Yoga Practices - Positions, Postures, Asana (The Best Practice to Perfect Health)

The science of Yoga considers every aspect of human life. While considering an individual, Yoga has thought of both the body as well as the mind. As an individual is a subject belonging to the society, Yoga as a science, has considered the society as well. Though, this science maintains that a seeker has to shun all his requirements and pursue the sadhana in a remote place like a cave in a mountain, to achieve the ultimate goal of Samadhi, it has also admitted that such a seeker is basically a common human being. Like all others, he too has his own requirements. Apart from food, clothing and shelter, he too needs company and wants to live in a society. In fact, he relates and reacts to the society emotionally. The yoga intends to teach sadhana to such a common human being and leads him to the samadhi. Accepting this as a basis, the eight stages of progress are defined in the science of yoga, state Yam and Niyam as the first two stages. Yam and Niyam are the first two aspects of the eightfold Yoga. Rishi Patanjali has mentioned this in the second pada, Sadhana Pada in the following aphorism :

Yamniyamsanpranayampratyahardharanadhyansamadhayoshtavangani || P Y S 2.29

The third and the fourth steps in Yoga are Asanas and Pranayam. Yam and Niyam come before that. That also shows that the starting point of Yoga studies is not Asanas and Pranayam, but the study of Yam and Niyam. If one starts the study of Yoga ignoring these Yam and Niyam, he will not be in a position to experience the results of the studies as expected. Hence, to seek the desired results from the Yoga Studies, these Yam and Niyam should be faithfully observed. One cannot negotiate in this aspect. If the Yam and Niyam are not observed fully, the benefits of the studies will also fail to accrue fully. This is true regarding any science.

We can take the example of the electricity which is used daily. To use the electric power, one has to install wiring as per the defined rules. One has to use the electricity conductors and the chokes. One has to apply to the electricity board, pay the required amount, install the meter and in general observe the rules and regulations. Failure to observe the rules will result in loss of connection. It may also lead to accidents due to electric shocks. People generally do not say that they should be able to use the electric power without observing the rules. In fact, one will be laughed at if one says like that. And even if one insists on doing that, he will have to suffer the results. However, in the case of Yoga, many ask why the Yam and Niyam are to be observed. What will happen if they are not observed? How the benefits of the asanas and Pranayam study will depend on the observance of Yam and Niyam? Can one not study Yoga without observing Yam and Niyam? However, a simple answer to all these questions is if one studies Yoga and Pranayam without observing Yam and Niyam, one would not get the desired results.

Uptill now, it is stated that Yam and Niyam are conditions or restrictions. It is stated in that manner so that the meaning can be easily grasped. However, Yam and Niyam are not actually restrictions, but freedom from restrictions. Ordinary common people do not understand what are restrictions and what is the freedom from the restrictions. Yoga starts with freedom from such restrictions. In our daily life, we ourselves impose certain restrictions. Certain restrictions arise due to our karma. The study of Yam and Niyam is in reality freedom from such restrictions.

There are five Yam and five Niyam. Patanjal Yoga has described these Yam and Niyam. However, Hathapradeepika has described ten Yam and ten Niyam. Yam direct about how a common man should behave in the society, whereas Niyam guide regarding the individual behaviour. Niyam follow Yam, which are stated in the beginning. That means the points to be observed while being in society are given first and then the points about the personal behaviour. This also indicates that the Yoga has considered the society first and then the individual. The science of Yoga, which stresses on renunciation and sadhaka staying away from the society, has given a clear-cut guidance about how an individual should behave in the society.

To start a detailed study of the Yam and Niyam, first we shall consider the Patanjal Yoga Aphorisms and then consider the Hathapradeepika.

Stating the eight aspects of Yoga in the 29 th aphorism, the next aphorism describes Yam : Tatrahimsasatyasteyabrahmacharyaparigraha yamh || P Y S 2.30

Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha are the five Yam. The text does not describe them further, but we will go in detail.

