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Yama and Niyama. How does yoga begin?

There's is an idea, and if you analyze what's going on right now, you can find that we live in the magnificent times, when the level of life awareness is becoming more and more popular. Lots of our contemporaries are starting "looking around", asking the right questions etc. These kind of reflections cannot not bring you to the ways of realization of your spiritual potential. Yoga is the one of the most powerful instruments to spiritually improve one's persona Thereupon, a person who's unfamiliar with yoga may ask a question - where should i start? In the following article I’m going to try and disclose the topic. Of course, please don't take everything by the word of mouth. Study the original teachings yourself, listen to the competent people and verify on your own experience. If you do these three things altogether, you'll get everything right.

Yama and Niyama - are the names of the first two steps in yoga, which were stated by the sage Patangali in "Yoga Sutra". It's the first and ultimate condition for the one, who begins his path of the personal evolution, self-improvement. 

There are 8 steps altogether - Yama•Niyama•Asana•Pranayama•Dharana•Dhyana•Samadhi.

Yama is the God of the dead in the eyes of Buddhists, Hindu and Tibetans. He meets the souls of the dead and leads each soul to its due place. According to this, Yama isn't only the God of the dead but also an embodiment of justice. The point is that "Yama" means controlling your actions on the exterior and interior level of your existence. Because if something happens to a person it means that it happens to him both physically and spiritually (mentally). And fr om this point of view I propose to look through the rules of Yama and Niyama. But before we can go to the rules themselves, it's necessary to tell why it's very important to live by these rules if you're walking the path of self-improvement. In other words the rules of Yama and Niyama are the moral fundamentals of a successful improvement. It's like when you're building a house - you need a solid foundation to make it work, the same with spiritual development, at least when we're talking about the adequate spiritual development. 

The directions of Yama and Niyama prepare you, strengthen your will, teach to control your exterior and inner manifestations. Otherwise, you can start wrong and make a lot of troubles. Because, when started your training your good and bad qualities will manifests themselves a lot stronger and clearer then before. It can relate to gardening, at first you have deal with a lot weed before you can have a clean nice flower garden. In Veda, particularly in Ramayana, there's a good example of how far yoga can take you when you're avoiding the rules of Yama & Niyama. And the example would be Ravana, a notorious demon, who made a demonic civilization on Sri Lanka. He and his brother were practicing yoga seriously, and the accomplished everything in it, but could not stay on the path because the qualities like vanity, selfishness, ambitions etc. That's why is very important to start with the moral foundations first.

Also it should be said that a deeper knowledge of Karma helps to understand the importance and fairness of Yama and Niyama.

The laws of Yama:

1. Ahimsa - a renunciation of violence towards everything and anything including yourself and the natural order in the world. Why it's so important to say violence no? If looking thoroughly it becomes obvious that all the problems in this world are caused by violence. Violence towards the Planet, animals, people, and many other living beings, basically towards the Nature itself. Because our Planer is a living organism like the others, it just has a different form. That is why it's crucial to treat the environment well. Idealistically, you should not even kill a fly, which persistently disturbs you. But of course, that's idealistic. But nevertheless it's very important trying to be idealistic. The most basic and understandable reason not to make violence is that you did not create life, so it's not up to you to take it, interfering with the evolution of this particular creature in this world. According to the law of Karma making problems or violence means collecting negative Karma. For example - more killing animals, more negative Karma. And each individual Karma in the end will form the common Karma of the society, which means that everybody suffers. Then again if helping people to understand the consequences of their actions, the atmosphere will change to the better.

2. Satya - a renunciation of lying, especially to yourself.
The importance of this rule is obvious. :) From the beginning of our lives we are told that lying's not good! But why? Lets start with self-delusion. Just think about it, if you're on the path of self-improvement, what can be worse than lying to yourself? Because, the more we're honest with ourselves, the more problems we are able to find and later fix. Only when the problem is seen it's possible to find a solution for it. Also maximum honesty towards yourself will provide you with maximum strictness, which will eventually lead to a maximum result. Thereafter, if a person is completely honest with himself how can he lie to others? And perhaps, somebody will say "But what about white lies, half-truth". For example, when a doctor does not say that the patient has very little time left. Let us reflect on this situation. Let's start with that in Veda, Buddha and the other wise men sometimes said to their learners some part of the truth. It's important to understand why they could do it. The thing is, that the level of their evolution could let them see all the Karmic consequences of their words, which were said to the learners. That is why they could afford it. Knowing for sure that they won't do any harm. And who's capable of such things now? That is why no matter how hard it is, even when are talking about the doctor-patient situation, it's always crucial to tell the truth. Because it's the most useful option for the patient himself. Only knowing the truth he can actually do something relevant about it, probably restore his health, by changing the attitude to the world and his own body. Also competent people talk about the energy aspect of lying and deceit. Particularly, when you're lying you're contradicting the reality. Thereafter, you gather the kind of energy that will you hold from the truth so you won't be able to see the world for what it really is. That's why you make the same mistakes over and over again.

