The purpose of yoga is imbibing yoga as a lifestyle. The movement has to take place from tamas to sattwa, and sattwa has to become a lifestyle. For this, the three foundations are: appropriate, correct and truthful thinking, behaviour and performance, or sadvichara, sadvyavahara and satkarma.
All yamas and niyamas develop from responses of tamas, and change them into sattwa. Out of the hundreds of yamas and niyamas, certain selections can be made according to individual choice, the aspirations of the teaching, or the goal that one wants to achieve. Maharshi Patanjali made his choice, and selected five yamas and five niyamas, which fulfilled his aspirations of raja yoga. Similarly, in hatha yoga, where different conditions need to be created, other yamas and niyamas emerged. In jnana yoga and in bhakti yoga too, there are different sets of yamas and niyamas. Each system, according to its needs, adopted some branches of yama and niyama from the main trunk of sadvichara, sadvyavahara and satkarma.
The sages placed the yamas and niyamas as the first components of the yogic system. This is important, as it indicates that they believed that the purpose of yoga is in relation to developing a better quality of life, a better condition of mind and expression. It is for developing a better way to inspire, encourage, support, assist and grow. Therefore, they said, first start working with your life. Asana and pranayama are secondary, as they are more body-related. Pratyahara and dharana come third: mind-related, and so forth. The sages emphasized that you must start working with your life first. You must start with fine-tweaking, adjusting, modifying your life, thought and behaviour first. Begin the process with that. Connect with the idea of positivity, and while you do that, spend a little time, half an hour or one hour, for your physical health: asana and pranayama. Spend a little time, half an hour or one hour, for your mental health: pratyahara and dharana. Spend a little time, ten minutes or half an hour, for your spiritual health: meditation and samadhi. The emphasis is on working with your life to improve it, and therefore yama and niyama are placed first in yoga.
Today people think of yama and niyama as nothing. They believe that the important aspects of yoga are asana, pranayama and a little bit of meditation. However, in the vision of the sages, life comes first. The body is a part of life, the mind is a part of life, and the higher experience is part of a better life. So start with working with your life and then move into the other aspects. If you follow this sequence, then yoga does not become an add-on or fad. Instead, it becomes a journey, the human journey of discovery and attainment.
Published in Yoga Chakra 4