Traditional Ayurvedic Center

How can yoga become holistic and permanent in our lives?
(Training based on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, Chapter 2)

A question that is often posed when a person begins to learn Ayurveda and yoga: "I want to live a more healthy and tranquil life: but, by learning Ayurveda or yoga techniques, am I going to complicate my life and become imprisoned in rules of diet, posture and set times?

This is a good question and it reflects a common phenomenon: the tendency to be obsessively dependent on habits that harm us and the desire not to fall into similar traps.

Here is the answer given by the traditional texts. It is important both before and during the practice of Ayurveda and yoga.

Yoga is based on what Patanjali, the unique grand master who compiled the ancient tradition of yoga, writes in the first chapter of his work the "Yoga Sutra": renunciation of mental agitation.

This renunciation takes place in the process of learning yoga positions:
at the beginning, the wish to succeed in a yoga position creates a tension which is the opposite of the desired goal ….but, then, at a second stage, that of mental renunciation, the person develops the ability to carry out the posture (asana) in an attitude of reception and relaxation, corresponding to a constant, natural breathing process.

The process of learning yoga techniques always involves these two stages. It is only through this process that one can attain the more advanced mental states described in Indian literature, samahdi.

But yoga is not solely experienced during practice sessions. It engenders a change and improvement in one’s relationships with others and with the world. Patanjali helps us to understand and develop this ability, in verse (slokas) 2, 28 and subsequent verses of Chapter 2 (Sadhana pada, the practice of yoga) in the Yoga Sutra. This is what we shall study now.

Yoga Sutra 2, 28 

"The impurities (asuddhi) will dissipate and the light of wisdom (jnanadiptih) will appear with the ability of living with discernment (vivekahyateh) when one practices the limbs (anga) of yoga."

This sentence makes sense except for the term "limbs." Patanjali clearly meant by this term the "components" of yoga but he wanted to apply a more concrete, physical word to define something rather abstract. This is because everything centers on the physical level and in the connection between all things and the body, and through the body.

Yoga Sutra 2, 29 lists the 8 limbs of the body (we shall use the same word).

They are:

Restraint or self control in relationships (yama)
Restraint or self control in our relationship to ourselves (niyama)

Yoga posture (asana)

Control of breathing (pranayama)
Withdrawal of the dominance of the senses (pratyahara)

Concentration (dharana)

Meditation (dhyana)

Higher mental state (samadhi)

Patanjali is transmitting an ancient practice and he firmly stresses the principle that yoga does not just consist of points 3 (posture) and 4 (control of breathing). Those who teach or practice only these aspects are not doing "yoga." They are using just two "limbs" of a living body: meaning murder or death. And they will not attain true "yoga" which is the "light of wisdom" (jnanadiptih) and the ability to live with discernment (vivekahyateh). They will simply be doing gymnastics.

Patanjali then explains, in verse 30, the meaning of the term "yama" which we defined as "restraint or self control in relationships."

The first yama is non-violence (ahimsa)

This does not mean not to kill or cause physical harm. It means, not to cause suffering (moral, psychological, social or physical). Nor does it mean the obligation to love, which is a rather vague moral term that often ignores the subtle, unconscious suffering we inflict on others. The word "himsa" means violence or wound and the prefix "a" means absence of.

The term "ahimsa" will be further developed in verse 2, 35, which teaches us that its practice can bring about cessation of hostilities (vaira). This is on condition that the person truly lives "in the presence (samnidhau) of this quality of non-violence which avoids causing suffering to others and the person is "stable and constant (pratishthayam)" in this attitude. Most people know that the Mahatma Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (2 October 1869-30 January 1948) was a proponent of this approach and proved its efficacy when he used it against the British to liberate his country peacefully. Sadly, he was killed by an "anti-ahimsa" individual.

The second yama is the non-lie (satyam)

Respect for truth at all levels of our being, in our relationships, and in all forms of communication.
The first teaching of a major Hindu work, the Mahabharata, begins thus: "Satyam Satyam punah Satyam; it is true, it is the truth and once again it is the truth." The practice of yoga must thus be accompanied by an inner and outer aspiration towards the truth. Few people are aware of this.
Verse 36 explains this principle thus: "for the person who practices respect for truth, his actions (kriya) and their results (phala) become subject (asrayatvam) to this principle."

