Asana and the Yams/Niyams: Ahimsa is the Key

(Under Construction)


In yoga, asana practice can be a joyful and spontaneous expression reflecting our intimate and joyful experience of interconnectedness and wholism -- reflecting our intimate relationship as an integral part of nature, the evolutionary power, and primordial source. When we act in this manner, yoga is a reflection of that unity. It is natural and pure virtue as one embodies reflexively the marriage and inseparability of of spirit and nature -- Siva and Shakti, Cit and Sat. Where there exists fragmentation conflict, and disparity from this union, there exists confusion, delusion, corrupted thinking, and ignorance. When the latter are dominant, the human creative/evolutionary potential is diminished, repressed, and remains unfulfilled. Neuroses and unhappiness is its result.

Asanas work to awaken and empower one’s innate, but dormant nervous/psychic systems (referred to as the nadis, chakras, energy body, subtle body, etc.) so that these closed down and blocked pathways can be opened, purified, strengthened, and reconnected so that greater conscious integration and realization can flow. In this context, what appears and manifests as the physical body (annamaya kosha) is a reflection of the energy body (pranamaya kosha), which in turn is the intermediator between the mind and the physical body as well as between the evolutionary power and the energy body. Also to an extent the reverse is true; i.e., the state and characteristics of the energy body reflects what is happening on the physical plane, the mind, and the body. Energy awareness thus both influence the mental/emotional functions (manomaya kosha) and physical body (annamaya kosha), while both in turn are influenced by the mental emotional functions. All stand in either harmony or disarray with -- either in alignment with or corrupted from, the innate intelligent evolutionary power which pervades the universe. It are these connections we work with in asana, but since they are vast, it is a completely transconceptual and non-mechanical practice. It is however, an awareness practice which has energy and consciousness as two main components..

So at one point in asana practice we bring conscious energy/awareness (as the union of cit-prana or cit-shakti) to bear in opening up the energy body as well as the physical body, releasing conceptual grasping, physical restrictions, and energetic shortcomings all as part and parcel of the overall process. Using this focus (cit-prana) connects the previously subconscious pathways and cleans out the mental/emotional body, physical, and energy bodies so they become open vehicles grounded in spiritual embodiment. Such is a wholistic system so that such a conscious integrity is established in what is called the wisdom body (vijnanamaya kosha) which is beyond intellect or conceptual processes. We learn to become comfortable with non-dual awareness here. Such an integration is the realm of pure spontaneous virtue.

All this happens simultaneously in functional and authentic asana practice. As a result the energy and subtle bodies are capable of holding more of a charge (the current carrying capacity of the conduit is increased), while the foundational, but previously dormant circuitry (nadis), become activated, thus animating all four koshas (annamaya, pranamaya, manomaya, and vijnanamaya koshas). This is a palpable situation and can happen spontaneously all at once, as well as can be slowly focused upon, practiced, and perfected over time. With increased awareness it can be repeated consciously as we remind ourselves. Eventually this happens as a natural reflexive movement emanating from primordial wisdom through the vehicle of the embodied evolutionary power. It is a transpersonal and transconceptual embrace of this integrity which is effortless and natural.

For example once one re experiences this unity/harmony often through regular practice, the imbedded memory of it or imprint becomes strong. That can be more easily recalled later. Then we can scan the four koshas and become aware/conscious whether or not the energy or thought patterns has become distracted/dissipated, distorted, or corrupted. On the other hand if the energy pathways are open, freely flowing/bubbling forth and being freely expressed. This way functional and natural self regulation becomes integrated at the core as well with the conscious mind. If disharmony exists then we can consciously open the pathways, untangle the knots, and straighten out using yam, niyam, asana, pranayama, bandha, mudra, pratyahara, visualization, focusing, meditation, or other yogic methods.

