Yama and Niyama
Yama and Niyama are considered as the very 1st and 2nd step to practice of Raja Yoga. But while the purpose and practice of the other 6 advanced steps of this Astanga Yoga is easy to comprehend, the basic first 2 steps are little confusing. Often times they are ignored as something less important for this lack of understanding. So, here I shall clear their concepts.
The confusion comes from the things listed by Patanjali under the Yama and Niyama. We don’t get to understand how they can to help us?
Patanjali listed the Yama as: Ahiṃsā, Nonviolence; Satya, truthfulness; Asteya, non-stealing; Brahmacārya, chastity; Aparigraha, non-possessiveness. And the Niyama as Śauca, cleanliness; Santoṣa, contentment; Tapas, austerity; Svādhyāya, self-study; and Īśvarapraṇidhāna, contemplation of god.
But the idea is, that list of things mentioned by Patanjali in Raja Yoga were never considered sacrosanct. While Patanjali listed five Yama in his Yoga Sutras, ten Yama are codified in other texts like Yajnavalkya Smriti, Upanishad by Śāṇḍilya, and Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svātmārāma. The order of listed Yama, the names and nature of each Yama, as well as the relative emphasis vary between the texts.
Therefore, what we need is to understand the concept of Yama. And then create our own list to follow. Because we alone know what is good for us.
The same is true about Niyama as well. This list is also never taken as sacrosanct. Sages suggested different Niyama in various ages depending upon the conditions prevalent in that age. Therefore, here also what we need is to understand the concept of Niyama. And then create our own items to follow.
Yama means reining-in or control. Yama is the frustration to current way of living and the desire to live better. It is the urge to live in one’s own terms and stop living by dictate of circumstances. From that Yama you create the “don’t do these” list of self-restraints, typically representing commitments.
The complementary Niyama means rules. They represent the “do these” list of observances. And together Yama and Niyama are personal determination to live well. The moment you feel this urge to control and improve living, yoga dawns into your life. And that’s why Yama and Niyama are called the first 2 steps of Yoga.
In our current age I suggest the 5 Niyamas as Rajodaya, Hrim, Krim, Srim and Nrim.
Although these are the objects of Dhyana (Meditation), the advanced stage of yoga, they also form the components of Niyama (Rules), which is the beginning stage of yoga. The reason being at beginning stage mediation can’t help, because meditation is like deep revision. Unless one has done lot of Svadhaya (self-study) how can revisions help? So, meditation can’t produce the desired effect in mind.
Therefore, I suggest to master these five Niyamas through self-study and thereby build the foundation required for meditational practices. By following these five Niyamas we can overcome our problems/obstacles and thus build the desired character and external world required for meditational practices.