Yoga philosophy: The yamas

The yamas are the the first limb of the eight limb path described by Pathanjali in the Yoga Sutras. They describe the five qualities and principles one should follow in everyday life to guide one’s interactions with the outside world.
There are many interpretations of these principles depending on the lenses, be it cultural, religious or spiritual, through which they are interpreted.
After hearing and reading a few commentaries, it struck me that the interpretations of the yamas can vary greatly and a few points grabbed my attention.
One is a tendency to focus on a negative, constraining interpretation of the yamas, eg. You shall not be violent, lie, steal, engage in sexual relations, be greedy – which undermines the positive essence of yoga and its ability to uplift and transform.
The other, which is sometimes linked to the former, is to be dogmatic and controlling in their interpretation.
As an example, Bramacharya is often interpreted as promoting abstinence and the repression of sexual urges. However when focusing on an energy based lense this yama rather encourages us to manage our energy mindfully and to lift our energy up the spine -from the base chakra to the top one- and therefore transcend the sexual urges.
Bramacharya is the way of life of enlightened beings who transcend their root energy for creativity and spiritual purpose. When understood dogmatically there is a real risk that repression of the powerful sexual urge will create tension and lead to attachment rather than freedom.
Focusing on positive, energy based interpretation of the yamas has definetely brought a new light on these five qualities, highlighting their liberating rather than constraining aspects and I can only encourage you to do the same and consider them through that lense.

Benjamin Button and Yoga

Remember Benjamin Button? He was the lead character from the 2008 fantasy drama that starred Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The film, which received 13 Academy Award nominations and won three Oscars, depicted the life of a man who had to live his life backwards. Brad Pitt played the character of Button, who was born wrinkled and looked like an old man, but as the years passed, grew to look younger and younger. Eventually, he ended his life as a baby.
The picture, in my view, draws a number of parallels with yoga.
The first parallel is that a life lived backwards could be far more enriching. From a physical standpoint, the different inversion and backbend asanas from camel to wheel to shoulder and head stands, yield countless health benefits.
Two-thirds of our body resides below our heart most of the time.  The heart thus needs to work hard in order to send oxygen and blood round our body every millisecond. The heart also needs to send blood against gravity to our brain, which helps and guides the rest of the body to perform every menial task throughout the day. Whether upwards or downwards, the heart is a slave.
When we lift into a Sirsasana, all of a sudden, blood flows back to our heart more readily and our brain is a happy recipient of a pool of bonus blood and oxygen, making us more alert and reinvigorated.  Along the way, our digestive system takes the opportunity to remove stubborn remains in our intestines, just like how we flip our bags upside down to clear out rubbish sometimes. And strangely, there is a renewed sense of calm inside you just by viewing the world around you with an unusual lens.
The second parallel – the movie not only leaves everyone wondering whether Brad would end up with Cate, the film also piques the viewer’s interest from scene to scene wondering how he would look as he grew increasingly younger (and more handsome too!). I, for one, admit that when I first took up yoga, it was a case of using the stretching exercises in yoga to perform better at other competitive sports. It was a means to strengthen my core muscles, stretch out my hamstrings, and improve my flexibility.
But as I practiced yoga more regularly and developed a deeper understanding of this 5,000-year-old discipline, I started to realise, and experience, the anti-aging benefits of yoga too. My skin is clearer and firmer. My breath is deeper and more wholesome. My mind is clearer and more alert.  I feel young both physically and mentally. Today when I get into Trikonasana, it is not just about how I look, whether my body is in perfect alignment, it is also very much about how I feel and if I am happy. When I step out of the yoga studio, yoga has also become what I choose to eat and say, and very importantly, how I want to live my life and treat the people around me.
The third parallel — Brad knew when to give up when he needed to. In the film, he stepped back twice and left Cate, even though she was probably the only woman he had ever loved. As yoga students, we are told to suspend intentions or expectations because when there’s an intention, there is bound to be disappointment. When you do something without expecting anything, any outcome that comes along will be a bonus, a form of happiness. Do what you can, not what the person on the next mat is doing. It is only when you open up to your insecurities and fears, and acknowledge what your mind is telling you, that you can embark on a real path to conquer your wayward mind. And when the mind is conquered, the body will follow. So sometimes giving up and surrendering, in this case to yourself, is not a bad thing at all. You may just encounter a new, and happier, you.

