By TARA MANIAR
The International Day for Yoga, often called World Yoga Day, was declared unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly [UNGA] on Dec 11, 2014 as a promotion for global health, harmony and peace. The date suggested by the Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modiji in his UN address was June 21 – the Summer Solstice, the day with the most hours of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere.
Prime Minister Modiji stated “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”
The secrets of the ancient science of yoga were revealed to the saints, rishis and sages through meditation, austerities and prayers. Later the yogis of India took this science of yoga to the West. Now Yoga is practiced all over the world.
Every March 1 – 7, Parmarth Niketan Ashram hosts the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh, India on the holy banks of Ma Ganga in the lap of the majestic and sacred Himalayas. This Yoga Festival is an opportunity to practice a variety of holistic disciplines with over 1000 aspirants from over 100 countries with instructors from all over the world; and, to learn and be in the presence of the spiritual masters of India. It is an opportunity, like the sages and rishis of ancient times, to sit on the holy banks of Ma Ganga in the lap of the majestic and sacred Himalayas and allow the divine wisdom to be bestowed upon you.
H H Pujya Swami Chidanand Saraswatiji, President and Spiritual Leader of Parmarth Niketan Ashram teaches that Sage Patanjali who codified the Yoga Sutras, explained the 8 limbs of yoga with the Yamas and Niyamas [the moral and ethical codes of conduct] as the foundation and Samadhi as the ultimate divine bliss and ecstasy of complete union with the Divine. Today when we think of yoga we usually think of the asana and pranayama which use the body and breath as a medium to dharana or concentration, which we call meditation in the West.
The word yoga comes from the Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ which means to unite or join. The goal of yoga is to achieve this samadhi or moksha, the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Universal soul. It is a returning home as the river joins with the ocean. Pujya Swamiji says that we do not have to wait for death to achieve moksha. Moksha or liberation is possible in life! We can achieve liberation from anger, fear, greed, stress, competition, desires, despair, depression, etc. and live in ecstasy and bliss with love, peace and harmony.
We begin this liberation with the foundation of the Yamas, the 5 moral codes of conduct; and the Niyamas, the 5 ethical codes of conduct. The decision to live these moral and ethical codes of conduct is in our control. The 5 Yamas or moral codes of conduct help us to master our bodies, minds and lives. They are:
- Ahimsa – do no harm
The Canadian Museum of Human Rights credits Ahimsa as the oldest concept for Human Rights. Ahimsa is a Sanskrit term meaning ’cause no injury’, ‘do no harm’, ‘non-violence’. We practice Ahimsa with thoughts, words and actions in our relationships with self, others and Mother Earth. The concept of Ahimsa includes the protection and preservation of Mother Nature, our natural resources and all the inhabitants of Mother Earth. To practice ahimsa is to bring the energy of respect, love and compassion into all our relationships with ourselves, others and the environment.
- Satya – truthfulness
We must not only speak the truth but also live the truth. This is to live with integrity and honesty. We must be true to ourselves, to our promises to self, others and the Divine. We must be mindful that our words are necessary, timely, kind and beneficial to the listener and the situation.
- Asteya – not stealing
Practicing Asteya goes beyond not stealing material things. It is about respecting our and others’ time, energy, space. When we waste our time and energy on gossip or things that do not benefit self or others we are stealing time and energy from ourselves and others. We must remember to give credit to others who assisted us in our successes. When we abuse, demean, embarrass others we are stealing their dignity, self confidence and self esteem and it reflects that you are not living the moral code of conduct of Asteya.
- Aparigraha – non-hoarding
Aparigraha is to live simply and use only that which you need. Mahatma Gandhiji said, ‘there is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed'. Aparigraha teaches us that there is enough for all. We must become aware that nothing belongs to us. There is no sense of ‘mine’. All belongs to the Divine. We are simply given the opportunity to use the gifts of the divine for a temporary period. This applies to our home, family and even the body. Aparigraha means less clutter and hence a clearer and clean state of mind.
- Brahmacharya – purity
Commonly translated as celibacy or abstinence from sex, Brahmacharya actually means one whose actions are pure and dedicated to the divine. When we practice Brahmacharya we direct our attention, energy and life on the divine path including marriage and sexual relationships. We ensure that our relationship with ourselves and others are pure, loyal and honest, bringing us closer to the divine. In a broader sense, Brahmacharya is about restraint and moderation even in the marital relationship.
The 5 Niyamas are the spiritual or ethical internal codes of conduct we set for ourselves to live a truly yogic, spiritual, disciplined and divine life.
- Saucha – Cleanliness and Purity
Saucha goes beyond cleanliness of body and environment to purity of thoughts and actions. We must become aware of the ‘food’ we intake through our senses be it with our mouths, eyes or ears. With meditation, we can purify our thoughts and minds. Saucha is about honouring ourselves to ensure that whatever enters our minds and bodies assists us on the path of the yogic way of life.
- Santosha – contentment
The attitude of gratitude is a great way to practice Santosha or contentment. Santosha is about accepting that which is given as blessings, even that which we may see as a challenge. When we work through a challenge with contentment instead of anger, frustration or stress, we are better able to see the path and receive the blessings of the challenge. It is necessary to set goals for growth and achievement; however, we must accept whatever is manifested from our actions with contentment. It is with the clarity of contentment that we are able to move forward and continue on the path of success and the yogic way of life.
- Tapah – austerities or sadhana [spiritual discipline]
Through the performance of regular sadhana or spiritual discipline we learn to control our body, emotions, senses and mind. Tapah includes practicing silence, fasting or doing japa [repeating a mantra with the aid of a mala / rosary]. It also includes practicing tolerance in relationships and gives us control to decide whether we should act or not. Through the practice of Tapah we learn to respond and not react to situations.
- Swadhaaya – sacred and self study
One should read something spiritual or uplifting every day. This helps us to keep our minds and thoughts pure and clean. Most importantly we need to put these teachings into practice. It is not enough to only know the teachings, we must also live the teachings. Also, Swadhaaya is self-study. Daily introspection is one of the greatest tools on this yogic way of life. Each evening check in with yourself to examine how you lived your day. What did you learn? Where could you have done better? Did you follow the yoga way of life – the moral and ethical codes of conduct? Then release it all to the divine and sit in silence as you welcome the messages and insights of your inner wisdom.
- Ishwara pranidhaana – devotion or surrender to the Divine or Higher Self
This is the ultimate commandment for living a yogic life. This is the realization that you are simply an instrument in the hands of the Divine Higher power and it is our responsibility to ensure that the instrument [our minds, bodies, senses, intellect] are in perfect condition.
As we continue to practice the moral and ethical codes of conduct, the Yamas and Niyamas, the ego surrenders itself to the higher Self within. Only when we dedicate and surrender all that we do to the divine, in whatever form or name we choose, we discover we are made of the divine energy and we are divine; and, experience a deep sense of freedom, peace, joy and bliss. We realize that we are one with the Divine and all is Divine – this oneness is achieving moksha or liberation in this life.
Tara Maniar is a teacher and practitioner of traditional yoga, a certified Chakaradance™ Facilitator and a spiritual life coach. Tara empowers strong women to transform their inner turmoil into enlightened possibilities. She strives to live in humble service to humanity and Guruji. Visit her online at taramaniar.com.