In this process oriented approach to asana practice, there are many basic ways to move, release tension, and open up. Here the physical body, being the coarse/gross representative of the energy/subtle body, in turn aligns with the evolutionary power. These correspondences are always being sought out and established.Such an alignment is really an attunement to the primordial wisdom and it is an excellent starting place for increased sensitivity training. All the tensions, distortions, traumas, samskaras, kleshas, fears, etc., of the manomaya kosha (mental/emotional sheath) are stored somewhere in the physical body via the neurophysiology and energy body, hence through an energetic approach to asana, they can be accessed as well. When the bodymind becomes the storage place for past negative residues, that can weigh the human being down. That storage process imposes a serious drain, imposition, obfuscation and repression upon the energy and consciousness. So on a very elementary but powerful level we can learn to release these dysfunctional holding patterns via asana in many cases effecting immediate positive effects. Eventually this can remove the residues of dysfunctional mechanisms, habits, vasana, imprints, samskaras, traumas, and kleshas while bringing in new energy and awareness. When we are aligned with and open to primordial source, we act naturally as its reflection in pure virtue.

Ashtanga yoga is based on the mutual synergy between all its limbs. They all reflect the same wisdom and light and are all pathways toward it as well as reflections from it. Yam and niyam reflect the foundational base of this virtuous relationship with source. Yam nd niyam are thus the embodiment of the great vow or binding (mahavrata) that holds the process of yoga intact and insures its success. It is not a set of rules to follow, obey, or imitate, but rather a true reflection of virtue -- of one who is aligned in integrity with source and the innate evolutionary power. Since asana is the coarse physical limb, it is the easiest to start with after yam and niyam. Thus we can learn about all the of the yoga practices to an extent through asana practice, just as learning the other limbs would be synergistic to the asana practice.

The Great Vow: Be Good! Remediating the Blockage and Repression of Divine Will and Moral Courage

Patanjali said in the Yoga Sutras:

II. 31. Jati-desa-kala-samaya-anavacchinnah sarva-bhauma maha-vratam

Applying these yams on all occasions and situations (sarva bhaumah) to all (sarva) regardless of birth, species, (jati) or circumstances (samaya), at all times (kala), in all places and realms (desa), and without limitations or exceptions (anavacchinah) will turn the tide effecting closure of and sealing off the great gate of death and dissolution (mahavrata) [thus sealing this gate, the base of yoga is secured].

According to Sri Patanjali the five classical yams are:

The five niyams are:

The basic principle of the yams is stated by Patanjali:

II. 33. vitarka-badhane pratipaksa-bhavanam

Bondage (badhane) due to coarse low vibratory qualities of fragmented awareness (vitarka) become reversed and remediated through the application and cultivation of their opposites (pratipaksa-bhavanam).

II. 34. vitarka himsadayah krta-karita-anumodita lobha-krodha-moha-purvaka mrdu-madhya-adhimatra duhkha-ajnana-ananta-phala iti pratipaksa-bhavanam

Thus the strong tendencies toward coarseness and harm (vitarka) can be reversed through these effective remedial applications (pratipaksa bhavanam) which by balancing out the coarse (vitarka) corruptive influences accompanied by (purvaka) violence (himsadayah), lobha (greed), krodha (anger), and moha (delusion) no matter if they are weak (mrdu), medium (madhya), or adhimatra (intense) but also thus acts to destroy them. As such pratipaksa-bhavanam acts to counter harmful latent potentials that can lead to endless (ananta) future suffering (duhkha) and ignorance (ajnana)



II. 35. ahimsa-pratisthayam tat-samnidhau vaira-tyagah

RESPECT AND REVERENCE FOR LIFE; Standing in the Doorway of Healing Love

Thus by establishing a firm alignment, stance, and embodiment with ahimsa (non-violence), then that presence (samnidhau) will abandon (tyagah) harm, hostility, hatred, contentiousness, conflict, animosity and disease (vaira). Thus future seeds of ahimsa are planted in Now presence.

Ahimsa, as non-violence, is considered by the sages to be the essence of all the yams. Ahimsa is general translated as non-violence to self and others. When it is honored and intimately understood inside as the specific personal manifestation of the universal life force, prana; then we can also acknowledge it more readily outside in the honoring and respectfulness toward the universal life force in general, Prana.

If Prana is the intelligent universal life force then recognizing and honoring the prana in one's own body, helps us to recognize, acknowledge it, honor, and respect it in others – in all things and beings -- in all our relations. In short we are moved by the prana, not the intellect.