Ahimsa (Non Violence) -

Ahimsa means not to kill anyone. Killing generates pain; hence ahimsa can mean not to cause pain to anyone. Yoga demands ahimsa in totality. That means, himsa does not mean only killing or hitting anyone. That is a limited meaning of the word or only physical aspect. To hurt someone mentally is also a himsa. That is oral himsa. Yoga also states further that even thinking ill of someone is also a himsa, which is a mental himsa. Hence, ahimsa covers all aspects such as physical, oral, mental. This indicates the greatness of the depth of the science of yoga. Patanjal Yoga aphorism states the results of following such ahimsa :

Ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidhou vairatyagah || P Y S 2-35

One, who observes ahimsa, succeeds in eliminating feelings of enmity. If ahimsa is followed for a long time, not only the sadhaka, but even his surroundings are affected and enmity is eliminated in the minds of all who come in contact with him. Thus, ahimsa is not only elimination of physical, mental, oral hurt, but also wiping out the feelings of enmity. The surroundings of such a sadhaka are also changed effectively.

Thus, for Yoga studies such high degree ahimsa is prescribed. However, not all Yoga Sadhakas aspire for samadhi. Their expectations from the yoga studies are limited. From their point of view such great ahimsa may not be able to be observed continuously. Hence, in day-to-day life it should be considered how far such ahimsa is to be observed. A common man may not be able to follow ahimsa in entirety.

If we consider the example of fishermen, their basic activity is fishing from the sea and sale of the produce. If he decides to follow the principle, he will not be able to carry on his daily activity. Hence, for him, he may not be able to follow the principle of ahimsa and he is not expected also to follow it. However, those who desire to progress further in Yoga should shun all such activities. Initially, one may not be able to observe total ahimsa. However, one should constantly keep the definition of ahimsa in mind and try to follow it. All the activities should be analysed in the mind to determine what kind of himsa, physical, oral, mental arises from one's activity. After analysis, it may be found that at times, certain activities generate himsa, which can be easily avoided. Then the mind and the body can be trained to avoid such activity. Such training is the first step towards following ahimsa entirely.

Satya (Truthfulness) -

Satya should also be considered in depth. It does not only cover speaking the truth. Proper understanding of the talk and the mind is the truth. Here, proper means exactly what is seen, understood or heard, the same thing should be followed by our tendency to talk and also by the mind. When we try to explain something to others, the conversation if it generates doubts or if it is not understood correctly by others, or if it is of no use to others, then that is not truth, even if it is true. Also, God has created our tongue for the benefit of all and not for destruction. So the truth, which results in the destruction of someone or something, is also not the truth. Mahabharata has analysed and classified the truth as under: Silence is greater than the speech, true speech is greater than the silence, speech as per one's dharma is greater than it and the true speech according to dharma and which is pleasurable and useful to others is the greatest.

Patanjali Rishi has stated the results of the truth as under :

Satyapratishthayam kriyaphalashrayatvam || P Y S 2-36

With constant following of the truth and the commensurate behaviour, one gets vachasiddhi. That means without performing any religious rites, the results of the karma accrue to him and to others due to his speech and blessings.

Asteya (Honesty) -

Steya means theft. Asteya means not stealing anything. However, asteya has a comprehensive meaning and is not limited to not stealing something from the other and keeping it in possession. It means not keeping anything with self, which does not belong to the self. If one finds something lying on the street and picks it up thinking that no one has seen him and since that was lying on the street, some one is bound to pick it up, then why not me, then that is also a theft. Picking up or possessing something, which does not have any owner, is also a theft. When one sees some money lying on the deserted street, there is a desire to pick it up. However, then the conscience starts pricking one that the money does not belong to him and hence should not be picked up. The other mind says that why not pick it up, if not me, someone else is bound to pick it up. The battle of the two minds starts increasing the heartbeats. If the bad conscience wins, then the intelligence propels the body to pick it up. But yet the good conscience keeps on advising against it. The money is picked up, but only after losing the calmness of the mind and after increasing the heart beats. There is an increasing pressure on the mind even after the money is picked up. The mind is disturbed; there is no concentration in work. When this becomes unbearable, one decides to donate the money somewhere, which will reduce the disturbance to some extent. Again while depositing the money in a temple or at some religious place, the heartbeats increase imagining the questions that may be raised by someone else. When ultimately it is deposited and one is free, the mind becomes calm and quiet and the pressure disappears. This process can be viewed in start of theft. The pressure generated in the process does have bad effects on the body and the internal glands. If asteya is observed, the body and the mind do not have to undergo such strain. This is the meaning and conclusion of asteya.