3. Asteya - a renunciation of a desire to posses something that's not yours, if theft.
Speaking of energy, it should be understood that every single thing in our possession has our energy in it. A good example would be clothes that have the energy of the wearer. Thereafter, if a person stole some part of your garment, he obtained a part of your energy without deserving it. But according to the law of energy preservation, the energy should be restored. Thereafter, the thief will suffer to compensate the energy balance. It's important to understand, that suffering can manifest itself in this life or the next one. And it may not be the same, like you stole - you got robbed. It can be much worse. Because the law of Karma is just. It's also said by the competent people, that the ones that steal usually have a lot of unused energy of passion and action (Radjas). So if this person had something to use his energy to, he would not go for stealing.

4. Aparigraha - a renunciation of hoarding.

Speaking of energy, to own a thing in world means to give a huge amount of energy for it. Because nothing is free, you have to have energy for everything you want. You find free cheese only in mousetrap. To own something, we need to earn money first. Then we buy it. And still spending our energy to sustain the presence of our something. Despite of that, we also spend a lot of energy for the thing to even appear in this world before us while working for it. So what do you think is left for us, our neighbors? I'm not even mentioning the energy for your spiritual evolution? Thereafter, the more things we own, the more energy we spend to sustain them. For people who think technically there's a good explanation. There's was a movie made in the 90s called "A Journey to the NanoWorld"(«Путешествие в нано мир»). Interesting study about the matter's composition and structure took place in it. And this was concluded. With help from a microscope (magnifying in 10-37) the scientists could determine that matter is nothing more than light running circles. And our stuff takes the light from which we exist. Thereafter, it's very crucial to be very cautious about what you buy, how much and for what purpose. So that every purchase would be rational. Of course, it's necessary to remember about the non-violence (Ahimsa), so be attentive to the material of your purchase. The same principal is also for everything you make with your own hands, giving your energy to make it happen.

I'll tell you about one more aspect, from the reincarnation's point of view. The things, that we made here (in the material word) will stay here, thereafter who and for what will use them will give us the respectively equal energy after death. To sum up, I’ll quote Buddha-"Don't think that your good comes from outside. The good is only in you and depends only on you. No wave is born in the depth of the sea, because deep down there's peace - so and you as well don't let those outer waves shake, do not desire anything from outside - and you'll own the good.

5. Brahmacharya- self-control, a renunciation of indulging in one's desires, sensual, sex desires and weaknesses. 

This rule is very wide. Starting from excessive sex and summing up with affection to tasty food. Now lets break it down, so why wise men of the past tried not to have sexual intercourses at all. Because they wanted to save up and raise their energy so they could their maximum to serve for the good of the society. They only used intercourse to have a child. Also it's important to know that ejaculation and orgasm are two different things. Of course the modern society, the media and so-called pop culture are always trying to propagandize and install the satisfaction of sexual desires in our minds. Because of that it's very hard gain self-control. But everything's possible:) The necessity of controlling your sexual energy is related to the fact that when you satisfy your sexual desires you waste a huge amount of energy on fleeting pleasure. And when there's no energy there's no time to think about self-improvement. The same goes with taste senses. It's said that the more one's affected to taste, the more energy he wastes on the pleasure he gets when consuming food. That way it's important to eat as healthy as possibly and as plain as possible at the same time. That will help you to save up energy for self-improvement. Usually sexual and taste desire are related to the infestation of Svadhistana chakra. One of the good methods to clean it out, beside the asanas, would be ShankhaProkshalana. Which will not only clean your organism from toxins, but also it will clean your energy. The energy which is better to spend for the good sake of people, rather than on depth of the taste.


1. Shaocha - means body and consciousness purity. Cleanness of one's environment, body, clothes, also consciousness, thoughts, the inner purity. In other words one should apply him to sustain purity, calmness and clarity on three levels - physical, energetic, spiritual.

2. Tapas. Constant and persistent training. Ascetism and self-discipline.
This rule can be understood when two things are examined. Tapas and Askesa. Tapas - is a universal energy, which can be saved up. Tapas can be a shield from all the negativity, and also an opportunity to make things happen. It is said that by saved up Tapas, one can re-incarnate in a higher world. Because he has a potential for it. Thereafter, Tapas is a universal currency for everything and everybody. However, depending on the goals and motivation, which usually are materialistic things, one's Tapas may transform into these things. To understand the importance of saving and spending Tapas it's crucial to know the laws of the Universe. It's said that the only thing we can take with us after death is Tapas, so we can evolve in other worlds. Material things will stay here. So if a person has spent all his Tapas to have material things, wh ere he'll get energy to evolve? How famous Milarepa said - " The ultimate vision - is to see your own mind. If you look for something from outside, you're like the one who seeks prosperity, while being already prosperous». So if you realized that material things won't make you happy, that it's only an illusion or morok - there's a way. Askesa. :) This term has lots of meanings but the basic would be patience, restriction and self-discipline. It's Askesa that helps amass Tapas. A good example would be all the discomfort you get when you practice yoga on the mat. It's the overcoming the difficulties volitional and persistent work with yourself let amass energy when overcame the joint agility problems. Of course this principal contradicts the conception of getting as much pleasure as you can, which actually spend your energy the way you don't really to be spent. By the way, it's important to know that agility problems are only half-physical. It's very much connected with the consciousness. Actually there's a rule: a change of energy in one's body changes the work of consciousness, and the latter influences the amass of energy in one's body.

