1. Yamas & 2. Niyamas
Many believe that Yamas and Niyamas are unifying principles so similar to the guidelines of living taught in other cultural, philosophical and spiritual texts. Let’s focus on this unity, letting go of the need to compare, judge or compete. Patanjali emphasizes ahimsa as the most important – kindness in word, thought and deed. All forms of prejudice are seeing “others” as different. When we see our self in “others” and treat our “self” with kindness and compassion, we are practicing ahimsa. The more we are kind, the more we see kindness in others.
The yamas consist of non-harming, right communication or truthfulness, noncovetousness or non-stealing, moderation, and non-greediness.
Patanjali says that the yamas and niyamas are not limited according to a person’s position in life and they constitute a great universal vow. Patanjali then goes on to say that THE PRACTICE OF YOGA HAS SUCH AMAZING UNIVERSAL BENEFITS THAT IT CAN BE ADAPTED TO FIT A PERSON’S CLASS, PLACE, TIME OR CIRCUMSTANCE. (YS 2:31)
Niyamas consist of cleanliness, contentment, austerity/removal of impurities in our physical and mental environment, self-study, and self-surrender.
The third limb of Patanjali’s suggested practice means the posture that brings comfort and steadiness (YS 2:46). Realizing that requiring the body to sit still in any one posture requires a perfectly healthy body. Moving through postures designed to bring health to the body, prepares that body and mind to find one posture where we can be still. The practice of asana is to learn enough about your body to adapt asana to your body.
Because our nature, our senses, wants to experience pleasure and avoid pain, we load the system with toxins – food, stimulation, noise, pollution, etc. If the body is still, we can help the mind to be still. There are ample tests of nature to try to break our resolve. However, once we learn to lessen the natural tendency for restlessness and by meditating on the infinite, posture can be mastered. (YS 2:47) Once we can make a posture comfortable through practice we are neutral and not disturbed by dualities (hot/cold; praise/ criticism). (YS 2:48)
Once we have learned to acquire a comfortable, steady posture (asana), inhalation and exhalation should be controlled. (YS 2:49)
Three types of Pranayama, according to Patanjali:
1. Bahya vritti – exhaling (external retention)
2. Abhyantara vritti – inhaling (interior retention)
3. Stambha vritti – stationary retention
Variations on these Pranayama include place, time, count, and long or short duration:
Desa – place
Kala – time
Samkhya – count
Dirgha – long
Sukshmah – short (YS 2:50)
The fourth type of Pranayama happens effortlessly in deep meditation where we are concentrating on a internal or external object:
4. Kevala Kumbhaka – unintentional retention that occurs naturally in deep meditation. The breath follows the mind.
Pranayama prepare the mind, but the senses are still able to pull the mind away. (YS 2:54-2:55)
Pratyahara directs senses inward. Realization that there is more than we can actually see, touch and hear. Our physical senses are like filters. When we learn to use and refine our senses we become so much more aware of our bodies and minds and we begin to find our authentic selves and we are better able to accept the authentic selves of others without clouding that clarity with judgment and competition and other less conscious and distracting thoughts.
Everything we see, watch, hear and expose our senses to affects us at a deeper level than most of us thought possible. Many of us spend most of our days with some sort of external distraction happening: TV, radio, internet, computer, phone, billboards, magazines, gossip or superficial conversation, etc. If we spend most of our time watching commercials we will become focused on consumerism. Likewise, if we spend a great deal of time watching violence, it may profoundly affect us and may eventually affect our deeper commitment to contentment and non-violence/kindness. If we spend time with pornography or even sing-a-long with sexually explicit songs, it may turn our intention and attention to a sexual focus. It is useless to feel guilty about this or to judge these actions. However, just by bringing this up, we bring an awareness to how we spend our time. If we choose to refine our sensory experiences, we will bring another level of transformation to our lives.
Remember, there is no word in the ancient yogic language of Sanskrit for guilt. In yoga, there is no use for guilt. Why spend time feeling guilty about what happened in the past? Every thing that happens in our lives can be an opportunity for learning and self growth, if we allow it to be. Instead of feeling guilty, choose to learn from mistakes and practice new habits in baby steps: day by day and moment by moment.
By resisting temptation, we feel momentary tension, but as it passes we feel very proud and we gain a sense of mastery. This happiness far outweighs the momentary pleasure we receive when we give into our senses. It is everyone’s right to enjoy this freedom. We are free to “find peace and joy within and share the same with all humanity.” (Swami, p. 168)
Training the Mind to Meditate – concentrating or binding the mind to one place. In dharana, we are training the mind to meditate by completely focusing it on one place. (YS 3:1) Because it is more difficult for the mind to visualize, an actual object to fix your gaze upon can be helpful here. Tradak is the practice of actually gazing at an object, picture, etc. The longer you can look at the object, the more ingrained it will become in your mind, so that eventually when you close your eyes, you can still visualize it. Book 1, Sutra 14 reminds us that this practice “becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” Dharana is training our minds to quit running wild, and to be still.
The yoga practices are psychotherapeutic tools. Meditation enables us to watch the mind, observing our habits, preferences, and neuroses and gaining insights into the psyche, as well as the subconscious mind. The psychotherapeutic aspect of yoga comes from how it begins to integrate and purify the body, the emotions, and the mind by infusing them with spirit. (S. Gannon and D. Life, Jivamukti Yoga, 2002, Ballantine, New York. P. 24)
After much practice with Dharana we achieve stillness and a continuous cognitive flow, or Dhyana. This is true meditation once you no longer have to concentrate on meditation. It is effortless and time and space have no meaning here. Similar to sleep, you may or may not remember or have visions. (YS 3:2)
Samadhi is not practiced, but obtained. When consciousness of subject and object disappears and only the meaning remains, it is called Samadhi.
The final stage of Samadhi is when you become a living liberated being – a Jivan-mukta = jivan means living, mukta means liberated. You appear to be living a life like everyone else, yet you are active, dynamic and liberated from the nature of attachment. Your actions are more simply performed and content than other’s. (YS 3:3)
Practicing dharana, dhyana and samadhi upon one object is called samyama. As you deeply explore something, it reveals itself to you wholly. The revealed results are called siddhis. Mastering samyama allows us to discover the truth (uncover the truth that has always been there). This is accomplished in stages. (YS 3:4 – 3:6)