Understanding Yama & Niyama
Yoga is far beyond the practice of physical asanas; it is a way of life. Yoga includes so much more than what we think we know, like the way we perceive things, what we eat, our habits, our experiences, the way we treat others, and much more. Yoga asana is one of the eight limbs of yoga, as described by Sage Patanjali. The eight limbs are Yama (don'ts), Niyama (do’s), Asana (physical postures), Pranayama (mindful breathing), Pratyahara (inward journey), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (de-concentration), Samadhi (bliss). Here, we will discuss the first two limbs – Yama and Niyama. Yama means social ethics, and Niyama means personal ethics.
These are social ethics. There are 5 Yamas as follows:
Ahimsa is not causing any harm to others or yourself or minimising the harm. Be more self-aware in the ways you cause suffering to other humans, animals, plants or even your own self.
Before you speak, ask yourself, “Is it true?”, “Is it necessary?”, “Is it kind?”, and only then speak. Don’t say something that you don’t mean, don’t think one thing and say another, learn when to not say anything but only listen, avoid being blunt and rude, and don’t manipulate the truth.
Do not take anything that doesn’t belong to you. This applies to not just money and material things but also to things like food, electricity, or a resource that belongs to nature, even if you have paid for that resource. Do not come late to a meeting for no reason, which is considered stealing time. Do not take credit for someone else’s work or creativity, as it is considered stealing an idea.
Yoga teaches you moderation, which is avoiding over-indulgence in food, sex or any other worldly things. Addiction or obsession over something can distract you from your true purpose and the important things in life. Brahmacharya, which is described as moderation, specifically means sexual moderation. Don’t be too hard on yourself, but practice everything in moderation.
Work for things without getting too attached to the outcome. If you are constantly obsessing over acquiring something, you will always feel a sense of lack. Work hard to be good at a skill, make a plan and take the necessary actions to achieve it; just don’t be obsessed with the end result.
These are personal ethics. There are 5 Niyamas as follows:
Saucha means the cleanliness of not just our surroundings but also our cluttered thoughts. The cleanliness of our surroundings directly affects our mind; the more organised and clean our environment is, the more peaceful and clear we feel. Be with the people who uplift your spirit and inspire you to be better. Observe and read things that make you a better person, and observe the content you watch online or on social media. Clear all that influences your mind from around you to make your mind function better and work in a better direction.
We, as humans, always believe that if we achieve or acquire something, we will be happy. However, know that happiness comes from within you; no external pleasures can make you happy. This does not mean that you don’t push yourself to obtain better things in life, but that you should learn to be happy and content with the journey as well. There is a thin line between being comfortable and being content; identify the difference and you will be able to work towards Santosha.
The idea is to keep growing and getting better, which requires self-discipline. Getting comfortable with short-term happiness is the biggest obstacle when it comes to living a successful and happy life. To break free from any bad habit, we have to experience some physical or mental discomfort, which may be short-term, but when we are free from it, the gains are long-term. Tapas is required not only when you are on your yoga mat but throughout the day. For example, tapas is choosing to get up and do something meaningful with your day instead of spending time just watching TV or shows.
A person who practices Svadhyaya observes their own actions to observe their journey, their growth, and where they can improve. Knowing yourself and embracing your transformation is Svadhyaya. A better way to do it is to keep a journal, write down your action of the day, week, or month. You can go back to your journal periodically, observe how you have grown, and acknowledge that change.
You can do everything to be a better person and practice Yamas and Niyamas; however, you will still need to surrender to the higher power and trust the process. You need to believe that you are more than your individual-self and are made for a bigger purpose in life, that is, to become a part of the universal-self.
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