Yamas & Niyamas

          In the first four sutras of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali a basic philosophy of yoga is found.  Simply stated, yoga is the practice of stilling the mind in order for the “seer” to “rest in his true self.”  This state is often referred to as “self-realization.”  The remaining sutras of this four-chapter treatise explain various practices and experiences that may be included to obtain yoga.  Within these are attitudes to cultivate toward other people since such attitudes have a strong influence on one’s ability to still the mind. 

          Deep in chapter two, sutras 28 & 29, Patanjali presents the “Eight Rungs of Yoga” which is often outlined in explanations of yoga.  The first two of these eight rungs or limbs are the five Yamas and five Niyamas, which are partly about relations with other people and are basic practices to cultivate to help lessen mental distractions.  The first Yama,

Ahimsa, non-injury, really covers the other four Yamas which all refer to some form of injury.  They are: 

2) Satya, non-falsehood;

3) Asteya, non-stealing;

4) Brahmachary, non-sexual; and

5) Aparigraha, non-possessiveness. 

Upon reflection, one can discern how these acts -- lying, stealing, sex, & coveting -- can injure self or others. 

          The five Niyamas are practices to stabilize and prepare the mind for stillness.  They are: 

1) Cleanliness of the body and mind is obtained by practices such as the netti wash;  eating clean, pure food; and thinking pure thoughts to remove mental impurities;

2) Contentment  is cultivated to realize that happiness does not come from possessing more -- a sense of satisfaction is developed;

3) Austerity includes practices of mental and physical disciplines that teach how to endure hardships without getting upset -- developing the ability to be still.    Included in this is observance of silence from which one learns to refrain from useless talk and to speak only truth.  Fasting is another practice of this Niyama. 

4) Svadhyaya is the practice of studying Scriptures and using Mantras.

5) Isvara-pranidhana is the practice of surrendering all actions and fruits of actions to God.

          The Yoga Sutras indicate the ultimate purpose of these along with the other six limbs of yoga -- Asana/Posture; Pranayama/Regulated breath; Pratyahara/Controlled senses; Dharana/One-pointed concentration; Dhyana/Retained concentration, Meditation; and Samadhi/Absorbed concentration -- is that of stilling the mind in order to go beyond the mind to the One True Consciousness.