Jala neti and Yoga

Kriya (in Sanskrit “action, deed, effort”) most commonly refers to a “completed action”, technique or practice within a yoga discipline meant to achieve a specific result. Types of kriya may vary widely between different schools of yoga. Another meaning of Kriya is the outward physical manifestations of awakened kundalini. Kriyas can also be the spontaneous movements resulting from the awakening of Kundalini energy.

 The Hatha Yoga Pradipika describes the six kriya cleansing techniques. These techniques should only be practiced under proper guidance especially for first timer:

In this article, Jala neti will be discussed in detail including the benefits and methods.Jala neti importance in yoga dates back to thousands of year.In order to benefit from yoga, it is imperative to breathe fully and deeply through the nose and this is especially needed in Pranayama. Pranayama is all about regulating and controlling the breath and sustaining the life force in us. It is responsible to bring about tremendous changes in our body and mind. Therefore, jala neti is important to ensure that our breath flow can be regulated. Through this cleansing, the pituitary gland will be stimulated which awakens the energy center behind the forehead called the Ajna Chakra.This Chakra must be sufficiently stimulated for higher states of meditation.In addition, Jala  neti also helps in relaxation with unobstructed and freely flowing breath.This helps to ensure an abundant supply of oxygen at the right temperature to stimulate relaxation.All these benefits sum up the importance of Jala neti in Yoga practice.
 Jala neti

For this technique, lukewarm isotonic salt water is poured into one nostril, so that it leaves through the other. The procedure is then repeated on the other side, and the nose is dried by bending forward and by rapid breathing.[2]It is also possible to sniff the water in so that it runs into the mouth, and to spit it out. In a more advanced reverse variant, the water is taken in through the mouth and snorted out of the nose.[2]

 
Benefits

  • Clears the nasal cavities and passageways
  • Regulate nose breathing
  • Flushes the tear ducts
  • Rejuvenate your sense of smell and taste
  • Stimulates the Ajna chakra
  • Stimulate relaxation nd beneficial in meditation
  • Moisten the dry nasal cavities and passageways
  • Reduce diseases like asthma and bronchitis and chronicsinusitis

Method: 
Tools:

  • Neti pot
  • Pure water

Venues:

  • over a sink,
  • a bowl on a table,
  • in the shower or
  • outside

Steps:

    1. First fill the Neti Potwith warm water of a temperature suitable for pouring in the nose. Neither too hot or cold.
    2. Pure water is best if available. Mix in salt to the proportion of one teaspoon for half a litre of water. This equates to 0.9% and is called isotonic solution – the same as human blood. Sea salt is best if available.
    3. Mix well so that the salt is diluted completely. You will find all this out with growing experience, it differs from person to person. Some like a higher saline solution, some even do it without salt. The tissue of the nose is very sensitive and reacts immediately if something is not right.
    4. Place the nose cone into the right nostril, sealing it inside the nostril with a few twists and slight pressure. Try to point the spout straight up in line with the nasal passage so as not to block off the tip of the nozzle on the inside of the nose.
    5. Open your mouth and breathe gently through the mouth. .
    6. Now slowly bend forward from the waist so that the tip of the nose is the lowest point of the head; and then tilt/roll the head to the right, so that the left nostril is now the lowest point of the nose. Tilt slowly so that water doesn’t run out the top of the pot onto your face.
    7. Keep the nose cone fully sealed into the right nostril so that it doesn’t leak. Keep on mouth breathing whiles the water comes through. Just wait a few seconds and the water should run out the left nostril.
    8. keep breathing slowly and gently through the mouth. After the water begins to run, wait about 30 seconds for about half a pot to flow right to left, and then remove the pot and stand up.
    9. Before changing sides, blow out gently through both nostrils to clear water and mucus from the nose.
    10. Repeat the steps as above, but with the nose cone entering the left nostril and the flow of water going left to right.
    11.  After the pot runs dry, stand up, blow out gently through both nostrils and then prepare to dry out the nose.
    12. Repeat the whole process if there is still a mucus blockage. However, it is recommended to see a doctor after a few trial as there might besome structural blockage in the nose.
    13. If further guidance is needed, do ask any yoga practitioner for help.

