Yoga primarily might be a practice of physical postures (asana) for somebody while others might practice it for stress relaxation. But in actual, the true essence of yoga is to develop positive conduct in a yogi which further leads to spiritual development.
Developing positive conduct comprises some ethical principles of life — these mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra as Yamas.
What is Yama?
Yama is the 5 moral or ethical guidelines to control the Behaviour, Words, Thoughts, Actions & Desire of a person to prepare a strong foundation for yoga sadhana. 5 Yamas are mentioned in Yoga Sutra chapter-2 (SADHANA PADA) verse 30 to ‘produce a comparatively peaceful condition of mind’.
Following 5 Yama is the practical aspect of yoga that we can apply in our daily life or off the yoga mat. The reason behind keeping the Yama in the first among 8 steps of Ashtanga yoga is that it builds altruistic attitudes 1 in the person.
Yama deals with your behavior, that affects your relationship with the outer world; that’s why Yama also called the self-restraint list of ‘don’t do these.’
Yama: Self-Restraint List
5 Yamas – Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya & Aparigraha.
1. Misbehaving with somebody is ‘harming’. ‘Ahimsa’ is a practice to not harm.
2. Thinking something & telling something else is ‘lying’. ‘Satya’ is don’t lie.
3. Taking something without the owner’s intention is ‘stealing’. ‘Asteya’ is don’t steal.
4. Act just to fulfill the need of physical senses is ‘indulgence’. ‘Brahmacharya’ is don’t indulge.
5. Desiring to get more than what actually needed is ‘possessiveness’. ‘Aparigraha’ is non-possessiveness.
No matter, whether we know what yoga is or not, who we are or from where we are, these ethical principles of Yama applies to the life of every single person.
For Example – In many instances of life, knowingly or unknowingly, our behavior or act can hurt a living being physically or even emotionally. It is called Himsa (violence). To control violence, yoga tells us to practice the Ahimsa (non-violence), a part of Yama. Further, the practice of non-violence built up positiveness inside us.
It is the beauty of yoga that it not only teaches us to balance the body in particular Asana but also prepare us to take care of every aspect of our lives through the practice of Yama.
Yama and Niyama are the golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates of the yogic journey.
Guru Ji, B.K.S Iyengar
Indeed, Yama along with Niyama, are the two foundational pillars on which the whole yogic super-structure rested. Moral principles described in Yama & Niyama guide us in:
How we relate with other people (Social ethics – Yama)
How we take care of ourselves (Personal observances – Niyama).
Why Yama & Niyama?
When a yogi qualified by the practice of Yama and Niyama, then only yogi can begin the practice of asana and other means.
Yoga Bhashya Vivarana (II.29)
The overall practice of yoga is focused on to cease the unwanted thought-patterns of mind to achieve the state of oneness with the divine power.
Have you ever thought?
Meditating mind even for a few seconds why became such a difficult thing? Or Balancing the body in a particular asana, why becomes a difficult task?
The Answer is
Wandering thought patterns don’t let mind attain the state of steadiness in meditation while lacking endurance don’t let the body to become stable in asana.
Yama and Niyama are designed in such a way that the practice of these principles doesn’t let mind fickle on thoughts like how will I get something by telling a lie (non-truthfulness), what if I lose something (covetousness ), how can I get his/her thing (stealing), etc. These kinds of thoughts pollute our subconscious mind, and it becomes an obstacle while we try to meditate.
On the other hand, the practice of tapas (a part of Niyama) builds up endurance power in the aspirant. Now stretching, twisting, bending or balancing in an asana will not be that much painful or difficult.
Yama & Niyama built body and mind to resist any difficulty comes along the way of intense yoga sadhana. It’s the reason why the practice of Yama and Niyama is advised to practice before any other yogic exercise.
Yama & Niyama: Two Sides of A Coin
One can say, Yama and Niyama both are interconnected to each other. If a yogi can fully apply Yamas practice in life, Niyama will automatically come into the practice or Vice-verse. In this way, Niyama works as the outer cover or safeguard for the Yama. Let’s understand this by an example.
Example – When we able to control our desires over worldly things, it means we are contented with whatever we have (Santosha – a part of Niyama). Now, we no more dependent on the lie telling (Asteya – non-stealing) or will not hurt anybody (Ahimsa – non-violence) to fulfill our desire.
In this way, the Practice of Niyama helps to regularise the practice of Yama simultaneously. That’s why Yama and Niyama are said to be connected.
The 5 Yamas
Yama holds the first place among eight-limbs of yoga because, in yoga, the union isn’t possible until you and outer you becomes the same. It means, In this physical world we strive for materialistic desires and these desires are the source of human sufferings. In fulfilling these desires, we forgot the true nature of the self.
Practicing these 5 social ethics of Yama in daily life helps us to clear the dusty layer which has covered our true nature.
- Ahimsa (Non-violence)
- Satya (Truthfulness)
- Asteya (Non-stealing)
- Brahmacharya (Celibacy)
- Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)
1. Ahimsa – Non-violence
‘Putting one’s strength of soul against the wrong 2 ‘ said Mahatma Gandhi, is a way to emulate ahimsa in life.
