In this system you should approach the next limb when you are proficient in the actual one.
The first 2 limbs are considered the hardest… how should you interact with the external world and with the internal world? The answer is in the 5 Yamas and the 5 Niyamas… they’re the foundation of all the system of yoga!
Let’s examine the 5 Yamas… the rules to interact with the external world.
1- Ahimsa: not harming! This principle (as the others) has to be applied to all your actions, words and thoughts, towards other people and towards yourself! How many modern habits are harmful to ourselves or others? It’s a very broad concept… from eating junk food to perpetuating unhealthy relationships is himsa (the opposite of not harming), it’s not just a physical act of violence. Unjustified killing of animals or polluting the environment is also against the ahimsa principle.
2- Satya: be always truthful. Ahimsa and satya are connected… you should not harm somebody speaking the truth… your words can be violent weapons if used with an harming attitude. You have to find the right way, you need the right attitude to balance the 2 principles.
3- Asteya: non stealing. This includes non desiring what is in possession of somebody else… obviously from this desire originates the act of stealing.
4- Bramacharya: moderacy. The more common translation is celibacy… moderacy is a much broader concept, moderation can be applied to every aspect of your life, not only sexual life. Moderation is about doing something in the right way and the right amount, be it sex or your job or how much time you spend on facebook! Moderation is something really lacking in modern society.
5- Aparigraha: non possessiveness, limit your possessions to what is necessary and important. Again modern society with its extreme consumerism is far, far away from this principle.
I repeat again… these precepts must be the foundation of all your actions, words and thoughts… speaking nice words while wishing the worst for somebody is not only against the yamas, it’s hypocrisy! Same as smiling to somebody while willing to steal his money but not doing it because scared of legal consequences.
How far is the modern society from the yamas? Can you imagine a society inspired by and following these precepts?
This is the foundation of yoga, this is how an aspiring yogi should behave in his daily life.
If you go to your daily class at the local studio and really don’t care about these principles… man, you’re really light-years far away from practicing yoga.
The yamas are yoga, it’s not doing the scorpion or handstand or the 4th series of ashtanga vinyasa… yoga is following the yamas or at least trying to follow them as much as possible.
This is the reason why Raja Yoga is the hardest… the yamas are the entrance barrier, you can move further only when you’ll be able to respect them!
That’s why Hatha Yoga is the easier approach to Raja Yoga… the yamas are always there but you can start working on cleaning and improving your body, consequently your consciousness and your mind will be cleaner and clearer… this will bring you more in contact with the yamas so that you’ll start naturally to respect them, now you’ll be able to work on your mind. A pure mind is a mind that follows these principles, an impure mind isn’t caring and respecting this basic foundation of a right living, do you agree? Yoga is all about purity…
The 5 niyamas are the second limb of the ashtanga system.
1- Saucha: cleanliness. You’ll need a clean body, a clean mind, a clean environment. Only when you’ll get to this point you’ll understand that they’re fundamentally dirty in nature… you clean but they’ll tend to get dirty again. Your intention must become pure. At that point you will be led by purity!
2- Santosha: contentment. Whatever you get, whatever you don’t get… be always be satisfied with your result.
3- Tapas: austerity. It’s the effort you’re putting in what you want to reach, it’s the discipline you’re imposing on yourself to get the result, it’s being consistent in whatever you’re doing! The friction between the yes and the no will generate heat, an internal fire that will burn all the obstacles on your path!
4- Svadhyaya: study of the self. Every study that will help you to understand your self is svadhyaya, be it anatomical or psycological or scriptural study. Willing to know yourself and your nature is the key to engage you in a process of constant improvement.
5- Ishvara pranidhana: surrender. There are forces much bigger than you in this universe, there are events that you can’t control or even influence, accept your past, accept that you cannot know the future in advance, release your expectations… have faith in nature, have faith that you will be cared and guided to the best possible result, always and ever… in every situation you will just need to put all your heart, your mind, your body and your soul in what you are doing… and do what you can, everything will come!
Try to examine your life and you behaviour in the light of yama and niyama, try to see what you are doing good and what you could improve… be sincere with yourself!
Nobody is perfect, everybody can and should improve. The yamas and niyamas represent a good base to start or keep becoming a better person, day by day, month by month, year after year, life after life! This opportunity is something that yoga is offering to you!