The Yoga-sutras1 of Sage Patanjali prescribe certain moral standards, also known as yogic virtues for all levels; beginners, intermediate, advance and to the most advance levels of yogis. These virtues are as an integral part of a yogic life and acceptable by any all human beings. The Sanskrit terms for two main categories of the moral standards are yamas, the codes of self regulation and niyamas, the restraints and disciplines. These two are encoded as first two limbs of ashtanga-yoga, the eightfold path of the Yoga-sutras. Tejo-bindu Upanishad states the further virtues, including kindness, compassion, generosity, patience, helpfulness, forgiveness, purity, and so on. According to Sage Patanjali, the yamas are composed of the following five virtues:
a-himsa-satyasteya-brahma-charyaparigraha yamaḥ. YS ii.30
i. a-himsa : non-harming, non-injuriousness, non-violence,
ii. satya : truth, reality, expressing reality,
iii. asteya : non-theft,
iv. brahma-charya : walking in the consciousness, following strict obedience and discipline, celibacy, regulation of sexual indulgence,
v. a-parigraha : not holding, grabbing, grasping with the senses, non-possessiveness.
The other category known as niyamas is composed of the following five virtues
shaucha-santosha-tapah-svadhyayeshvara-prani-dhanani niyamah.YS ii.3
- i. shauca : purity, cleanliness
- ii. santosha : contentment
- iii. tapas : heating or burning, ascetic endeavour, ascetic practise
- iv. swadhyaya : self-study and japa
- v. ishwara-pranidhana : surrender to God
Thus, it is essential of a Yoga Teacher, Yoga Trainner, Guru or a Master’s life to follow an appropriate conduct. They should live their life according to the moral standards particularly because teachers have a great responsibility toward their students and should be expected to reflect the high moral principles supports in Yoga. We also have to acknowledge the complexities of our modern society, which make it necessary to suitably adjust the moral principles at first deliberate for the conditions of ancient Indian society.
How to Apply Yamas & Niyamas in Daily life?
The Yoga-sutras have prescribed several ways to apply these two categories of yamas and niyamas at different levels, in different manners and in different conditions:
- i. Sharirika: at body level, vachika: at speech level, and manasika: at mind’s level.
- ii. Use all these virtues in an integrated way, for example speaking truth in a way that one is not harmed.
- iii. Use Krita: done, karita: done through some body, and anumodita: supported to do.
- iv. Use without these four doshas (impurities, faults); jati- (species), desha- (space), kala- (time), samaya- (rule like I will kill only for great people), an-ava-cchinnah (without pierced, conditioned by these four), sarva-bhauma (in all situations, conditions), maha-vratam (great wow).
Let’s go through a brief practical application of using these yogic virtues; yamas and niyamas:
(a) How to apply Yamas?
Ahimsa means non-harming. Actually it doesn’t mean non-harming only towards another person, animal, or plant, but also thinking about it in personal terms. As much as it is about physical non-harming, it is similarly about verbal and mental non-harming. The term is so broad that this can be used in these contexts: self-love, self-acceptance, self-appreciation. Before we step in to yoga hall at the Yoga School and our yoga mats we should take few moments to reflect whether we judge ourselves before we even begin, we pollute our energy with expectation and desire etc. Such negative thinking harms not just our mental state, but also verbal and body states. So take a small step and make a grand intention of appreciating every step, on and off the mat. This is how you can follow the first and the prime virtue of yoga, ahimsa (non-harming).
Satya means truthfulness. When we lie to others or ourselves we start a journey of no return. It’s like eating one banana chip, then second, then third and so forth. It’s impossible. At the first place of it all we are afraid of insecurity and others’ judgement and views. In this condition one should cultivate love and bring honesty and purity so that speaking truth gives a freeing sensation of being. This is how you can follow this virtue of yoga, satya (truthfulness).
Asteya means non-stealing. When we talk about this virtue we think of only the physical objects such as stealing watch or their money, which is just a part of this virtue. It is not only limited to stealing physical things, but also refraining from listening others carefully. The other examples of this are stealing somebody’s time and enery, their moments, their vulnerability etc.
Brahmacharya means walking in the consciousness, regulation of sexual indulgence.
It seems very difficult for our today’s world. Moderation is key of this virtue.
Aparigraha means non-possessiveness or non-greediness. It is very common today’s competitive world that greediness falls in no time. In corporate sectors you are pushed to indirectly trample our “competition” because that will get us further up the ladder and so on. An emotion of wanting more isn’t greediness actually it eventually leads to greediness. What you can do to cultivate this virtue is that you cultivate a sense of content with where you are, with what you have, and with whom you share it is Aparigraha.
(b) How to apply Niyamas?
The practices of niyamas are about little deepening about yourselves. When you apply these practices they open yourself up to infinite love and light. These practices cultivate an awareness of being aware before we do anything.
Saucha is the first of the niyamas and it means purity. Because we have conditioned ourselves our awareness is set to see outside and care of others. It is hard and in some cases almost impossible to take care of other unless first you have taken care of yourself. There is a saying in Sanskrit text:
sharira-madhyam khalu dharma-sadhanam
The body is the medium to perform any virtuous acts.
The example of airplane oxygen masks can be taken to understand this fact. Saucha means caring for your body, breath or speech and your mind.
Santosha is contentment. We can be content with the things we have already acquired such as like health, my family members, friends, job etc. When we driven by our emotions try getting more and more we find ourselves worries about not getting them and slowly this earning emotion takes away our calm state of the mind. So it is better to keep not to driven by the earning emotion by applying contentment in life.
Tapas in Sanskrit basically means fire, heating, also known as self-discipline. It also means purifying the thoughts, keeping the mind at peace even while performing any action. In the path of spiritual practices (sadhana), we stoke an internal fire within. That fire in the back of your mind reminds you of what you really need and don’t need. You often prefer to snooze that voice. If you listen to that voice you will begin to detach yourself from things, people, ideas and patterns that make you less than who really are.
Svadhyaya is the practice of self-study and doing mantra recitations according to some yogis. It is of both, study of one’s own life and the study of the life of other practitioners who have followed the path. It is important to reflect on which practice of yoga is more suitable for you. When we practice yoga and we come to our mats with an intent to achieve which distract you to perfect your practice. The best way to practice swadhyaya is through either journaling or speaking to someone about your (a close friend, a mentor, a psychiatrist, etc.).
Ishvara Pranidhana is the ultimate of all the practices of yoga. It means dedication to the God, Gurus or your respected seniors. If you believe in God or a higher power, Ishvara Pranidhana means to lay everything at the feet of God. This practice seems very simple, but it very difficult to practice. It teaches you to let go.
Thus, practicing these moral standards from every perspective helps strengthened the states of body, breath or voice and mind. We at our school Yoga Vidya Mandiram in Rishikesh, India give an emphasis to learn the yoga techniques by preparing the foundation through these moral standards known as yamas and niyamas.