The Dalai Lama maintains that everybody wants happiness and peace. I believe that whatever your version of peace and happiness is, yoga can help you get there. After all, yoga’s aim is to bring about peace of mind, and according to the ancient Indian sage, Patanjali, this is done by modifying the behaviour of the mind.
Over thousands of years, Indian gurus and sages developed pieces of wisdom that they passed onto their students – wisdoms that would help people to live their lives with a peaceful mind. Patanjali eventually collated all these wisdoms together into the eight limbs of yoga – eight stages we go through that lead to ultimate happiness. These last ten weeks we’ve been exploring them: the five yamas (ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya & aparigraha) which make up the first stage, and the five niyamas (saucha, santosha, tapasya, swadhyaya & ishvara pranidhana) which comprise the second stage.
Swami Niranjanananda, the current guru of Satyananda yoga in India, says that these are not intended as codes of conduct – they are pieces of advice to help us live a life of happiness. 1
Yama #1 : Ahimsa — don’t harm
When we become aware of how our thoughts, words and actions can hurt others – and even ourselves! – we are encouraged to make different choices. And when I say “others”, I am talking about people, as well as animals, and our planet – all living things.
Yama #2 : Satya — be truthful
Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. This comes across as pretty straight forward and obvious – but think of those small white lies you may tell “to not to hurt someone’s feelings”, or those times you may not have spoken up because you thought it may make things worse – Satya encourages us to find peace of mind by always being truthful.
Yama #3 : Asteya — don’t steal
Basically, don’t take things from others that are not yours to have – this includes objects, time, or even ideas. As Australians we always say we want “a fair go” – Asteya tells us that if we want fairness from others, we need to be fair in all our dealings, with and to others.
Yama #4 : Brahmacharya — be in control of your senses
You are born as a sentient and intelligent being – you are in complete control of yourself, and the choices you make. Brahmacharya encourages us to temper our senses – what we eat, what we view, what we experience in general – so that we are not ruled by addictions or habits.
Yama #5 : Aparigraha — don’t be greedy
How many shoes/clothes/DVDs do you really need?! For this final yama, we are asked to consider: how much do we really NEED in our lives to live and find happiness? And how much of the “stuff” that we surround ourselves with, really stops us from being happy?
Niyama #1 : Saucha — clean your body, mind and environment
This is more than just washing with soap – do you keep a ‘clean’ body by feeding it healthy foods and exercising it? Do you keep a healthy outlook on life, and let go the thoughts that can stick you in the mud? Do you surround yourself with friends who love and support you, and do you do the same for them? Remember: all of this supports the mind’s quest in finding stillness and ultimate happiness.
Niyama #2 : Santosha — develop inner peace
This is all about finding your inner Zen, and then growing it. Recognising those things in your life that make you agitated, or anxious, or fearful (think horror movies) and letting them go. Giving yourself permission to be in the moment, cultivate mindfulness, meditate, and grow your gratitude.
Niyama #3 : Tapasya — practise self-discipline
When we practise self-discipline (getting up and going for that early morning walk, or doing those yoga stretches before work), we find inner reserves of strength and endurance we never knew we had. And when we can tap into those inner reserves and act from a place of inner peace, life becomes easier – we become happier.
Niyama #4 : Swadhyaya — study yourself
Awareness is everything – who we are and what motivates us. If you want to make changes in your life, you need to know what’s there for the changing – the good and the not-so-good that lies within you. Seeing who we truly are is the first step towards self-transformation and inner peace.
Niyama #5 : Ishvara Pranidhana — surrender
Life happens – we don’t always see the whys and wherefores, but we can trust that whatever is going on, it’s OK. Whether you believe in a god, the universe, the planet of the great Booga in the sky – the ultimate meaning of ishvara pranidhana is to surrender to the rhythm of life. And what helps us to surrender? Practising an attitude of gratitude.
As I write this with my friend, we both realise that each yama and niyama builds on the one before it. Yet, according to Feurestein, if we were to even just practise that first one, ahimsa, and ignore all the rest, we would still accomplish so much. 2
I invite you to consider: what would the world be like if we didn’t harm ourselves or any living thing?
- Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati: “Raja Yoga”(April 2015) Yoga Magazine, p.35.
2. Georg Feuerstein, The lost teachings of yoga, Sounds True, Boulder, Colorado.