This is an effect of the actual physical process of theft. But even if a thought of the theft peeps into the mind, it can affect the mental and thereby the physical health. If the electronic impulses generated through the brain are measured with the help of a machine, it is observed that there are wide changes while being in such a state. Hence, yoga states that one should not even imagine the theft. The following aphorism states the effects :

Asteyapratishthayam sarvratnopasthanam || P Y S 2.37

A sadhaka is endowed with all jewels (virtues) when he practises asteya.

Brahmacharya (Sexual Continence) -

Yoga sadhaka should follow continence, but this does not mean that he should renounce family life and become a monk; such an action is not expected in Yoga science. When a sadhaka progresses on the path of Yoga, on his own he feels that he should renounce the worldly activities and he will be free from all desires and hence can easily study dhyana and dharana. However, all of us need not follow this path. So we need not stretch the meaning of continence to this level. Controlled enjoyment of desires, staying within the limit of dharma and science can be termed as continence. If we understand this meaning and behave accordingly, we will be able to progress in Yoga. Due to uncontrolled behaviour, we are more restricted. Desires, their fulfillment and enjoyment do have a place in the family life, but there should be some limit. It is we who should control the desires and not desires controlling us. Once the desires start ruling us, we lose our freedom. If the desires are not fulfilled, then we lose our mental and physical well being.

If observing such continence seems difficult initially, when we think deeply about it, it is not so difficult as it seems. However, one has to make an effort. One should deliberately avoid consumption of items, which increase the desire or reading material, which excites the feelings. Old religious texts have detailed clarification on this point.

One who has renounced worldly matters, should abstain himself from the following matters and one who is following family life should avoid the following with other women excluding his wife :

  1. Thinking about her in the mind
  2. Hearing stories about her
  3. Conversing with her
  4. Seeing her
  5. Smiling with or at her
  6. Conversing with her alone
  7. Touching her
  8. Making love to her

However, in today's world avoiding all these, one may not be able to live. Hence, instead of literally following the instructions, one should try to understand the logic behind it. If such desires are not controlled and not fulfilled, they can prove harmful to the mind and the body. To avoid this, one must follow continence.

Patanjali Rishi has stated the following aphorism :

Brahmacharyapratishthayam viryalabhah || P Y S 2.38

One who observes continence, gets illuminated and acquires various siddhis.

Aparigrah (Non Possessiveness) -

Aparigrah means not hoarding anything. Storing things, which are not required by us, is known as parigrah. For example: If we are thirsty, we can quench the thirst after drinking a glass of water. Even if one brings a pot full of water, the thirst gets quenched with a glass only. But this gives rise to other problems. First to bring pot full of water, one has to search for so much water as well as for a pot. One has to run around to get these things. To bring water also, one has to put in some efforts. Even after the thirst is quenched, there remains a question as to what is to be done of the remaining water. Where it should be kept, how long the water will remain pure, efforts to keep it safely, all these problems arise thereby increasing the mental and physical strain. If one quenches his thirst by drinking water using his hands, then all these problems do not arise at all. This results in saving all the efforts. This example can be applied to other matters too. We can also say that when we are able to satisfy our hunger by eating the various bulbs and fruits grown by the nature, why do we strive so much? In fact, it is not essential. But yet we strive to grow food crops, and put in a lot of efforts to process them afterwards. To make up for all these efforts, we go on eating more. This circle continues endlessly. Yoga aims at not giving rise to such circles at all. We should enjoy only what is necessary and that too in a controlled manner. Not to store or hoard the things is aparigrah.

