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How to be spiritual without religion – Know these 5 Yama and Niyama from Yoga !

Practice of Yama and Niyama of Yoga can lead to a balance of breath, body, and mind. This article is based on explanations in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra.

What is the Eight fold (Ashtang) path  of yoga ? 

The Eightfold path of yoga is the foundation of all spiritual practice. It is the path of self-realization or enlightenment. The path is not a one-time event, but a lifelong journey.

Meditation is a system and not a goal.  

It relies on adoption of a practice in which the practitioner must be aware of himself, his actions, his thoughts, and their effects on himself and others.

It is not a set of rules or rituals, but a way of life that leads to spiritual growth and self-realization. The goal of the path is to become fully aware of who you are and how you relate to the world around you.

Yama and Niyama are a part of the Eight Fold Path of Yoga.

Elements of the Eightfold path

yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayo-a-shtava anggani

(Soure : Patanjali Yoga Sutra – commentary by Swami Vivekananda)

The path is constituted by the following elements. ( I am commenting on only those that I can understand, at least, in words. Most are so deep that can require multiple lifetimes to comprehend) 

  • Yama (ethical-restraints that define your relation with others)
  • Niyama ( observances that help you grow) 
  • Asana (physical exercises that align body and the mind – these are commonly mistaken as Yoga by everyone) 
  • Pranayama (breathing practice to ease out bodily reactions to environment)  
  • Pratyahara ( disconnecting the senses with the sensory organs)
  • Dhyaan 
  • Dharana
  • Samadhi

Roughly categorized, the first four elements deal with the body, the fifth one deals with the association ( and disassociation , thereof ) of the body and the mind, and the last three deal with the Mind and Purusha ( faculties subtler than the body).

What are Yama in Yoga ?

ahinsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigraha yamah

(Soure : Patanjali Yoga Sutra – commentary by Swami Vivekananda)

In Yogic tradition, yama refers to the relation you have with the environment. These are practices that define your interaction with others ( anything but your body).

The five yamas or ethical restraints in yogic philosophy are:

  • Ahimsa (Non violence)
  • Satya (Truthfulness)
  • Asteya (Non stealing) 
  • Brahmacharya (Chastity) 
  • Aparigraha (Non possession)

These Yamas are practiced in every form in mind, through words or actions. No reason, whatsoever, is allowed for deviation, when one is committed to such practices.

Ahimsa (Non violence)

Ahimsa is the principle of not taking life, even in self-defense. It is the basis of the Yogic belief that all life is sacred. Ahimsa is also the basis of the Hindu practice of vegetarianism.

Living in India, I have often heard of gurus and sadhakas who are so trained in the practice of non-violence that they do like to kill anyone, including insects and pathogens that may harm them. It is said that one takes Ahimsa to this level even violent animals do not harm them and quietly move away.

Satya (Truthfulness)

We often lie for petty causes in our job and life.

We think chose the comfortable pathway and avoid the responsibility that comes with truthfulness. Truthfulness helps build a strong character.

People recognize you as dependable and honest, which also leads to material success.

Asteya ( Non-Stealing)

Not stealing others stuff is very important. This has to be practiced in mind, words, and deeds.

This includes not indulging in practices of stealing both physical and intellectual property.

Brahmacharya (Chastity)

Brahmacharya is another important element of Yogic science. One who wants to focus on attainment must at one point practice chastity.

Attraction in any form distracts the mind and hampers the practice of yoga. Sexual attraction is an exceptionally strong force, which if conquered, can be life changing.

Aparigraha (Non Receiving /Non possession)

When one refuses to receive any gift from others, he is not allowing new bonds to develop. And his practice will eventually free him from his attachments with material objects. 

The Five Niyama in Yoga 

shaucha santosha tapah svadhyay eshvarapranidhanani niyamah

(Soure : Patanjali Yoga Sutra – commentary by Swami Vivekananda)

The five niyamas (observances) in yoga are: satya (truthfulness), ahimsa (nonviolence), asteya (nonstealing), brahmacharya (celibacy), and aparigraha (nonpossessiveness).

Lets talk about them.

Saucha (Cleanliness) 

Only one who is internally and externally clean can become non-attachment to the body, and therefore, refuses to feed its interests. He/She thereby moves towards the path to freedom. 

Santosha (Contentment)

“From contentment comes superlative happiness”  

Patanjali Yoga Sutra, Commentary by Swami Vivekananda

Being content help reduce comparisons with others and therefore, one becomes driven to change oneself. He/she does not now remain driven by environment.

It does not now matter what your friends are doing, and you do not feel the need to follow.

You feel free and can now focus on growing yourself. 

Tapas (Austerity)

Tapas derives from Sanskrit, Tapa, meaning to burn. It is also the root of Hindi word ‘Taap’ meaning temperature or degree of heat. 

The yogic discipline causes you to burn the blocks that are causing you to not realize yourself. 

yama and niyama - swadhyaya

Swadhyaya (Selfstudy)

‘Self-study’ or understanding through own efforts is the basis of any true learning. Unless one tries to explore and learn himself, there can be no knowledge. All attainment, whether physical or spiritual has deep study at the base. 

In Yoga, it means, studying stuff that your guru has advised you to, or exploring topics that will aid your understanding of yourself. ( including what you are doing right now) 

Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion to the lord or the “guru”)

Guru Pranidhan or Isvara Pranidhan is the practice of paying homage to your Guru or God. This not only makes you humble, but deep within, it clears the pathway through which your Guru or God can extend their divine touch. 

In my opinion, its a very short and shallow explanation of a very deep topic, but I am just a beginner. However, I have come to believe that we are all ‘sadhakas’ or practitioners at different stages.

And we need to keep treading the path that will help us realize our true power. 

The path is not easy, but it is worth it.

The rewards are great: a deeper understanding of yourself and the world, peace of mind, and a sense of purpose.

If you are willing to try, the path is open to you.

Om Shaanti !

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