By Jamuna Rangachari
The zeitgeist of today’s times is that yoga is the new term for fitness. There are all kinds of yoga’s, power yoga, hot yoga and what not. What we often tend to forget is that yoga is actually, in fact, primarily about inner growth. This is actually what makes yoga the most unique and complete fitness technique of all.
Yoga is rooted in the notion of developing a positive personality. Therefore ethical discipline or the practice of correct conduct is necessary for success in yoga. This is the basis of yama and niyama, the two moral backbones of yoga.
Yama is the first limb of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga and means ‘taking a vow’ while niyama is the second limb and means ‘rule of conduct’. Yama and niyama are inter-dependent.
Niyama strengthens and safeguards yama. For example, if one is contented, one will not steal, hurt others or tell lies and will therefore find it easy to practise non-covetousness.
When one is sufficiently advanced in the practices of yamas and niyamas, one can face every temptation by calling in the aid of pure and restraining thoughts. When the mind becomes pure it attains the state of steadiness and becomes one-pointed. If these positive qualities are not cultivated, the mind cannot be led to steadiness. One needs to be well established in yama-niyama to attain perfection in yoga. When one is perfectly established in them, samadhi will come by itself.
Yoga is actually not about just physical exercises. This you can get from any gym also. When one is sufficiently advanced in the practices of yamas and niyamas, one can face every temptation by calling in the aid of pure and restraining thoughts. When the mind becomes pure it attains the state of steadiness and becomes one-pointed. If these positive qualities are not cultivated, the mind cannot be led to steadiness. One needs to be well established in yama-niyama to attain perfection in yoga. When one is perfectly established in them, samadhi will come by itself.
There is a deliberate order in the five yamas. Ahimsa (non-violence) comes first because one must remove one’s brutal nature first. One must become non-violent and develop cosmic love. Only then does one become fit for the practice of yoga. Then comes satya or truthfulness. The whole phenomenon of maya or illusion is asat or unreal and the aspirant should be aware of this fact. He should ever remember the truth or Brahman. Next comes asteya or non-stealing. As one must develop moral consciousness, one must know right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, and one must know that all is one. Brahmacharya or continence, which is the fourth yama, is a divine attribute. The aspirant is now becoming superhuman through its practice. The fifth is aparigraha, non-covetousness. The yogic student is now free from cravings, unnecessary wants, the desire to possess and enjoy, and his heart has expanded manifold.
The niyamas also consist of five limbs, namely shaucha, internal and external purification; santosha, contentment; tapas, austerity, swadhyaya, self-study and Ishwara pranidhana, surrender to divinity.
Apart from the ethical principles, yoga teaches us about an inner guru. This inner guru, or inner awareness and wisdom, helps us flow from darkness to light, from pain and suffering to joy and peace. At the end of the day, the choices we make about our life, our journey and our awakening, are ours. Accessing the innate wisdom of this inner guru becomes immensely helpful as we seek to apply our yoga practice to our everyday lives.
This shall indeed make us more content, serene, and help us move towards the path to a Higher Consciousness.
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