Of course, we should think about this by using common sense. To observe aparigrah, one should not run behind acquiring things, which are not necessary. The point is illustrated by a common example. We have food when we are hungry, to satisfy the hunger. Even when the hunger is satisfied, sometimes we tend to eat more, just because we like the taste and it satisfies the tongue. When we consume such excess, it affects the body harmfully. The food does not get digested well and then diseases such as non-digestion, constipation etc arises. If we consume only the necessary amount, then we do not have to suffer. Hence, yoga sadhaka should try to follow aparigraha with efforts. The results are described as follows :

Aparigrahsthiarye janmakathantasambodhah || P Y S 2.39

One who learns and follows aparigraha in entirety gets the knowledge of past, present and future. He also knows about his past birth.

After describing the five niyam in this way, Patanjali has stated the following aphorism :

Jatideshkalsamayanavachinnah sarvabhouma mahavatrah | P Y S 2.31

Yogi should religiously follow the five yams. When the yams are to be followed, it is stated in this aphorism that they are to be followed irrespective of caste, country, period, time etc. Yoga states that these yams should be followed by all castes, all over the country in any place and at whatever period and time.

Rishi Patanjali in the Ashtangyoga has given five yams, but Hathapradeepikkar in their text have stated ten yams. The basic principles are the same, however the description is a little bit different. The following ten yams are stated in Hathapradeepika.

Ahimsa Satyamsteyam brahmacharyam kshama dhrutih ||
Dayarjavam mitaharh shoucham chaiva yama dash || H P

Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Kshama, Dhruti, Daya, Arjav, Mitahar and Shoucha.

We have already reviewed Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya and Brahmacharya. Shoucha is included in Niyama, so we will consider the rest of the Yam.

Kshama (Pardon) -

Kshama is a big virtue. Common people err quite a few times, which hurts or proves troublesome for others. Then the others react by getting angry. Again the reaction is met with another reaction. In this process, the calmness of the body and the mind gets lost. Hence, the yoga sadhaka should not resist or react against the improper attitude of another or some mistake committed by another. Resistance leads to further disputes and the results are to be faced by everyone. Kshama from the point of view of sadhaka is not reacting or not resisting. Because of this sadhaka does not have to face the disturbances, which arise out of such resistance. Also, when there is mental as well as physical preparation for not reacting, the effect of the blow also gets reduced and the mind turns calm. Generally, when the people realise the magnitude of the mental preparation, they also stay away from affecting any blows on the sadhaka.

Dhruti (Courage) -

Dhruti means courage. It is essential for performing or achieving anything. If there is no courage, great things cannot be achieved. In human life, there are several incidences where one gets attacked by many emotions. We have to fight such feelings. Many lose courage while doing so and fall prey to these feelings. They repent afterwards. So while leading the life, whenever such incidents occur, one should have the courage to face the emotions and gain victory over them. By turning away from such emotions does not solve any problems, but increases them.

Daya (Pity) -

While kshama is a reaction on any action, daya is not a reaction but an action itself. To assist someone with sympathy is daya. Like ahimsa, daya is also physical, oral and mental. To help someone with bodily actions or by giving money is physical action. To console someone by sympathising with kind words is oral daya. And to think kindly in mind about the poor and wishing them all the best in life is mental daya. Daya not only leads to peace of the body as well as the mind, but also gives mental satisfaction.

Aarjav (Humbleness) -

To behave humbly with everyone after casting aside the ego is aarjav. Casting aside of one's ego is important. Many problems in our day-to-day life arise out of ego. When there is no ego, there are no problems and one does not have to search for their solutions. When the ego is forsaken, the heart, tongue and mind turn soft and simple. That is known as aarjav. It is expected that sadhaka should be humble and modest. Due to this humble attitude, sadhaka goes nearer to the God.

Mitahar (Restricted Diet) -

The body needs food, but many times we tend to consume more than necessary. Sometimes, just because it tastes good to the tongue, sometimes due to the wish in the mind, or sometimes just out of habit. Yoga sadhaka should make it a point to avoid such excess consumption. The intake of such excess food affects the body in a harmful manner. The physical health is also affected and the mental health too is lost. One should take the necessary diet at proper times. This is known as mitahar.

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