So asana can be an inquiry by the intelligence behind the prana to liberate even more locked up prana that are obstructed in the psychic pathways (nadis). This activates living spirit through establishing the connections between body, breath, and energy awareness with the primordial awareness (source). Using asana practice as a means to run the life energy, heal, ripen, and invigorate the bodymind, and hence remove harm as a one pointed devotional practice, an energy practice, and an awareness practice in order to effect liberation combines shakti with bhakti, combines consciousness (cit) with prana (energy), and thus destroys self destructive unconscious behavior. This transconceptual and transpersonal approach should be the dominant bhava or intent that moves us at each moment through each movement.

Similarly this can be done with the other nine yams/niyams with a little contemplation/imagination. Isvara pranidhana (as surrender) especially lends itself to asana practice as a surrender practice, moving into our higher potential. Self study (swadhyaya) is the inquiry of what is going – who am I. That also is an amazing bhava/focus. Creating more heat (tapas) and building up enthusiasm by moving into greater absorption are the three niyams which constitute kriya yoga. Equally inspiring is integrity and aligned nonattachment (asteya and aparigraha) which all lend themselves as well as themes. They all work very nicely together.

While practicing conjure up the compassion you would have for a child in your arms and direct it towards yourself and others in the class, the neighborhood, city, planet, and across the universe.


Satya: Moving toward and with the Truth

II. 36. satya-pratisthayam kriya-phalasrayatvam


Likewise by establishing a firm footing upon truthfulness and non-deceit (satya), then obscurations, falsehood, self deceit, and illusions are lifted and removed and we become more firmly allied with truth and the self disclosing forces of revelation that lift the veil of ignorance that causes repeated suffering and abuse.

Satya is the inquiry to the truth. Asana is an inquiry. We ask: "what is going on here?" Asana practice is an exploration and a discovery. It is Self discovering Self as true nature (swarupa). Ultimately satya is a transconceptual inquiry.One becomes true to Self, delusion (asmita) and avidya (ignorance) is defeated. As we move,. we move with awareness.

Asteya: Integrity, Authenticity, and Self Honesty

II. 37. asteya-pratisthayam sarva-ratnopasthanam


Residing firmly in the mind-space of Great Integrity (asteya-pratisthayam) one's presence approximates precious gems.

As satya is being true to self, asteya is the establishment of that truth as a living reality. It too is a natural inclination as true and pure virtue. It is the natural desire to be honest with oneself and the universe. Thus it is a powerful force in surrendering delusion, deception, deceit, self deceit, falsehood, and illusion. The Great Integrity links us up to that free flowing integration of body, breath, energy, mind, transconceptual wisdom, the evolutionary power, and the primordial wisdom. That is how we work yoga as union as the Great Integrity.



II. 38. brahmacarya-pratisthayam virya-labah


Having become steady in resting one's awareness continuously (pratisthayam) as being joined in awareness to one's origin and creative/evolutionary forces (Brahmacharya), then strength, vigor, and vitality are themselves strengthened (virya-labah).

Likewise, if we take Brahmacharya in its original literal sense as moving in integrity with the creative/generative force (Brahma). Then the movement will be very powerful. Asana practice as a purification practice (saucha), as moving into truth (satya), integrity (asteya), and so forth, all are excellent, but moving as brahmacharya is most powerful aw long as its done in full devotion (isvara pranidhana). All the limbs reflect the overall connectedness of who we are in terms of our relationship with the Natural Self (swarupa). The creative/evolutionary power is in constant flux, hence walking or moving with Brahma, is an appropriate translation.


Aparigraha: True Economy

II. 39. aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamta-sambodhah

CONTENTMENT and GENEROSITY: Own Nothing and Be Owned by Nothing.

When one has become well established (sthairye) in non-possessiveness (aparigraha), then the spacious conditions for openness of the Heartmind is established awakening true insight of the causes of existence, how things appear, how they cease, and how spiritual progress continues to flow. (janma-kathamta-sambodhah).

or another translation

Aparigraha is the practice of choice in order to release past fixations and stagnating tied up energy, while creating new open space and awakening insight by taking a position standing completely free from and releasing attachments, associations, and/or fixations upon objects of mind and/or body.

