Yama & Niyama
The ancient Vedic texts contained writings that gave guidelines for daily living. These guidelines serve to improve our health and well-being, and bring balance, calmness, and happiness to our lives.
(restraints or abstinences)
Brahmacharya (spiritual resolution of desires)
• HARMLESSNESS: Non-violence, Non-destructiveness in action, words, and thoughts
Harmlessness means not causing harm or suffering to other humans, other living creatures, to ourselves, and to our environment. It is living life without using force or violence. This quality is enhanced through the practice of observing ourselves in our interactions with others, being careful that our thoughts, intentions, words, and actions do not harm others. (i.e. not stifling others’ enthusiasm, happiness, creativity, freedom, and avoiding negative gossip, criticism, condemnation and judgment of others).
When we are firmly established in harmlessness (physical, mental, verbal, and spiritual non-violence), there is abandonment of enmity (hostility, antagonism, harm) by those who are in our presence. When we practice harmlessness, we experience true inner security.
• TRUTHFULNESS: Non-lying, non-gossip, non-exaggeration, stating only that which is truth.
Truth is that which is so, that which is. Knowing the truth of who we are and living from that truth in every moment is the key to success and good health. The practice of observing what is really happening in each moment with a calm alert mind, without emotion, enhances our ability to respond correctly in that moment.
When we are firmly established in living from truthfulness, which is the basic foundation of success in all actions and transformations, we obtain the fruit of actions with less effort. To be established in truthfulness is to be anchored in awareness of the Higher Power. Thus being anchored in pure faith and doubt free, our thoughts are not in conflict. The Higher Power supports our clear intentions and our legitimate needs and desires are more easily fulfilled.
• NON-STEALING: Stealing is defined as taking that which is not ours, taking more than we need, hoarding and thus preventing others from having what they need, withholding or denying fair payment, wasting, and not being good stewards of our resources.
Note, stealing, can also include selfishly infringing on someone else’s time, selfishly intruding into someone else’s life or space inappropriately, and through inappropriate behavior stealing their self-confidence or self- esteem. This is closely related to Harmlessness.
In constantly looking outside of ourselves for satisfaction, we become influenced to want more and more. A feeling or fear of lack is generated and causes the tendency to crave something which is not ours, or to crave more than we need, or to withhold from others. We begin to believe in our lack instead of our abundance and that is what we experience.
By practicing generosity, non-hoarding, and not taking more than we need, on the other hand, we can experience prosperity consciousness. This results in our being able to experience and appreciate the support we have and the abundance which already exists in our life. This experience of having eliminates the craving for more and we feel more content with our life while constructively working for improvement. This is non- stealing consciousness.
SELF-RESTRAINT: Regulation of sensory impulses and conservation of vital energy by controlling and dissolving sensory drives and attachments.
The classical translation is “celibacy”, but other meanings include discipline, will power and moderation. Self- restraint results in radiant vitality of the mind and body, superior concentration and intellectual ability, strong life force, and radiant health.
Vital energy is wasted or weakened by compulsive, unnecessary actions, which weaken the nervous system and erode will power. Vital energy can also be wasted through excessive sexual preoccupation or activity, excessive talking, mental restlessness, nervousness, excessive entertainment, overeating, insufficient sleep, excess stress, worry, anxiety and grief.
All activities in which the senses are attracted to objects in the environment outside of ourselves are dispersing and weakening. All activities which draw energy in towards our source or center (i.e. yoga, mediation, self- reflection) enhance our vital forces.
• NON-ATTACHMENT: Non-greediness, non-possessiveness, impermanence.
Attachment is an expression of ego, “I”, “me”, “my”, or “mine”. It is a feeling that something is really our own. This is my car, my house, my clothing, my furniture, my opinion, my point of view, etc. The problem with attachment is that when we lose something we are attached to, or our opinions or beliefs are challenged, we become upset. Our mind and emotions become disturbed and we go out of balance. Then our feelings and behavior are not always appropriate. If we hold on to our upset long enough and strong enough, we can become physically ill.
When we are willing to be non-attached, we become free from physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual stress and upset. We learn to allow things to be as they are. Our well-being is not based on something outside of ourselves. Without attachment there is no excessive excitement when something is gained or emotional disturbance when something lost. We can still work for positive change but without upset when things don’t go our way.
