“... everyone who comes into contact with a child is a teacher who incessantly describes the world to him, until the moment when the child is capable of perceiving the world as it is described. According to Don Juan, we have no memory of that portentous moment, simply because none of us could possibly have had any point of reference to compare it to anything else. From that moment on, however, the child is a member. He knows the description of the world; and his membership becomes full fledged, I suppose, when he is capable of making all the proper perceptual interpretations which, by conforming to that description, validate it ...”
Carlos Castaneda

Journey to Ixtlan

Religiousness in Yoga Part 8: aṅga, yama, niyama, āsana


Excerpts from “Religiousness in Yoga” by TKV Desikachar

Part1: Yama & Niyama

… Yoga does not offer us a specific method, in that, if we do this, such will happen … Yoga also suggests that our attitude towards things can help in this movement toward reduced avidyā and freedom from duḥkha. The entire practice of Yoga, as we are beginning to see, consists of certain attitudes, action and their consequences …

… Attitudes towards “the outside” are called yamas and those toward the “the inside,” niyamas. These are the first two of eight limbs or aṅgas used in Yoga …

Part2: Yama

Yama can mean discipline, restraints, etc., but attitude may be a preferable definition. If we have a particular attitude, it may also be a discipline …

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra considers five attitudes (yamas) or relationships between an individual and the “outside.” The first is ahiṃsā. While the word hiṃsā means injury, cruelty, etc., ahiṃsā means more than merely the absence of hiṃsāAhiṃsā means “thoughtful consideration of people and things … we must consider our circumstances and accordingly follow this concept of ahiṃsāahiṃsā is conditioned by duty. We have to do our duty. This could even mean that if our lives were threatened, it would be our duty to fight.

The next yama is called satya. The word satya means “to speak the truth.” … Speaking the truth is good, but not if it harms others. We must consider what we are going to say, how we are going to say it and how it will affect others. If speaking the truth will harm someone, it is best to keep quiet. Satya should never conflict with or work against ahiṃsā

The third yama is asteya. Steya means “to steal” … asteya means “if we are in a situation where people trust us, we will not take advantage of them.”

The next yama is brahmacarya … the root car meaning “to move” and brahmā meaning “truth.” Brahmacarya is “to move in the direction of truth.” It is often used to mean celibacy. However, it more specifically means that we must create a condition in our relationships to other beings and things that fosters understanding of the highest truths. If we move towards the understanding of truth and sensual pleasures get in the way, we must keep our direction and not become lost …

The last yama is aparigraha … means “hands off,” “not to grasp” … “to receive exactly what is appropriate.” … otherwise it is exploitation.

The Yoga Sūtra described what happens when these five attitudes become steadfast in a person. The more we develop kindness and consideration, that is ahiṃsā, the more our presence engenders friendship.

Satya … For everyone who speaks the truth, there is no difference between what they do and what they say, and what they say, will be.

It is said that to a person with asteya all jewels will come … they will have access to everything that is precious in life.

If we do everything possible to move towards truth, brahmacarya, we will develop a capacity to go in that direction. The more we see the importance of this, the less we become involved in other activities. Naturally, we will need great vitality to pursue this course. The word used to describe this vitality is vīrya … [it] is linked to the word śraddhā … [which] means love or faith … the more śraddhā present, the more vīrya we find we have.

Parigraha is more and more a movement towards materialism. The reduction of parigraha, that is, aparigraha, means we turn more inward. The less time we spend on having possessions, the more we have to investigate all that we call Yoga.

Part3: Aṅga

Aṅga means a limb of the body. When we are born, every part of the body grows together … In the same way, if we are moving in a positive direction, things mutually and simultaneously develop … aṅgas must grow together.

Part4: Niyama

Niyamas, like yamas, are attitudes and are not to be taken as actions or practices. The five niyamas are more intimate in the sense that they are attitudes we have towards ourselves. The first niyama is śauca, or cleanliness. There are two parts to this … external … is simply keeping ourselves clean. Internal śauca has to do with cleanliness or the internal organs and mind. The practice of āsanas or prāṇāyāma could be an internal śauca.

The second niyama is saṃtoṣa, a feeling of contentment … Instead of despair when our actions don’t yield desired results, we progress and learn from our actions …

The next niyama is tapas … means to keep the body fit. It is like heating the body to cleanse it … to bring out aśuddhi, “dirt” inside the body … Posture, attention to food habits, breathing are all tapas that help us to avoid the accumulation of “dirt” … [tapas must not make us suffer]

Svādhyāya is the fourth niyamasva means “self or pertaining to ourselves.” Adhyāya means “study, inquiry, etc.” … to go near. Svādhyāya means to go near yourself … the study of yourself … We are encouraged to read ancient texts because our reaction to what we read will tell us something about ourselves … Sometimes svādhyāya is taken to mean the repetition of mantras

The last niyamaīśvarapraṇidhāna means “to leave all our actions at the feet of the Lord.” … This attitude suggests that we have done our best, therefore we leave the fruits of our action in the hands of something higher than ourselves …

Part5: āsana

The third aṅga is āsana. In the theory of āsana … there are two aspects … we must be comfortable and at ease (sukha) and we must be steady and alert (sthira). We must be involved and at the same time attentive. Yoga suggests two ways to achieve these qualities … Locate certain knots or resistances in the body and by certain means release them. We achieve this progressively using the concepts of vinyāsa and counterpose. The means we use to release these knots must not adversely affect our bodies … If we force our bodies, the reaction will be negative and painful.

… the second suggestion is to have a mental image of a perfect posture … An explanatory metaphor exists in Indian mythology, represented by Ananta, the king of the serpents … a cobra is carrying the universe on its head and at the same time is providing a bed for Lord Vishnu. The cobra must be relaxed to provide a comfortable bed … That is the sukha concept. Yet the cobra cannot be dull and weak because it is carrying the universe. That is the sthira concept …

… It is said that if we really know how to use āsanas we will be able to handle opposites … because we know how the body behaves, we become sensitive, we know how to adapt. A test for āsana practice is our ability to adjust easily to extreme cold and heat … if we need to stand for a few minutes, we should be able to stand; if we need to sit … we should be able to sit …

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