Each movement is done without grasping onto results or ownership. Rather it wells up deeply from within self in the overall context of creation -- from the evolutionary power when we make space for it as alignment with teh innate good siva) -- when we open to it fully. Such is always NOW -- accessible to teh wise, dedicated, and devoted.



II. 40. saucha svanga-jugupsa parair asamsargah


Through the practice of physical purity (saucha) upon ones own organs (svanga), attachments to toxins, poisons, and corruptive forces naturally disappear and are repelled (jugupsa) as well as non-contact (asamsargah) with the impurities found elsewhere and in others (parair).

II. 41. sattvasuddhi-saumanasyaikagryendriya-jayatma-darsana-yogyatvani ca

And (ca) [through internal and external purity (saucha)] both of the body, psychic atmosphere, and by removing the occlusions of consciousness, there is achieved a pure and balanced state (sattva-suddhi) whose visage appears as cheerfulness (saumanasya), ability to focus with one-pointedness of mind (ekagrya) with a enhanced freedom from conflict between the sense organs and sense of self (indriya-jayatma), which enhances the yogic ability (yogyatvani) of direct yogic vision (darsana).

Through internal saucha of the body we naturally are not attracted to toxins. Our instinct and intuition are strengthened, and we become attracted to the pure and virtuous. We use asana movements to rid the body and the mind of toxic residues and stimulate its innate intuition which knows what is good for life and healthy, and what is bad and destroys life. Thus we become better fit vehicles to honor life in self and others. We bring this pure and balanced state with us by reflecting it as a clean mirror, wherever we go -- in all our movements and in All Our Relations!



II. 42. santosad anuttamah sukha-labhah

PEACE and COMPLETION: Peaceful Abiding- The Release of stress, strife and tension allows for natural sublime happiness.

By abiding in deep connection aligned with a peaceful heart while being at peace with one's essential self in the present moment (santosha), then communion with a boundless joy (sukha) shines forth, grows, and flows as a natural result.

Each movement and subtle motion in an effective asana practice brings forth completion and integrity. It moves us further into that divine grace, integration, joy, and fulfillment which is our true home -- Now (outside the three existential realms of time). Each micromotion is a pulsation not onlytoward completion and integrity, but emanates from it in divine love.


Gathering Fuel and Turning up the Fire

II. 43. kayendriya-siddhir asuddhi-ksayat tapasah

SPIRITUAL PASSION through Creating Sacred Space by taking a step back and pausing for the moment

Through the purifying burning fire of tapas all the organs and senses of the bodymind (kayendriya) are perfected (kayendriya-siddhir) by the destruction (ksayat) of all impurities (asuddhi).

Tapas means to heat up or to burn. It is “the burn" --purification by fire -- turning up the heat. It comes up very strongly in a fiery practice, like in ashtanga vinyasa or doing a lot of surya namaskar, etc. Subtly tapas ripens and cooks the bodymind. Tapas is applied in avery powerful way in`asana practice by emptying the contents of the mind. Such is placed as an offering to ishvara.One thus abandons the past, the future and the existential moment. In fact one abandons grasping upon phenomena completely. One waits for the instantaneous wave and`rides it.

This is how one clears out the conceptual grasping mind and opens to evolutionary power in one pointed devotion. It is very purifying and as such then it is closely related to saucha which removes the dross impurities. A fiery vinyasa practice can be very purifying, where the yoga practitioner adjusts the flame on the cauldron to the necessary temperature to cook the soup. Patanjali says that tapas removes impurities (II. 43). But here we really are talking about leaving the dross behind, refocusing and collecting our energy, clearing out the obstructions of the nadis, and surrendering the conceptual tendency, while opening up to our highest potential. Tapas has a physical element, an energetic, emotional/mental, and a transconceptual element which leads us to the core/heart.