Finale stage:

  1. Nose drying is very important and always remember to do this.
  2. Bend forwards from the waist and hang head upside down with the nose pointing towards the floor. Point the nose towards the knees and let any residual water drain from the nose. Gently breath in the mouth and out for 10 breaths.
  3. Then stand up and do some fast breathing through the nostril for 10 breaths, sniffing in and out moderately. Close of the right nostril with one finger and do 10 fast sniffing through the left nostril only. Repeat this on the other side of the nostril.
  4. Lastly, do 10 fast sniffing breath through both nostrils together.
  5. If you feel there are still some residual water, repeat the whole drying process.
  6. Drying nose is very important so as to prevent manifestation of cold and also infection in the sinus passages/ eustachian tubes.

Alternative
Dugdha Neti – Neti with Milk

    1. This method is good for those suffering from chronic nose bleeds or are sensitive towards salty water.
    2. It is best done after using salty water

 Differences

    1. The flow of milk do not go from one side to another , it only fills the ingoing nostril and then withdrawn
    2. Once from each side is sufficient.
    3. This practice should be done under proper guidance and not done excessively.

The Eightfold Path

The eightfold path is called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs” (ashta=eight, anga=limb). These eight steps basically act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life and serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct as well as self-discipline.Through this eight fold path, they help practitioner to accept the spiritual aspects of nature. The most important aspect for building construction is the foundation, whereas the construction of the spiritual edifice of raja yoga is constituted by yamas and niyamas. More advanced practices such as meditation should also be pursued but there will be no substantial progress until the 10 practices of yama and niyama are established.

Yama
The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. It should be noted that all yamas should be practiced in the spirit and put into practice. All 5 yamas are interconnected and should be practiced in relation to each other. Although sometimes they are contradictory,Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The five yamas are:

  •  Ahimsa: nonviolence . It also means “entire abstinence from causing any pain or harm whatsoever to any living creature, either by thought, word or deed.”Non-injury will require harmless mind & actions.
  • Satya: truthfulness. It is more than merely telling the truth. Everyone should practised what they preach and walk the talk.
  • Asteya: nonstealing and is self-explanatory. However, it is good to bear in mind that there are many subtle ways to desire what does not belong to us.
  • Brahmacharya: advocating chastity or celibacy as sex is the most depleting activity to the psychic and nervous system. Like all traditional spiritual traditions, yoga advocates restraining from indulging in sensual gratification. This energy is built up through the practices of yoga such as asanas, pranayama and japa but is dissipated during sensual enjoyment.
  • Aparigraha: noncovetousness and the state of being contented. This also includes the notion of not accepting gifts that would bind us to the giver.

Niyama
 Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice. The five niyamas are:

  • Saucha: cleanliness which includes purity of mind and thoughts. It also include the cleanliness of the boday which includes kriyas 
  • Samtosa: contentment with your life though it is good to do improvement to your lifestyle. One must remember that the world is not a perfect place.
  • Tapas: heat; spiritual austerities is required to strengthen ourselves physically and mentally . One of the best way is through fasting.
  • Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self. For a vedantin the best scriptures are the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras
  • Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God’s will and devotion. All ethical and moral precepts of yoga culminate here.

