Why Yama and Niyama
Once the great Siddha Guru Neem Karol Baba (Mahārāji) was speaking to Bābā Rām Dāss. He said "No one does yoga anymore." He was speaking of hatha yoga - also known as ashtanga yoga. He said that from his point of view, the last 6 limbs can only be done when the practitioner was really practicing the first two; Yama and Niyama; and, from Mahāraji's point of view no one does.
The Yama and Niyama come are ethical precepts and guiding behavioral principles. They are found in many classical texts. In the west, ten of them are most commonly known from the Patanjali Yoga Sutrā. Patanjali outlines 8 limbs of yoga including āsana (commonly misinterpreted as physical postures), prānāyāma (commonly misinterpreted as breathing exercises), prathyahāra (turning inward of attention), dhārana (meditation technique), dhyāna (meditation), and samādhi (meditative absorption). But before these six limbs, focused on inner practice are given two preliminary aims are there: Yama and Niyama. There are five of each, and they serve to guide aspirants into the right way of being, the right attitude to cultivate, and the best inner energetic environment to create to support their inner yoga. And they are deep.
The Yama are:
- Ahimsā - non-malice
- Satya - authenticity
- Asteya - non stealing
- Brahmacharya - control of sexual energy
- Aparigraha - non hoarding
The Niyama are:
- Shaucha - purity
- Santosha - contentment
- Tapas - austerity
- Svadhyāya - sacred study
- Ishvarapranidhāna - surrender to God.
As I said, other other classical systems besides yoga have other great yama and niyama, but these are the basic 10. They are so rich, and so deep! Contemporary western commercial yoga has made the Yama and Niyama into sprinkles, like condiments that flavor our real practice (the physical āsana class). But if you take any one of these and actually endeavor to master them before doing practice - it’s an intense path. Classically, it was assumed that serious sādhakas were established in these as a prerequisite to other instruction. From this point of view, I must say, I agree with Maharaji.
In this course, we will be going deep into the exploration of each of the Yama and Niyama and exploring how we can apply them in our contemporary lives. I will weave in teachings from other traditions than Patanjali such as Bhakti, Non-dual Tantra, Sufism, and the Sahaja Siddha tradition.
Why? Because I agree with Maharāji's assessment. And he made it about Indian sādhakas in the 1960s! I find that there is a deep lack of this kind of inner cultivation in contemporary yoga scenes and even amongst serious practitioners. These 10 principles will provide a lens for us over the next 10 weeks to deepen our experience not just of practice, but of life itself.
*a note about Yama and Niyama vs Yamas and Niyamas: Plural Sanskrit nouns don't have an s on the end. We do it commonly when we use Sanskrit in English; chakras, mantras, sutrās, etc. It is a little awkward, but for the sake of accuracy and also to give a fresh perspective, I will drop the s on the plural Yama and Niyama. Out of habit, you will see me using the s for other plural nouns such as Sādhakas etc.