Tapas means to turn away from dissipating/distracting our energy and outward into I/it duality (profane passion) while returning it back toward spiritual passion/practice . hence it involves intensifying the focus, clarifying the intent, or refocusing. First and foremost Patanjali says that tapas, swadhyaya, and isvara pranidhana taken as a whole (as Kriya Yoga) remove the causes of the kleshas (emotional poisons) and thus move the practitioner into samadhi (II.2)

Thus a yogi experiences the very palpable force and energy of tapas when they resist outward spinning temptation/attractions and distraction/dissipation of their prana and awareness toward neurotic subliminal external activities which are governed by the kleshas (chief among them is avidya (ignorance). Withdrawing that outward spinning energy and refocusing it on sadhana (such as hatha yoga practice) is the essential element of the practice of tapas. This is very practical. For example one may one day become aware that one has the habit of zoning out in front of the TV by turning on the TV set. It may dawn upon them that they have a choice then to instead focus their time/energy on sadhana -- like pranayama, meditation, or asana instead. That can be done with almost any habit or addiction by recollecting and gathering back our essential energy. This is also pratyhara on an energetic level. In fact pratyhara and tapas are also very closely related.

Tapas is a under utilized, but very effective practice. Indeed it is closely related to isvara pranidhana (surrender) and self study (swadhyaya) and hence is an essential element in Kriya yoga. II.1 in the Yoga Sutras.

So in an asana class, these relationships are easily demonstrated, explored, and realized. there are many ways to practice tapas by ramping up the steam/intensity in the room! Bhastrika (breath of fire), agni sara, the bandhas, and deep ujjayi pranayama all will add to the intensity and heat. The basic direction of pratyhara and tapas is to focus within -- run the energy inside throughout the body/mind so the instructor would remind the student to "listen" and focus more to what the body and energy is saying as much as or more than blind uninformed doingness. That is an excellent way to bring a beginner into the inner dialogue more. The intensity of any practice can be regulated as desired by the breath. Practice can be vigorous physically, or one could gradually work up progressively to energetic intensity combined with physical vinyasa and intensity of breath and focused attention. One will notice that as the energy increases so too does the ability to consciously focus.

It's best to just let the freedom of the movement guide us, while it is always best to avoid pushiness or force. maintaining the sweet tonality of ahimsa, loving kindness, sensitivity, and fine attunement. This awareness changes at each moment and movement. Since we never know what will happen next in this mode, keen awareness to the moment is facilitated as one moves from a deeper space of increased sensitivity. Strife and competitiveness are kleshic dynamics and should not be confused with tapas which generates natural enthusiasm and inner strength.


II. 44. swadhyaya ista-devata-samprayogah


Through self study (swadhyaya) knowledge of our true self is disclosed completing the yoga that reveals our true sacred nature (innate divinity or ishta devata which resides inside all beings).

Asana practice should have a strong element of self inquiry and self awareness behind it. We are getting to know the body in relationship to primordial self (pursusa) through conscious and joyous effort. It is an investigation, an inquiry, and a discovery of true self (swarupa) in terms of its true form (swarupa-sunyam).


Isvara Pranidhana

II. 45. samadhi-siddhir isvara-pranidhanat

Pure and wholehearted DEDICATION, DEVOTION, and SURRENDER IN LOVE and LIGHT to Nameless/Transconceptual Primordial Space

Samadhi is perfected (siddhir) through letting go the limited matrix of a separate self while surrendering (pranidhanat) to isvara (the all inclusive aspectless and unconditioned great universal integrity -- the underlying motive power behind the principle of the innate Infinite Mind).

Isvara pranidhana is the absolute best way to practice asana. It is bhakti/shakti all rolled up in one. If there is any yam/niyam which is the key in practice, isvara pranidhana is the one. The mind, energy, and body normally attempt to grab onto objects or objects of thought which severely limit our experience. Such is performed within the context of subject/object duality (of a separate I and separate other) which when shed, allows us to MOVE into primordial space spontaneously and naturally.


All the yams/niyams offer themselves up as themes, bhava, intentions, reflections, or contemplations. They act as the natural expression of our deepest love, wisdom, and compassion, hence the yam/niyam afford us the opportunity to express such.

All Our Relations


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