Asana
Asanas, the postures practiced in yoga, comprise the third limb. In the yogic view, the body is a temple of spirit, the care of which is an important stage of our spiritual growth. Furthermore the posture must be kept still for a long time and therefore it needs to be extremely comfortable. When the meditator is not able to control his mind, he is advised to practice the asanas of hatha yoga in order to gain the needed mastery.
Pranayama
Generally translated as breath control, this fourth stage consists of techniques designed to gain mastery over the respiratory process while recognizing the connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. As implied by the literal translation of pranayama, “life force extension,” yogis believe that it not only rejuvenates the body but actually extends life itself.Very much like the wind creates the motion of the leaves, prana creates the motion of the mind which gives rise to the vrittis. Air is the primary physical medium of prana and breathing is our best method to gain control over the prana.
Pratyahara
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence. It is during this stage that we make the conscious effort to draw our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. The practice of pratyahara provides us with an opportunity to step back and take a look at ourselves. The analogy given to us is that of the tortoise which, under perceived danger, pulls in all its limbs and head.

Dharana
As each stage prepares us for the next, the practice of pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, or concentration. One-pointedness. The meditator is fully focused on the object of concentration, his mind as still as the flame of a lamp in a windless room. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation. Which is dhyana.In asana and pranayama, although we pay attention to our actions, our attention travels. Our focus constantly shifts as we fine-tune the many nuances of any particular posture or breathing technique. In pratyahara we become self-observant; now, in dharana, we focus our attention on a single point.
Dhyana
Meditation or contemplation, the seventh stage of ashtanga, is the uninterrupted flow of concentration. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may appear to be one and the same, a fine line of distinction exists between these two stages. In dhyana there is still duality of consciousness which is the feeling of separation between the meditator and the object of meditation. When maintained long enough this state will lead to the highest rung of the ladder of ashtanga yoga which is samadhi.This may seem to ba difficult task , however do remember that practise makes perfect and at every stage of our progress, we will benefit from this practice.
Samadhi 

“The state of consciousness where Absoluteness is experienced attended with all-knowledge and joy; Oneness; here the mind becomes identified with the object of meditation; the meditator and the meditated, thinker and thought become one in perfect absorption of the mind.”

At this stage, the meditator merges with his or her point of focus and transcends the Self altogether. The meditator comes to realize a profound connection to the Divine, an interconnectedness with all living things. With this realization comes the “peace that passeth all understanding”; the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe. This ultimate stage of yoga which is enlightenment can neither be bought nor possessed. However,  it can be attained through continual practice.

Cyci the Yogi: What my dog taught me about Yoga

Cyci the Yogi
You must be wondering, how this small, adorable little creature could have helped me in understanding profound Yoga philosophy concepts. Yet, the beautiful thing is also that the path of knowing is subjective to the individual and how each theory is contextualized in the lives of the students. In mine, I found my dog to be the best embodiment of Santosha.
Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas under the second limb of Raja Yoga. Niyama refers to an observation within and how one handles themselves within the inside world – the internal battle. By achieving the 5 niyamas, the individual is on their way to the highest moral character and ethcial conduct.
Another word for contentment, Santosha refers to that inner peace of mind that should not be relied on external circumstances, since these external factors are always changing in ways byond our control.  This requires us to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, the action of seeking ceases. By elimination the action of seeking, one also clears out worries and burdens, which are deriaritives of seeking.
A simple definition illustrated by Master Paaulu defined contentment as being in the center of happy and sad.

