Yoga comes from the root word Yuj meaning to unite. But there exists confusion in what to become one with that will eventually bring us happiness. We attach ourselves to transient material objects and the inability to discriminate between the real and the transient gives rise to distress and psychological problems. Rishi Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutras, gave Yoga eight limbs: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayaama, Pratyahaara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Each of the eight limbs guides one to realise their true real Self: Satchitanand. Dr David Frawley says the first five are the “Outer aids” that harmonise the outer aspects of our nature: behaviour, body, breath, senses and mind. The latter three are the “Inner aids”. They aid in becoming one with the objects of our awareness (outer aids).
Today, most of those practising and teaching Yoga have restricted Yoga to Asana, Pranayaama and Dhyana, the focus being more on Asana. To reach Samadhi, it is important to stick to the core values. This is where Yama and Niyama come into the picture. At the Global Festival of Yoga, an ongoing festival conducted by Indica Yoga, an initiative of Indic Academy, Dr Mala Kapadia, Rashtram School of Public Leadership spoke in detail about the two significant limbs of Yoga- Yama and Niyama.
Yama and Niyama are the quintessence of the path of Yoga. Yama are the rules of social conduct and Niyama are the rules of personal conduct. There are five Yamas and five Niyamas set down by Patanjali. It is essential to all, irrespective of caste, creed or community to follow them.
The five Yamas include: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. Ahimsa means non-violence. It refers to non-violence in action, thought and speech. Harsh words spouted to another cannot be taken back. Even the thought of wanting to cause harm to another is a form of Himsa or violence. These thoughts cause mental unrest and negative energy arises in the body. When one commits Himsa, it is due to the existence of sheer ignorance and indifference in them. When an action is committed without an honest motive, the consequences are not good.
Yoga and Ayurveda are tightly wound sisters. When we speak of Ahimsa, there arises a thought in many about following Ayurveda because of the use of dairy products. This is because modern industries aim at mass production of products through an act of violence against the animals and consuming such products make one an accomplice to that act of violence. Ayurveda extensively uses ghee and buttermilk in its formulations. This is in line with Ahimsa as cows and other farm animals were revered and given the utmost care for centuries because of their service to man.
The next Yama is Satya which means truth. We have been taught from a young age that “Honesty is the best policy”. The Taittireeya Upanishad also says “सत्यं वद |” (Speak the truth). One must remember to be truthful to another and to themselves. When one lies to themselves, it is a form of distress. A step to healing lies in speaking the truth.
Asteya means to not steal. Stealing what is not rightfully yours is met with ramifications. Taking credit for another’s work and plagiarism also counts as stealing. Let us take a look at the current pandemic. Taking from nature, more than we needed, and that is rightfully not ours, has led us to this situation. Practising Asteya establishes good relationships that are free from envy and possessiveness which leads us to Aparigraha.
Aparigraha and Asteya go together. Aparigraha means to not be possessive or in a desire of that which may or may not be rightfully ours to acquire. All of us wish for a comfortable life but not at the cost of hoarding materialistic items. David Frawley says, “What we think we own actually owns us”. When we hoard, the objects tie us down to the materialistic transient world and hinders us from what is real and important. It is essential to abstain from things that cloud the mind from acquiring a knowledge of the Self. Abstinence takes us to the final Yama: Brahmacharya.
Brahmacharya, today, is restricted to celibacy. But it also means to restrain your senses, avoid addictions and conserve energy in the body that will aid in self-discipline. It also brings rest to the mind. Rest does not mean only sleep. Even when one is awake, the mind can be at rest to rejuvenate itself. In Ayurveda, rest helps build Ojas which is the vital energy for the body. It is a by-product of digestion of food, water, air and life experiences. In this fast-paced world, we manage to deplete Ojas which leads to poor immunity and reduced vitality.
As much as our activities with society are important, we must make sure our daily life practices are in line with the code of conduct. These are the Niyamas and the five are: Shaucha, Santosha, Svadhyaya, Tapas and Ishvara Pranidhana.
Shaucha means purity. Ayurveda prescribes a Sattvic diet that ensures the Doshas are in balance, better immunity, better Agni (digestive fire) and less Ama (toxins). Build-up of toxins can obstruct movement in the body causing diseases. Shaucha also means to have good and clean thoughts (Ahimsa and Satya included) and this brings happiness from within.
Santosha is happiness within oneself. To be content means there is peace and calm within. While practising Brahmacharya, Asteya and Aparigraha, you can find yourself being content and happy: Santosha.
Bharatha is the land that has seen the birth of many spiritual leaders whose teachings help us understand our true self and the universe in which we live. Study of these teachings can help and purify the mind and direct one to what is really essential in life. This is Svadhyaya and one must be diligent and disciplined while studying them. This discipline is Tapas.
I remember a conversation with my superior where she said to me, “Whatever activity you take up, you must not only give your best to it, but it is also important to maintain a degree of discipline having taken up a task.” This Tapas helps control and abstain the mind from that which hinders your work. Tapas doesn’t just mean to stand on one leg, close your eyes and meditate for ages to attain the Divine.
Rituals and practices in India are an offering to the Divine. This offering is a means of surrender to Ishvara and is called Ishvara Pranidhana. A simple rangoli, lighting the lamp and chanting a shloka are ways of surrender. This surrender may not always be accompanied by ego, ignorance and narrow-mindedness, but it is important in one’s spiritual journey.
Indian knowledge systems always centre on understanding the knowledge of the self and this is the beauty of Yoga and Ayurveda. They are not merely essential for physical fitness but they encompass that which is required for a happy life.
About the Author
Ms Varsha Venkataraman
Varsha Venkataraman is a graduate in Applied Microbiology and Cancer Studies. Currently she is the Senior Researcher for the Centre for Soft Power with an avid interest in Ayurveda and wishes to focus on the integrative approach of Ayurveda and modern medicine in the treatment of cancer.