Yoga provide a discipline promotes a gradual progress of fitness, of the body, mind and spirit. It is wrong to understand it just as a physical practice like a gym. Yoga improves overall physical fitness, relieves stress, and enhances the quality of life. It is also used as relief for various ailments. Many people have gone off medication with just a regular yoga practice. It is also about laying down one’s own benchmarking standards. What works for someone may not work for someone else.
We need to understand this. One aspect of all Eastern traditions is amalgamation of the body, mind and spirit. We must be clear that yoga is also about inner growth as yoga does give a clear insight on the attitudes one must have here.
Essentially, 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 aspects of yoga. They define the attributes to be practised in everyday life by a spiritual aspirant.
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 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.
Following the yamas means sticking to ideals and principles. It is about development of positive traits that will transform the human nature into a divine nature and annihilate cravings and negative qualities. When the yamas are truly practised, the heart is filled with cosmic love, goodness and light.
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 not celibacy but self control. 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.
By practising all these tenets, yoga enables us to become one with the cosmic will. It is for this reason that yoga is indeed the benchmark of complete personal growth.