Like in many other moral concepts in life, finding middle ground is always the preferred destination.
We can always practice Santosha in the beautiful and joyous experiences of our lives. For example, getting a pay raise, celebrating your birthday, receiving gifts from people, etc. However, Patanjali encourages us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments because when we can be contented in the midst of difficulty, we are truly set free.
A second part to this niyama also talks about the world’s evils and corruptions, such as achievements and acquisitions. Although material wealth and success are not evil, they can never in themselves provide contentment. Therefore, it is up to the beholder of these assessts to ensure that inner contentment still exists.  Neverthless, these world possessions opens up the floodgates for worries and burdens to set in, and Santosha to fade away, which is why many teachers may warn against materialism.
No, Cyci was not this master guru who warned me against materialism. He was in my opinion, the living example of what is meant to be contented. Midway during my 200hr teacher-training programme, Cyci was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure. Since then, he had to be hospitalized. My daily routine consisted of yoga classes till 3pm, then driving to the hospital to visit him before returning in time for dinner, and a few hours for me to read and write.
Although the first few days of his hospitalization wasn’t very smooth (his creatine levels were going up, and he was starting to have fluid in the lungs), my little boy was still extremely bright and energetic. To me, he looked like he had a perpetual smile on his face. (Trust me, you’ll learn how to judge a happy dog from a miserable one once you’re in the place full of sick animals)
This pained me terribly.
I couldn’t see the correlation between his inner body and his outer mannerisms. It was as though he did not know what was going on inside him. All he did was to look forward to seeing his family coming to cuddle and baby talk him. His innocence to his impending fate was so overwhelming and puzzling. I thought, he was not ready to leave this humanly world at all, he is still too happy!
Take this analogy for example. An old 90-year-old man being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer versus a 10-year-old child being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Naturally, people feel more for the 10-year-old girl. But, why is this so?
My revelation came when I read deeper into Santosha. This 90-year-old man would evidently have had more possessions in the natural world – more success, more experience, more wealth compared to the 10-year-old girl. Therefore, people would have felt that death for the little girl was unjustified since she has yet to experience any of those of the man.
This emphasizes the fact that humans derive happiness from material and wordly possessions. One of the ultimate goals in life for many people would be material abundance and financial wealth. Like how a saying in Singapore goes about the 5Cs of life – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card and a Coutry Club membership.
Cyci teaching me about Santosha!
Just like the 10-year-old girl, Cyci had none of these possessions. He didn’t care for any either, he never seeked. Despite his bobily weakness, his contentment freed him from all the unncessary worldy sufferings and explains his emotional brightness.
And when he leaves us, he leaves us pure, innocent, and untainted, with none of the world’s evil corrupting him.
As I write this article, Cyci has been discharged. He lies beside me right now, staring at me with his bright beady eyes. His heart weakens, his wheezing loudens, his kidneys slows…

Yoga Philosophy teachings reflects life

When I was introduced to Yoga philosophy as part of the 200 Hr Yoga Course at Tirisula, I didn’t quite connect at first but I kept an open mind because I wanted to learn more about it. After 2-3 sessions on Yoga Philosophy, especially the yamas and niyamas, I thought about the teachings and how this can be applied to my life. What struck me most was the fact that the teachings advocate high moral character and ethics. Furthermore, once you have understaood this basis, you find true freedom, peace and calmness within yourself. When you are void of negative feelings of hatred, anger, jealousy, etc… the energy flow of your chakras tend to open up more smoothly, become purer and in turn you become healthier in both mind and body. Then, you are able to focus more effectively (and think clearly and objectively) on the things that you want to do in your life, not only the asanas but the activities/ actions in your everyday life.

Philosophy Focus: Sutra 1.6 Pramana viparyaya vikalpa nidra smrtayah

Key words:
Pramana –          Factual knowledge
Viparyaya –       Wrong perceptions, faulty data
Vikalpa –              Fanciful knowledge, asking yourself endless “What if’s?”
Nidra –                 Sleep, dullness or inertia
Smrtyayah –        Remembrance of previous experiences and unquestioning acceptance
There are many methods people use to hide from the truth. I can understand why – the truth or extreme consciousness can be new, unfamiliar and (worst of all for me) lonely. It is difficult to step away from the status quo. When things seem to work fine as they are, why change them?
When I first read this sutra, I immediately saw many parallels with my career path. I had a good job in Hong Kong. I knew that my salary and hours were decent (pramana). My experiences told me that I wasn’t doing badly (viparyaya). Friends told me that I should be grateful for a job in these economic times (smrtayah and vikalpa). Most of all, I could sleepwalk my way through a work day with no difficulties (nidra). There was no reason to leave. But I did.
I had the appearance of a satisfying career but I wasn’t happy with it. Despite the facts that pointed to a good job, this was the truth of how I felt.
Today, I’m jobless and I don’t know what the future holds. But after abandoning these “kleshas”, I feel better. The “vrittis” I used to have about whether I was doing the right thing, are gone.
I know my (very uncertain) career story is hardly Samadhi, but it’s a micro-example of how removing barriers to truth can bring a person closer to a state of super consciousness. Similarly, Yoga is the process of steadying and clarifying your perception so that you can liberate and empower yourself.

