How can yoga become holistic and permanent in our lives?
(Training based on Patanjalis 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
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 ones 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).
Restraint or self control in relationships
Restraint or self control in our relationship to ourselves
Yoga posture (asana)
Control of breathing (pranayama)
Withdrawal of the dominance of the senses (pratyahara)
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
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
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
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 persons 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
The physical exhaustion that often accompanies stormy romantic
relationships or crises can be avoided if control is maintained
regarding the intensity of ones emotions.
The fourth yama does not advocate celibacy but rather healthy,
adaptive control in every aspect of ones life. This
extends to control regarding bringing children into the
world and educating them.
The fifth yama is
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 ones collective environment
or the goals set by others, whoever they may be.
The fifth yama (aparigraha) thus enables and
ensures the fulfillment (sadhu) of ones 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
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
(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,