How two Yamas and Niyamas may be put into practice in word, thought and deed.
As long as we are turning towards our own heart, how can we be in the wrong direction? There is much more to Yoga than the physical practice - we know this. In the Eight Limbs of Yoga, before stepping into Asana, we have Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas. The yamas and the niyamas offer us an opportunity to turn inwards and practice what we realise outwardly. The yamas and the niyamas quite literally offer us a guideline to navigate real life and go beyond the unreal, beyond the emotions and that which is falsify what we think is our true life experience. The yamas and niyamas bring us closer to navigating a truer existence, to exist in and to experience the universe and our true selves. This is liberation. These “rules”, although might seem restrictive to some, offer us the truest freedom.
The first of Patanjali’s Yamas is Ahimsa: non-harming or non-violence in thought, word and deed towards ourselves and others. The Yamas are often considered as ‘restraints’. They are a guideline as to how we can interact with the outer world. Ahimsa , the first of the yamas, is probably the the most fundamental of all, and the core basis of yoga. To refrain from causing harm to any living creature in the world may seem obvious. It is not in our natural instinct to harm another human being, to inflict violence on any living creature. Though to consider the indirect harm we may cause to living creatures, human or otherwise, opens up a huge chasm for thought. What about the choices we make and their consequences? The vote we have with our forks as to whether an animal should be harmed for our pleasure/survival. If not in action, what about the harm we may cause in words to others, or even thoughts to ourselves?
Thoughts are like drops of water. When I think the same thoughts over and over again, I am creating this incredible body of water. First, I have a little puddle, then I may get a pond, and as I continue to think the thoughts over and over again, I have a lake, and finally an ocean.
Inner Wisdom, Louise Hay
To live with a sensitivity to all living things, our own selves, the beings we have not and might never meet but who are affected by the choices we make. To honour the power that we possess and the ripple effect of a single thought, word, act or deed. To acknowledge the power of a single thought or act with ahimsa in mind is the yogic path. It is because of and thanks to this that starting from a single thought, the yamas and niyamas are able to translate into our everyday lives as unique human beings. And like droplets each of us as human beings might cascade into a community that is one body, as it always has been: Ātman.
Ahimsa, too, might be applied to our yoga practice itself - navigating the fine line between practicing with an effort that challenges us but that does not cause harm (or other impure thoughts e.g. competition, which causes damage to ourselves if not others).
How do we practice Ahimsa in word, thought and deed?
Word: speaking kindly towards others and ourselves. You know the old saying, if you can’t say anything nice then do not say anything at all! In word, we might speak up for those who are being caused harm, for example children or those who are abused, for animals who have no voice, even for the boy at the back of class who is being picked on. The key is that we use our voices for those who do not have their own without violence, as sometimes in sticking up for others we can become violent ourselves.
Thought: catch yourself when you think a negative thought. The more you catch it, the less you will do it. Be kind in thought to yourself and others. Think about how kind thoughts causing no harm might translate into action in the outer world. Deed: practice non-violence outwardly, spread the message with your own example. Our behaviour in the outer world can cause a ripple-effect that others may follow. Choose foods which have caused no harm to animals and the humans who have produced it. Choose clothes that are ethically-sourced. Do the research!
The Niyamas offer us guidance in the personal: how we relate to ourselves. Ishvarapranidhana is the last of the five niyamas. It can open up differences of opinion as it literally translates as ‘surrender to the Lord God’. Can this not be interpreted as instruction to shift our perspective away from our selves, away from our egos, and the incessant obsession with the ‘I’? Instead we might dedicate our daily practice (in life, in yoga, in relationships) by surrendering to something other than our own self. There is something much more precious, more constant and more divine than ourselves. It need not be identified as a ‘God’ in the religious sense, but a higher Being, a higher collective that is far more important than the individual who is ego-driven, fear-driven, governed by unstable emotions and changing moods. There is something much much greater than us. This is what God, however we interpret him or it to be, reminds us. Surrender to this and we catch a glimpse of freedom. Freedom from the experiences, the feelings, the disappointments and even the joys, of ego-driven human life.
How do we practice Ishvarapranidhana in word, thought and deed?
Word: chanting mantra, prayer, withdrawing from uttering words which take us away from this practice.
Thought: surrendering thoughts which do not serve the greater purpose, whether these thoughts are those which push us to progress in our career for example (e.g. make more money that we do not need) or which detriment us. Deed: chanting mantra, prayer, interaction with others in a way which surrenders to that which is greater.
Maha sadhana means Great Practice. With Asana, Pranayama, Meditation, as well as consistent practice of the Yamas and Niyamas, this practice will result in more control of the body and mind, as well as increased spiritual awareness. “The greatest teacher is within your heart” (Dharma Mittra). This teacher, ourselves, holds the answers to all of the questions that we already know, all of the teachings that we have forgotten, and the key to a freedom that we have always possessed. This is the practice that leads us back home.
Only a single thought can enter our mind at one time. If we have a positive thought, neither a negative nor a neutral thought will enter our mind. If we have a negative thought, neither a positive nor a neutral thought will enter our mind. If we have a neutral thought, neither a positive nor negative thought will enter our mind.
Excerpt from PiPo Source Code 072