All things are impermanent, so why be attached to them? When we are attached to something, do we own it or does it own us? So being established in non-attachment is to understand that we really own nothing. We just have use of it for a while and then it passes back into circulation. Even our relationships, parents, children, friends are not “ours”. Even our own body is not really ours. It too will pass away. When we act out of non- attachment with a calm mind, our actions are always correct.
(disciplines or observances)
Svādhyāya (study of the scriptures)
Īśvara-praṇidhāna (contemplation of God)
• PURITY AND CLEANLINESS: In body, speech, mind and spirit.
Purity means internal as well as external cleansing practices, hygiene, grooming, and eating a pure diet. It includes purifying our mind through discipline, patience, tolerance, right thinking, non-judgment, and no negative thoughts. Also by speaking only constructive, positive and encouraging words and avoiding negative words, profanity, judgment, gossip, blaming and criticism. Bringing awareness to our emotions and thoughts allows us to transform them into productive, creative processes.
It is important to understand that the environment we live in, the company we keep, the activities we engage in, the thoughts we have and the words we speak all affect our health. When established in purity, one experiences wellness and immunity from sources of contagion.
• CONTENTMENT: Peace of mind, having no preferences, the ability to feel satisfied with what is.
Contentment is the experience of supreme joy, not depending on anything outside of ourselves for our happiness or satisfaction. Having no preferences, and being content regardless of circumstances, events, or the opinions of others. Contentment means neither to like nor to dislike.
Things are the way they are. People are the way they are. We cannot have the world change just to suit ourselves. That would be impossible. We can either be upset with the way things are by resisting, or we can be content with the way things are by accepting. This does not mean we lay down and do nothing. We can work constructively, positively for change, yet remain contented if things do not change to suit us. We experience true contentment when we are centered and balance within and not dependent on external circumstances, which are always changing and beyond our control.
If a compliment makes us happy, and a criticism or insult upsets us, we know our minds are not yet strong. When we can take the worst from others and still be relaxed and have a serene mind, this gives rise to inner strength and spiritual perfection.
• SELF-DISCIPLINE: Austerity, endurance, stamina, fortitude, patience, serenity, simplicity.
By the physical discipline of exercising and proper diet, we burn away excess fat and accumulated toxins. By mental discipline, we dissolve all our old impressions and mental impurities. By the verbal discipline we speak rightly. Whenever we practice self-discipline, we experience some discomfort as we transition from our old habit patterns and behaviors to new ones.
Discipline making choices that truly nourish our well-being and provide opportunities for growth. It destroys all impurities and gives rise to the perfection of the body, mind, and senses. This contributes to optimum health and well-being.
This practice means actively meditating on or studying the nature of our Higher-Self. Continuous devotion and study of truth scriptures along with regular consistent practice of spiritual disciplines eventually leads to union with the Divine. It is a process of continuous change or evolution.
Sometimes people confuse knowledge with spiritual evolution. They know a lot about spiritual growth but never actually change themselves. They intellectually understand, but they do not grow or evolve. Their life circumstances do not improve, their peace of mind does improve, they are still stuck in their same old ways. That is because they are not practicing or they are too attached to current circumstances to evolve into new circumstances. Right practice is the way to gain Self-realization. A Buddhist monk said, “To know and not to do, is not really to know”. Practice is what is required, action, not just intellectual knowing.
• SURRENDER IN DIVINE CONSCIOUSNESS
This means to surrender our ego, our sense of selfness, our sense of separateness. This is done by offering our thoughts, words and actions to the whole of Existence. When we live our life as an offering to Existence, to all life forms, to the environment, we experience a oneness with the Universal Matrix. There is no personal expectation, only the joy that comes from offering our best. The ego is dissolved and the experience of Universal Oneness is realized. Surrendering and trusting in the Divine Universe as consciousness, love, and truth brings us to the point of absolute merging . We surrender the fruits of our actions, giving up our egotistical illusions and accepting that the way life unfolds has its own perfection.
Service is performing action for the benefit of others with no intention or expectation of benefit to ourselves. It is offering our best and highest at all times regardless of circumstances or inconvenience to ourselves. It is living in the highest way for the highest good of all.
Life Surrendered in God: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Roy Eugene Davis, (direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda).
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Living Your Yoga, by Judith Lasater, Ph.D, P.T.
Yoga for Body, Mind, and Spirit, by Donna Farhi
The Yoga Matrix, by Richard Freeman