study of self that lies within us. If we are able to find out the true self, the question Who am I? is answered.
- Ishwar Pranidhana (Surrender to God – This is the last Niyama in which the individual surrenders completely to a higher power. In doing so he becomes the larger part of the positive energy.
Together Yama and Niyama form the foundation on which the superstructure of Yoga stands later on. Without a sound knowledge and practice of these two, Yoga just becomes an exercise and not a way of life. So, before starting the yoga practice, you should be thorough with Yama and Niyama. This is what is taught in the first class of Yoga teacher training Rishikesh at Ojashvi Yoga shala.