Yama is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘restraint’ In Sanskrit the name of ‘death’, (the god of death) is Yama – the ultimate restrainer. Niyama means not-restrained and so the Niyamas, in Axstanga yoga, tell us about five things in our character that we should not restrain. In fact we should do the opposite and look to grow each of them. Remember that together the Yamas and Niyamas form a morality; a code of conduct by which we should be guided. Remember too, that Moral Codes are what we aspire to, they are not necessarily what we achieve. But, succeed or not, what we do is make the effort. So, we practise having more purity and more contentment. We practise control We study and we revere the good and try always to become better.
The root from which this word ‘sauca’ is formed means ‘radiant’. As we know to be radiant is to shine. So we’re being asked to grow our inner light and the way to do that is to become more pure in body and mind so that the light of our inner being can shine forth.
This means eating foods which are good for us – and avoiding the ones that aren’t
It means keeping fit physically and mentally and this is achieved by working with the other seven limbs of Astanga yoga.
At its simplest, this means exactly what it says, which isn’t unusual in yoga. So, be content; be satisfied. But, it’s equally important to want to improve and that means we are content at the same time as striving to be better. Now it’s not simple, it’s complicated! So let’s try again.
Be content because being dissatisfied disturbs us and our inner light dims. Strive to be better because the better we are, the more pure we are and the more pure we are the brighter our light shines.
There is no point in wanting what you can’t have! There is no point in wanting what you can have but then not doing anything about it! There is a lot to be said for, and a lot less misery and stress, in being satisfied.
Being discontented weakens us and makes life much much harder. So, at the same time, be satisfied and yet change what you can to make your light shine more brightly.<::::o:p>
OK, but how do we do that? The next three provide the answer.
Work generates heat. The more we work, the more heat and the brighter our radiance. The brighter the radiance, the purer we become. The purer we are, the more content we shall be.
Tapas comes from a root meaning heat.
Two analogies are used in yoga commentaries to explain this
If we make a pot out of clay and then start to use it – it won’t last very long at all. To make it last, we need to fire it. A fired pot has a firm shape, won’t fold in on itself and can be placed on the fire for cooking purposes. So, we apply heat to ourselves in order to become stronger; to become a stronger vessel that will allow our radiance to shine forth without damaging us; to become a stronger vessel that can withstand the tumult of the outside world so that our light continues to shine.
When we have a cooking pot, whatever we cook in it leaves it dirty. (back in the day before Fairy Liquid and dishwashers pots were cleaned on fires and then scoured with sand). It’s important that we have the right amount of heat in order to cleanse the thing being heated. Typically, a pot used for cooking would be placed on a fire burning at a specific temperature and left there for a certain length of time. This resulted in whatever food was left in the pot being turned into a skin which could be peeled or sanded away, leaving a clean pot behind. The additional point contained in this analogy is that too much heat cracks the pot and too little wont form the removable skin.
So it is for us as well. If we work too hard, we ‘crack-up’ If we don’t work hard enough, we don’t get anything done.
All of this creates an enormous number of questions!
What kind of pot am I? What amount of heat do I need? How bright is my light? Will I crack-up? Can I become clean? That’s what this next Niyama is about. All of our questions can be answered through self-study. If we watch ourselves, study ourselves and learn from our studies, we can see what kind of pot we are AND we can then deecide on the best way to clean it. Are we dishwasher safe? Hand-wash only? Can we be popped in a microwave? <::::o:p>
As well as self-study, we need study. We need to study the things that help us to figure out how to generate heat, what kind of heat, when to apply it and how to put ourselves out if we catch fire.
ISHVARA PRANIDHANA (REVERE THE GOOD).
Ishvara Pranidhana means to be devoted to Isvara. Usually people translate Isvara as God, but that’s not what it means.
Isvara is the name of an ancient, minor deity. Within the yoga tradition, this deity became God, the soul, the first teacher and several other things besides. <::::o:p>
The reason for this plurality of meaning is that some yogis are religious, some are not. Some believe in ‘the good’ some do not. So, a number of different meanings have evolved from the differing views held by different yoga schools, teachers and students.
So, we need to do the same. Whatever word you would choose to describe the highest, the best, the purest thing there is – that’s the word for you to use.<::::o:p>
It’s important, very important, once you’ve made your choice, to understand and believe that there is something outside of us that represents the best that we can be. We look to this, the highest, with respect and reverence and try to become more like it
Because Isvara is outside of us, we have to take our belief and our understanding from outside too. We have to look at what wiser, older and better people have had to say on the matter and be guided by that. Nothing can stop anyone from thinking that Hitler, Stalin or Ghengis Khan are the ultimate good that we should strive towards, but if we look around a little and if we are open in our looking, we’re probably aren’t going to go down that route.