This, the fourth of 6 articles, comments on the last 31 verses of the second chapter of The Yoga Sutras. In the first chapter it was noted that Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the consciousness, and that in the modern world, the only practical route to achieving yoga is by dedicating all your actions to God (Ishvara Pranidhana). The whole universe is God and so your actions need to be focussed on helping your fellow man and Mother Nature. The first sutra of the second chapter states that yoga practice consists of moderate austerities (careful diet, etc, aimed at generating spiritual heat), study of one's self (both through reading of scriptures and yoga practice) and Ishvara Pranidhana. The chapter then proceeds to examine the psychology of man.
The Yoga Sutras state that unfluctuating discriminative intelligence is the means to remove the deficiency of worldly or erroneous knowledge.
In turn they state that the means to get such discriminative knowledge is by devoted practice of yoga.
The eight limbs of yoga are then listed as yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, and Samadhi. The second chapter sutras deal with the first five and in relation to yama and niyama state:
Yama is non-injury, truthfulness, non-misappropriation, celibacy, non-acceptance of gifts (beyond one's immediate needs). The restraints comprising yama are for everyone (not just for yoga practitioners), irrespective of the type of life you have, the place or time or your circumstances.
Niyama consists of religious observances: cleanliness and purity, contentment, (moderate) austerity, study of oneself and the spiritual scriptures and surrender of oneself to God.
Thoughts which cause one to act contrary to the principles of yama and niyama are to be tackled by good thoughts and actions.
Breaches of yama and niyama are caused by greed, anger and lack of spiritual understanding. The effect of these breaches is pain and sorrow (not necessarily in this life). Another effect is infinite non-spiritual knowledge, because of the enormous tendency for one breach to be followed by another, for one bad deed to another to cause a cycle of bad deeds in another person (who in turn when victimised in this way lashes out at another) which cycle continues indefinitely into many future lives of many people. This whole round and spreading of bad deeds is attributable to just one initial bad deed from yourself. In other words, one small white lie leads to many more, possibly bigger, lies not just by yourself but by the people who you influence directly (e.g. spouse and children) as well as the person who you have lied to and his/her circle of acquaintances. For this reason a single bad deed leads to infinite non-spiritual knowledge. Further, one breach of yama and niyama leads to a weakening of your ability to understand the rationale for ethical behaviour and of the arguments against such behaviour.
The sutras then discuss the powerful effects of maintaining ethical discipline and religious observances. It again notes that from surrender of oneself to God (Ishvara Pranidhana) comes the attainment of Samadhi, the last stage of yoga.
Next the Yoga Sutra describes the characteristics of a yoga posture (asana): that it is firm and held with joy. Asanas when mastered change from needing great effort, to having infinite ease. Many of the postures are very difficult and it needs great attention and effort over many years to be able to do them with ease. Great mental and intellectual effort is required even if sometimes the amount of physical effort is less. Infinite ease is needed in the meditative poses such as padmasana or virasana because it is necessary to hold these for long periods of time during pranayama and higher practices, and it is disruptive to have to shuffle from one position to another on account of lack of comfort. Such ease is also required for more difficult poses because usually you cannot stay in the pose without pain if you have not practiced over an extended period.
Once the great effort involved with correct asana practice has turned to great ease, the body which influences the mind is toned to the highest level possible. You remain untroubled by all the pairs of opposites such as heat and cold and pleasure and pain. All desire, sexual or other stops. For this reason, married people and single people wishing to marry in the future should not in general practice yoga postures as these damage their chances for a happy marriage. Yoga asanas are extremely powerful tools as an aid to yoga. They are also useful as a therapy, to tackle specific health issues faced by mankind.
This issue of the effect of practising yoga postures will no doubt be controversial amongst the many in the yoga community who practice and teach asanas. Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I hope the reader keeps an open mind, considers the logic and follows his or her heart. Inevitably when people's livelihoods are at stake there will be some who will not like to listen. Yoga is a practical subject and academic debate is not useful. If necessary, one should simply agree to differ. As usual you need to read the Sutras and determine for yourself what you should do, or find a teacher whom you believe in and who loves you.
Once one is free from all desire, the Yoga Sutras state that one can proceed to the practice of Pranayama. This relates to holding the breath, to inhalation and to exhalation aimed at increasing the life-force flowing in your body. The life force is very intricate, underlying as it does all aspects of a human being, and therefore Pranayama too is extraordinarily intricate. Specifically, the sutra refers to increasing one's life force. Whereas the main purport of asana practice is to manipulate the gross elements (of earth, water, fire, air and ether), the main purpose of Pranayama is to manipulate the three gunas of satwa, rajas and tamas, as these govern the makeup of the mind. It is inevitable that a yoga practitioner who experiments with Pranayama before being ready will damage his or her mind. The other classic text on yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, refers to Pranayama as like taming a lion. Would you do this before being ready? Your breath should be natural, and any problems to do with breathing should be dealt with at source rather than by, for example trying to prolong one's breath or by holding it. Natural living is the foremost means to cure many issues.
After you become accomplished in Pranayama the mind becomes ready for yogic concentration (i.e. experience of the next but one limb of yoga, dharana).
The fifth stage of yoga is Pratyahara. Pratyahara involves a detachment of the mind from the five sense organs. You do not know whether it is light or dark, whether a mosquito is biting you etc. Your mind is free to dwell on any matter without the distraction of external noise, etc. Thinking becomes much more efficient. Asana practice is required before Pratyahara is possible.
Without God's will not even a blade of grass will move during the fiercest storm. The sincere follower of The Yoga Sutra will focus his or her attention on helping mankind become happy, the true meaning of Ishvara Pranidhana in the modern world. You should know that any or all of the benefits of 'traditional' yoga practice will be given to you without much effort as and when you are in need of these. The discriminative knowledge given one by traditional yoga practice, the purpose of such practice, is given one by God when He sees fit.