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Why Yama and Niyama?

The philosophy of yoga has 8 limbs (ashta anga = eight limbs).  The first two of these are:

1.  Yama – These are the set of ‘don’ts’.  They can also be considered to be universal moral commandments.  Patanjali laid down these principles as general ethical principles that must be followed on a daily basis.  These are:

  • Ahimsa (non violence) – refraining from any kind of violence, thought, deed action.  This includes not harming yourself.
  • Truth (satya)
  • Non  stealing (asteya)- this deals with controlling and reducing desires and wants.  The observance of asteya gives the practitioner freedom from avarice.
  • Continence (brahmacharya) – refraining from sex in mind and body.  This principle has many interpretations.  Purists believe this means no sex, period.  However, yoga is not a practice exclusively for celibates.  Taking this into consideration, this principle implies abstaining from ‘immoral’ acts of sex.  Morals are a function of the society we live in and therefore might differ from one person to the next.  However, (generally speaking) sex which is outside marriage, or without the consent of the other person, sex as a means of wielding power, sex to harm the other person….is ‘immoral’.  Brahmacharya deals with a disciplined sexual life rather than a non-existent one.
  • Non covetousness (aparigraha) – not desiring things which are not necessary for life.  This includes emotional and intellectual possessiveness.

2. Niyama – These are the set of ‘dos’.  Practicing these leads to self restraint and thereby self purification.  These are:

  • Saucha – purity/cleanliness.  There are two kinds of purity which must be strived for.  These are:
  1. External:  External purity implies purity of behavior and habits.  Cleaniliness of your physical body and your surroundings.  So things such as showering daily and wearing clean clothes and changing your socks :).
  2. Internal:  Internal purity deal with getting rid of any negative or harmful emotion that might be bottled up or that might be manifesting itself on a daily basis.  These negative emotions are:
      *Kama – passion
      *Krodha – anger
      *Lobha – greed
      *Moha – infatuation
      *Mada – pride
                *Matsarya – malice and envy
  • Santosa – contentment
  • Tapas – austerity
  • Svadhyaya – study of scriptures/one self
  • Isvara pranidhana – surrender to the lord of all our actions

 

Because yoga is the path to enlightenment, it is important, necessary and imperative that yama and niyama be followed.  Without these yoga becomes just a physical practice of asanas.  That’s like having a Blackberry and only using it to make and receive calls.  However, a Blackberry can be used to schedule meetings, check your mail, chat, listen to music and so on and so forth.  If yoga is practiced with a view to only reap the physical benefits, then you are merely scratching the surface of an ancient philosophy which can add so much value to your life.

So to sum up – practice your yama and niyama!!! 🙂

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