The Nature Of The Soul

In the Philosophy of yoga, all the matter in the universe has qualities. These qualities are known as the three gunas, and they refer to the nature of the soul. The three aspects are, Sattva (truth), Rajas (activity), and Tamas (darkness). All three gunas are always present in all beings and objects surrounding us but vary in their relative amounts.
For example, one might eat sattvic (light) food, rajasic (spicy) food, or tamasic (heavy) food, which will lead to a sattvic (clear) state of mind, rajasic (restless) state of mind, or a tamasic (lethargic) state of mind.
The three gunas attributes are tabulated below:

Raja Sattva Tamas
Activity Truth / Goodness destructive
Passion / desire Light / illumination Darkness
Energy Spiritual Essence Mass / heaviness 
Expansion Upward flow Downward flow
Movement harmony/ calmness Inactivity / dullness
Comes about by longing, craving and attachment. Comes about by means of acquiring knowledge and joy. Comes about by means of ignorance, delusion and obstruction.
Is the ruling trait when greed, excessive projects, cravings and restlessness arise. Is the ruling trait when the light of knowledge and pureness shine forth. Is the ruling trait when darkness, dullness, stagnation, confusion,manipulation and inertia appear.
   
We, as humans have the ability to consciously alter the levels of the gunas in both our body and mind. The three gunas cannot be separated or removed in oneself but can be consciously acted upon to encourage their increase or decrease. Proportion can be changed through the interaction and influence of external objects, lifestyle practices and thoughts. While the yogi’s ambition is to cultivate sattva, his ultimate goal is to transcend their misidentification of the self with the gunas and to be unattached to both the good and the bad, the positive and negative qualities of life.                                                                                                

“When one rises above the three gunas that originate in the body; one is freed from birth, old age, death, and their distresses and can enjoy the nectar even in this life” (Bhagavad Gita 14.20)

