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Raja Yoga: Yama & Niyama

Translation from an article by Endo March 2007

Is Yoga the same as Asana?

The purposes for starting the practice of Yoga are varied. It depends on the individual person. In my case, I started attending Mahayogi Yoga Mission’s asana and meditation classes because I wanted to get rid of the troubles in my mind. I knew nothing about Yoga. However, I remember that at the very first practice of asana, my body and mind became lighter, and that I felt the greatness of Yoga right away. Still, “Realization of Yoga”—the teaching of Yoga—was obscure and not easy to understand.

There was a period of time when I could not practice asanas because of a physical condition. Some time later I began practicing asana regularly, still thinking that to practice Yoga meant practicing only asanas. In my understanding, the day I practiced asanas was the day I practiced Yoga, and the day I did not practice asanas, was the day I did not practice Yoga. But I started to wonder, “If I can’t practice asanas, does that mean I can’t practice Yoga?” I felt that something important was lacking in me.

The Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

After establishing the daily asana practice and hearing Shri Mahayogi’s teachings at Satsangha various times, I gradually began to be able to grasp the teachings of Truth, which were vague to me. The crucial factor was the actual practice of regular asana and meditation. Through practice, my mind began to calm down, and this allowed me to be able to listen to the teachings with humbleness. I suddenly realized that the troubles in my mind had disappeared and that, instead, thoughts toward the Truth had started to grow.
Asana practice is part of raja yoga. Raja Yoga, translated as the “royal Yoga,” is the classical Yoga. It is said that Buddha also attained Satori through this path. Raja yoga is the path that analyzes the mind scientifically, controls it, annihilates it, and realizes the Truth. Asana is not the aim, but one of the preparatory steps toward Satori (samadhi). The eight limbs/steps are:

1: Yama (Self-restraint)
2: Niyama (Observance)
3: Asana (Sitting position)
4: Pranayama (Breath control)
5: Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the senses)
6: Dharana (Concentration)
7: Dhyana (Meditation)
8: Samadhi (Super-Conscious state)

At the beginning of my study of Yoga, my focus was the regular practice of asanas. When I think of it now, I should have known the importance of attaining correct understanding of the entirety of Yoga in order to walk its path promptly.

Yama and Niyama

Yama is conduct toward others, and the first step toward complete equilibrium of the mind. Niyama is the proactive conduct toward oneself during the process of learning.

As I became familiar with asana practice, Shri Mahayogi mentioned to me many times that I should understand, train and master this practice. I had intellectual understanding of the aim of Yoga and of the eight limbs of Yoga, and I knew their importance. But still, in me they were not connected to Yoga. Then, the following teaching of Shri Mahayogi caught my attention:

The essence of everything is the precious, One. Therefore, one cannot hurt others.

As I repeatedly read this teaching, I came to realize what was lacking in me—it was “seeing the Truth correctly.” If everything is one, there is not such thing as an assailant or a victim. Because it is Truth, one acts. Once this made sense to me, I was able to connect with the eight limbs, [the meaning, the reason and the need to practice], which I did not understand before, and embrace this practice as “one whose single string is Truth.” It was important that I first learn the Truth, then teach my mind. If we view the Truth correctly, then we must follow it according to the steps of raja yoga. The very first steps mentioned are yama and niyama.

Yama (self-restrain) yama refers to actions in relationship to others.
a. ahimsa (non-violence): non-injury to any being; the most important yama among the five.
b. satya (truthfulness): to speak only the truth; to not tell lies to others, to be sincere and honest.
c. astaya (non-stealing): to not steal anything from others.
d. bramacharya (continence): chastity
e. aparigraha (non-greed): to not procure more than one’s minimum need; to not accept gifts from others.

Niyama (observance) refers to self-practice and discipline with actions, words, and thoughts.
a. sauca (purity): to maintain the purity of both mind and body.
b. santosa (contentment): to discern and to realize the living of a life where only the required minimum needs are met.
c. tapas (austerity): to conquer all physiological and psychological dualistic conditions.
d. svadhyaya (study of sacred scriptures): to deepen one’s understanding of the Truth.

e. isvarapranidhana (pure devotion to a personal god): pure faith in God.


Satya, in the virtues of yama, is translated as “honesty.” The meaning of satya is “to be honest,” and the implied meaning of “being honest with oneself” is included. I asked Shri Mahayogi about its meaning. His answer was very clear and imposing, so let me share it as a concise summary:

“To be honest” [in yama], is the conduct which accounts for the existence of others from the beginning. Obviously, conduct through body and speech must be honest, and further consideration and kindness to the other party is necessary. So first, you must bear these thoughts. Then, think and do good toward others in accordance with the Truth. Do not cover up yourself, be honest. Often times the mind, words and actions of people are contradictory, unscrupulous. The mind acts without conscience, and has a habit of repeating this as if it were normal.

In order to make your thoughts, words and actions harmonious with each other training is necessary. One way to be honest with yourself is to express yourself simply, with focus on the particular action. However, the mind has both good and bad thoughts. If you have bad thoughts, you do not want to put them into action. In this case, train yourself to transform your thoughts. You may say, “A bad thought arose in my mind, and if I do not put it into action, I am not being honest with myself. But I should not put it into action because it is not a good action. I should not have this thought. The other way of thinking must be correct. I must apply the other way of thinking to my action.” You must train yourself in this manner in order to establish the habit of immediately adjusting and transforming your thinking and of expressing and doing good. By doing so, you can break off your mind’s previous patterns and gradually bring it under control.

Satya means thoughts and actions without contradictions or pretense. It is toward oneself and also toward others.”

As I listened, I remembered that Shri Mahayogi always says, “the Truth is already within us.” He says that, not intellectually, but through intuition, we must know the venerableness of all beings. What we need to do is to still the mind’s stirrings, listen to the voice in the depth within and simply act accordingly.

Not only in satya, but in all the virtues, there is truth for certain. Only after we firmly recognize and acknowledge this can the practice of asana and meditation be applied correctly. They are all interrelated, and advancement or retrogression in the practice of yama and niyama results in advancement or retrogression in meditation. That is why it is said that progress in Yoga shows up in daily actions. We tend to neglect yama and niyama, but they are very important steps, the foundation to attain the great goal.

Finally I reach the practice of yama and niyama. I resolve that from now on I will learn the Truth solidly, bear it firmly in my heart, and practice honestly in daily life.