About Yama and Niyama Yoga

"Knowledge (Jnana) does not come from the practice of yoga methods alone. Perfection in knowledge is in fact only for those who begin with the practice of virtue (dharma), but knowledge does not come about without yoga as a means. The practice of yogic methods is not the means by itself, but it is only from this practice of yoga that the perfection in knowledge comes about.

All things rest on something else-that 's, everything is supported by something else. This is because there needs to be a foundation for anything to exist. Being the Supreme Provider of all things itself, God alone is free of this need. Yoga, then, needs help too. As Trevor Leggett says of the Yoga Sutras in his introduction to Shankara 's commentary: "This is yoga presented to the man of the world, who must first make his mind clear, and then steadfast, against the fury of illusory passions, and free his life from enmity." Patanjali outlines very carefully and fully the elements of support needed by the aspirant, providing invaluable information on how to ensure success in yoga.

The first Yoga Sutra says: "Now the exposition of yoga," which implies that in the form of the necessary developments of consciousness and personality, there must be something leading up to yoga. These preconditions can be considered the Yoga Foundations, and are known as Yama and Niyama.

Ama and Niyama are also called the "Ten Commandments of Yoga." Each of these Five Don'ts (Yama) and Five Do's (Niyama) is a foundation of Yoga that protects and liberates you. Yama in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, implies self-restraint and consists of five components. Niyama means observances, five of which occur too. Here is the complete list as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32 of these ten pillars:

1) Ahimsa: nonviolence, non-injury, innocence

2) Satya: Fidelity, Honesty

3) Asteya: non-robbery, integrity, improperty

4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence of thought, word and deed, and control of all senses;

5) Aparigraha: non-possessive, non-possessive, non-egoistic, non-acquisitive

6) Shaucha: Cleanliness, Purity

7) Santosha: contentment, tranquility

8) Tapas: austerity, functional (i.e., spiritual discipline generating results)

9) Swadhyaya: introspective learning of oneself, spiritual analysis

10) Ishwarapranidhana: Giving life to God

Both of these deal with the human being's natural powers — or rather with the abstinence and observance that will grow and unlock those forces that will be used for our spiritual perfection, self-realization and liberation.

These ten restrictions (yama) and observances (niyama) are not optional either for the aspiring yogi-or the more advanced yogi. Shankara notes very clearly that "following yama and niyama is the essential requirement for practicing yoga." Pure desire and ambition for the aim of yoga is not enough, so he continues: "The prerequisite is not simply that one wants to practice yoga, for the sacred text says: 'But he who did not turn away from his wickedness first, who is not at ease and subdued, or whose mind is not at ease; (Katha Upanishad 1.2.24) And in the Atharva text: 'The truth is founded in those who have tapas [strong discipline] and brahmacharya [chastity].' (Prashna Upanishad 1:15) And in the Gita: 'Firm in their vow of brahmacharya.' (Bhagavad Gita 6:14) So yama and niyama are methods of yoga' in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that may be optional.

But at the same time, the practice of yoga allows the aspiring yogi to pursue the required ways of yama and niyama, so he should not be discouraged from practicing yoga right now, feeling he should wait until he is "owed" or has "cleaned up his act" for yoga practice. No. No. He should resolutely embark simultaneously on yama, niyama and yoga. Success is his.

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