A deeper look at Koshas

There were a few concepts in yoga philosophy that I overlooked when we first discussed them.  Now that I look back, I realized that the five sheaths, or koshas, of the three bodies (physical, astral and causal) are worth some further review.  It took me some time to look up these koshas and digest the information.  Here it goes:
The annamaya kosha is known as the food sheath and is the cause, producer and consumer of the physical body.  This sheath is composed of elements of the physical world and is experienced as birth, growth, change, decay and death.  However, when the physical body dies, the annamaya kosha leaves the body along with the other koshas.  Our physical traits can be determined by this kosha, so our appearance in his life has been fashioned by the annamaya kosha in prior lives.
The pranayama kosha is known as the vital sheath and coexists with the physical body as its source of life and connection to the astral body.  It interconnects the annamaya kosha to the other subtler koshas.  The pranayama kosha consist of the organs of action, which are the mouth, hands, feet, anus and genitals.  “Prana” means vital energy and its physical manifestation is in the breath.  This kosha experiences hunger, thirst, heat and cold.  When the physical body dies, this kosha disintegrates.
The manoyama kosha is known as the mental sheath and is composed of “manas” or the mind.  This sheath can be further described by manas (thoughts and doubts), chittra (storehouse) and jnana indriyas (organs of knowledge, i.e., eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin).  This mental sheath produces doubt, anger, confidence, lust, depression, exhilaration and is where personality and diversity begin.  Manayama kosha has been compared to the wind that brings in the clouds and sends them away.  Similarly, bondage and liberation can be controlled by the mind.
The vijnanamaya kosha is known as the intellectual sheath and is associated with the astral body. It is a combination of intellect and the organs of knowledge.  This sheath is the vehicle higher thought, understanding, wisdom, intuition and creativity.  The vijnanamaya kosha is specialized knowledge that allows us to progress in the material world, but does not contribute to our spiritual progression.
The fifth kosha is anandamaya, which is of the causal body and known as the blissful sheath. This innermost sheath manifests itself in deep, dreamless sleep when the mind and senses cease functioning.  In sleep the anadamaya kosha stands between the finite world and the self.   This kosha understands all previous koshas and realizes that they are incomplete.
A way to understand the progression of koshas is to think about how we understand ourselves.  When we are in the state of annamaya kosha, we describe ourselves based on sex, age and other physical traits. When we reach pranamaya kosha the description is based on qualities like, “I am a musician, banker, fool, smart, wealthy, poor, etc.”  When we are in manomaya kosha the criteria shift to aspects of our nature like “I am generous, greedy, arrogant, humble, etc.”
The fourth kosha is where I begin to get a little confused.  When we reach the vijnanamaya kosha, we realize that we are different from the physical body.  The whole being is greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Vijnanamaya kosha is atma, or the True Self.  Atma is beyond identification with the phenomenal reality of worldly existence.
After vijnanamaya, is the anandamaya kosha.  Here, we understand how transitory the world is. By understanding this difference, we give importance to philosophy, reality and subtleness. At anadamaya one realizes the insignificance of worldly problems and can finally attain a state of peace and contentment, also known as bliss.

Yamas

The Yamas and Niyamas form the first two “limbs” of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.  They are the restraints and observances that are evident in our behavior and reflect our attitudes about ourselves.  They are a fundamental part of “yogic lifestyle.”
The yamas are the “restraints”.  It is important to note that one must restrain without suppression (rather covert the energy to something positive).  Suppression will lead to frustration and will have a negative effect on the mind as evident in the behavior.  For example, if I tell myself I cannot eat chocolate I will just want it more and more till I eventually eat it and probably too much!  This behavior may not be very destructive in itself, but my attitude is changed for the worst.  I will suffer feelings of loss of control, poor confidence and will mentally feel failure.  A better approach would be to ask myself why I am desiring the chocolate and work from the inside out.  This will take time but the result will be much better.  Pranayama, concentration and meditation would all be useful tools to help me change my behavior.
The yamas include:
1. Ahimsa–Non-violence in both thoughts and actions.  This includes thoughts and attitudes about oneself!  This is the reason yogis are vegetarians and refrain from eating an animal that must be killed for the purpose of consumption.
2.  Satya–Truthfulness.  This is reflected behaviorally in what we say–not telling lies and being pure in our speech.  If our speech is not pure, the mind will not be pure.
3.  Brahmacharya–sublimation of sexual energy.  This not only refers to sex itself but also to lust.  Wanting something so badly that it consumes our thoughts and drives our behavior will not lead to a calm mind.
4.  Asteya–non-stealing, lack of jealousy.  This means we are not to be distracted by what we don’t have.  Covetousness only leads to impure thoughts and discontent.  Being “non-stealing” means that if we want something it must come from pure motive and hard work.
5.  Aparigraha–non accepting of gifts or bribes.  This has to do with our motives.  Motives must be pure–if I am only acting to recieve some reward in return it is not pure and will hind my mind.  This includes self-bribery–“if I eat healthy all week I will buy myself some new shoes.”
The Yamas/restraints are the first step to purifying our minds and transforming ourselves through the practice of yoga.  I feel it is important to remember that it is a process and we must patiently transform from the inside out.  With a clear conscience and pure thoughts we will begin the pathway to peace.  Practicing the yamas will help anyone enjoy a better lifestyle whether or not they choose to continue further the practice of yoga.