3. Santosha – contentment. Contentment with what you have in the moment.
This rule is connected with Aparigraha. Connected with the fact that to manifest or sustain a material thing one has spend a huge amount of energy. And he won't the energy to do anything else. But the main part is that your things have to live its purpose. Also i want to add a very important moment.

It's connected with the mind, to be more accurate with the consuming conception, installed in the consciousness of a modern man. The conception that you don't have enough stuff, you need to take everything from life. But that's not true:) Let's take a look at Nature. In nature each creature, animal or insect is provided by Nature with all necessary conditions for a normal life: food, water, temperature, humidity, sun, reproduction etc. And isn’t a human a part of the Nature? Isn't he in possession of everything that he needs for a normal, full life? Maybe we suffer because we are in disharmony with Nature, while persistently trying to achieve profusion. Contributing more and more strength to material pleasures. Think about it.

4. Svadhyaa – Self-education.

When searching the Internet one can find such definition of the principal: A person ought to read and learn the meaning of great books and writings, written by spiritually advanced people. To read a lot without due understanding does not mean to follow Svadhyaa. This principal is important because it makes contact with great people and encourages us to continue our training;

I'd like to add some aspects, why i think it's important. Since our world is double natured, one needs to understand that there's no stagnation. You go forward, or backward. And here lots of people confuse so-called stability with going backwards. Also self-education is important, when you're study yourself, your inner world, the environment, verifying what you've learned by own experience in practice. Having installed adequate knowledge one changes his attitude towards the world and people, thereafter motivations and goals of his become more altruistic, compassionate. That is why it's crucial to systematically self-educate oneself if one wants bring more good to himself and everything around him.

What can we call an adequate knowledge? First of all, that would be the writings, which were left to us thanks to the Teachers of the past, and these are - Puranas, Sutras, Djatakas, and Veda. Also Mahabharata and Ramayana. All this has a lot of universal truths, the wisdom of culture, evolved high, that we can use to improve quicker. A very important aspect is that when chosen a direction, try to study it completely so there won't be any mix-ups and misunderstanding when reading about different traditions. If you want to have a result it's really necessary not just to collect knowledge, but also to use it. Only by using the knowledge it will be worthwhile. There's an interesting thought on this matter - "Knowledge is not a theory, it's an action changes one's life".

When talking about energy, there's a law of concentration. It's very simple. We receive the energy on which we concentrate. Thereafter, be wise about what you learn, read and watch. If you're concentrating on the person who lives in negativity and passion - that's what you'll get. And on the other hand, if he's surrounded by the energy of good, that's what you'll get. Thereafter, Veda and other teaching, which carry the most positive energy, if are concentrated on, will help be in harmony with this energy. Which will be a huge help.

5. Ishvara Pranidhana - Dedicating one's accomplishments to the Most High.
This principal should be seen as the action of dedication of one's good deeds and accomplishments to the greater good. In other words giving the best you have to others for the sake of their self-improvement, maximum altruism. It's crucial that your actions are sincere, with no selfish motivations on the physical (money) and mental (vanity) levels. This principal is the opposition of "living just for myself" . Probably people who live materialistically won't understand that.

And that's not all. Competent people speak about the Ladder principal. When you're helping others in realizing something that would another step of yours while climbing the path. There's a saying about that "What you gave - yours, what you kept - gone". Maybe it seems hard to understand so i will quote an Arabian Wiseman Ibn al Farid who explains that "i" and the other and the Most High is One:
Oh, at last i understood: 

Who says, who listens is One.
I was praying to myself,
Listening to myself. 

Considering that, it's clear that while improving yourself and helping others to improve, you're basically helping yourself. 

What you've read now, that's the essence of yoga, not making yourself cool while posting your poses on the Net. The Essence of Yoga is to serve and practice for the good of all living creatures, thereafter to you.

Of course reading about Yama and Niyama is one thing, while following it is a totally different one. That's why it's so important because these rules give you so much, if followed. To sum up and encourage you i'll quote the great teacher Milarepa, who achieved clarification in one life - "Everybody can persist, can achieve the same".

And to conclude everything with one line.. "Honor the Gods and Ancestors, Live with peaceful conscience, be friends with Nature!"

Good luck on your way to self-improvement!
Oleg Vasilyev