Practicing Ahimsa, the very-first of Yamas is the key to open the door of infinite love for a yogi. Word ‘ahimsa’ is the combination of ‘a’ & ‘himsa’. ‘a’ means ‘not’, and ‘himsa’ means ‘Hurt.’ Combining ahimsa is the practice of not harming self or others.
Himsa or harm is considered in the following way,
- Injuring a living creature
- Negative thought about others
- Act to harm a being
- Habitual of bad habits is the self-harming
Hence, ahimsa is not hurting or not showing cruelness to any living creatures. Also not let any negative thoughts enter into the mind which is about harming other living beings or us.
Ahimsa works on the principle of ‘Law of karma.’ Every action has a karmic consequence which returns to us somehow in any form of the ‘result’. It’s advised to practice ahimsa or ‘not harming’ so that result of every karma would emit harmonious vibrations from us.
2. Satya – Truthfulness
There is a saying in Hinduism –
“If you speak the truth for 12 years, you will get the vaak siddhi (power of speech).”
It means whatever you say, will come true.
This is the power of practicing the Satya (truthfulness), second in the order of Yamas.
Truthfulness is when there is no difference between what we think (thought), what we say (speak) and what we do (action). This consistency in thought to action don’t let our created self dominant over the true-self, and thus we can realize the divine lies within us.
In the practice of yoga, Satya or truth plays an essential role as it gives us the strength to abide with positiveness in our surrounding. This energy of surrounding can be realized within ourselves when we say the truth, and this it matches with inner self (power of the truth). In this way, truthfulness fulfills yoga’s definition of union with universal consciousness.
3. Asteya – Not Steal
Asteya is a Sanskrit term that comprises prefix ‘a‘ means ‘no,’ and root word ‘Steya‘ means ‘stealing.’ When combining, Asteya is the practice of non-stealing.
Using or striving for a thing which does not belong to us and then using the wrong ways to get it, is stealing or Steya.
When we say practice Asteya, it’s not just only we restrain our physical action of stealing but also we control speech and thoughts of stealing.
Patanjali clearly defined in yoga sutra, the cause of stealing is the Trishna or desire. Desire stems inside us due to the lack of faith in ourselves. Only when a person lost their faith, he/she begin thinking to fulfill this faith with craving & unnecessary desire. In this way, stealing takes place unconsciously in mind.
4. Brahmacharya – The Brahman
‘Brahman’ in yogic philosophy is considered the ‘ultimate source of knowledge’ & ‘Charya’ is the ‘behavior’ or ‘activity’. Hence, Brahmacharya is the act which leads us towards the ultimate source of knowledge, i.e. Brahman.
So, how the practice of Brahmacharya works?
The sexual energy in the body is one of the great sources of energy. Most of the people waste this energy to fulfill their sexual urges. But when this energy present in a controlled manner in the body, it begins redirecting in the upward direction towards the brain. Now, sexual energy converted into a stored form of power in mind called ‘ojas shakti‘.
We all are aware of the extraordinary power of Hanuman in Ramayan, right? He followed the disciplinary practice of brahmacharya and redirected energy to higher centers of the brain. In this way, Hanuman’s ojas power had become so intense (By practicing Brahmacharya).
So, one can say brahmacharya is the restraining the sexual desires to channelize the energy of the body into higher brain centers.
5. Aparigraha – Not To Attach
Isn’t our desire often related to things that are not even important to us and we try to get those things, even if it’s not essential for us. Think about it. It’s one of the reasons of possessiveness & attachment to the mundane world. The term used for this attachment in Sanskrit is ‘Parigraha,’ ‘Possession.’
Prefix ‘a’ in the word ‘Aparigraha’ negates the meaning of ‘Parigraha.’ Hence, aparigraha is the concept which relies on the principle of non-possessiveness & non-attachment.
Aparigraha becomes a simple practice when person self-control their thoughts to compare what others have and what you don’t. When there is no more greed there, one automatically left the possessiveness & jealous feeling presents in the heart.
Practicing aparigraha can aid in the practice of other Yama. How?
When Possessiveness (Parigraha) is present, obviously the cravings to get unnecessary things will increase. Now, the person will become unsatisfied if not get anything & this unsatisfaction brings hatred, jealousy in the heart. In this way, violence and stealing can easily take place in a person’s heart. Aparigraha removes all these.
In Yoga Sutra, Patanjali said – Parigraha (Possessiveness) is the reason behind our ‘Janma’ (birth)’ again and again as it keeps us bound to the mundane world. On the other hand, aparigraha leads us towards moksha (liberation) as it teaches us to practice non-attachment.
By practicing Aparigraha, we can aim to improve an attitude in which we can’t wish anything unnecessary. In this way, the benefits of aparigraha can also conserve 3 the natural resources.
The first of eight limbs of yoga, Yama, is moral vows which affect your relationships with others and self too. Human nature can turn up into divine nature with the practice of 5 principles of Yama. It’s the reason why Patanjali referred Yama as universal ‘moral vow,’ ‘rules’ or ‘goals.’