The third yama is non-theft (asteya)

Once again, this does not merely apply to objects or money. It also applies to the use of any moral, intellectual, personal possession or right without the authorization of its creator, etc. This requires total, rigorous honesty.

Verse 37 explains this further: "to the person who practices non-theft, all (sarva) the jewels and riches (ratna) will come to him (upasthanam)." How strange that this principle is not taught in the world and that gain and profit are so often based on theft, perfidy and ruthless competition. Too many people ruin their health and lives by apursuing this immoral, self-destructive route.

The fourth yama (brahmasharya)

is usually translated as "restraint" or "celibacy" but these translations are too limited, for the term means to live life according to the "order of things" or to "seder haolam" (order of the world) as in Judaism. It means: to conform to the divine creative will and – in order to achieve this – to strive to live in the divine presence, as expressed in Psalm 18.8: shiviti Hashem le negdi tamid (I have set the Lord always before me). Each person’s individual form of restraint should conform with this approach.

Verse 38 explains this principle thus: "He who truly practices this will acquire vigor or vital energy (virya)."
The physical exhaustion that often accompanies stormy romantic relationships or crises can be avoided if control is maintained regarding the intensity of one’s emotions.
The fourth yama does not advocate celibacy but rather healthy, adaptive control in every aspect of one’s life. This extends to control regarding bringing children into the world and educating them.

The fifth yama is "aparigraha"

Non-covetousness, non-greediness, non-possessiveness, non-acquisitiveness, and non-accumulation of every form (possession of objects, social and sexual relations, compliments, titles, knowledge, presents, friends, children, attention, etc.)

This principle is further developed in verse 39, which has been the subject of numerous interpretations and translations due to the succinctness of the Sanskrit and the multiple meanings which stem from the position of the words and which make the language so rich. Here is a summary of these interpretations: "when a person gets rid of the different forms of covetousness (aparigraha), he can then truly grasp (sambodhah) the why and how (kathamta) of these births (janma) (meaning his past, present and future) and find stability (sthairye) in this."

This means a life without surplus, without accumulation, without loss of direction, without competition, imitation of others or pressure on others. Then happiness (anada or sukha) will come and the person can become a happy person (krtarthan). Purification by the principle of aparigraha is the indispensable, constant, subtle and difficult condition for achieving this.

The goal is true self-fulfillment, not the fulfillment of the goals of one’s collective environment or the goals set by others, whoever they may be.

The fifth yama (aparigraha) thus enables and ensures the fulfillment (sadhu) of one’s potential, sadhaka. The goal of the fifth yama is so subtle that the traditional texts use this word to designate true initiation in yoga. All these words derive from the root "sadh" which means to fulfill.

Many readers will no doubt be surprised to discover that yoga constitutes an indivisible whole, with the physical, bodily, educative, psychological, relational, moral and spiritual aspects united within the body.

It is clear that this complex process can only be achieved with the guidance of a practitioner trained in the tradition. This tradition is so respectful of the individuality of each person that it even refers to the unknown potential the person had in previous lives.

The diagnostic, treatment, and training stages in Ayurveda or yoga must take all these levels into consideration from the outset.

Tags; Yoga, Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali, Yoga Sutra, holistic yoga, goal of yoga, self, yogi, yuktah, yoga posture, asana, restraint, self control, traditional yoga, fulfillment.

Patanjali then presents the five "niyamas" (restraint or self control in our relationship to ourselves), from verse 2, 40 until 2, 45. The body is viewed as the concrete site of the purification process, as in a temple. This is a beautiful image for it illustrates the respect and sensitivity that inform this process.
Other commentators write that they have the same lucidity and educative constancy towards themselves, as parents have or should have when they bring up a child.

We shall see this in verse 43

(To be continued: but first try to integrate slowly and repeatedly these rich passages)

Refer also to the pages on this site which deal with the Bhagavad Gita and more concrete technical aspects (massages, plants).

 Up page 
Copyright 2012-2017