Yoga is not just a practice or a philosophy; it is an entire way of life. Without this understanding and without commitment to the Yoga Life there is simply no need to give yoga a second thought. And by yoga we mean the quest for liberation of the spirit, for Yoga is an eternal science intended to reveal and manifest the Eternal.
What constitutes the yoga life is determined by a thoroughly practical, pragmatic basis: that which strengthens and facilitates our yoga practice should be observed and that which weakens or hinders it should be avoided.
Understanding the underlying principles of Yoga
When you get into a car, turn on the ignition, press the accelerator, and guide the forward-moving vehicle by means of the steering-wheel, you are acting on a number of premises. The same is true of yoga. Yoga is not just a mechanical practice; it presupposes the vast body of metaphysical principles known as Sanatana Dharma (the Eternal Dharma), which along with yoga originated in India and is embodied in the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras (Yoga Darshan) texts of the sage Patanjali.
Dharma is those principles and practices which comprise a way of life that enables the individual to unfold and bring to perfection the qualities that are the eternal nature of every individual spirit. Intelligent and effective practice of yoga is not possible without knowing and adhering to those principles.
These principles are explained in depth in our article, What Is Yoga?
Central to the yoga life is meditation. Soham Yoga Meditation is the process of centering our awareness in the principle of pure consciousness which is our essential being. In this way we will never lose sight of our real identity.
This classic method of meditation is explained in the article: Soham Yoga: Its Theory and Practice.
Responsiveness to yoga practice
The bodies, physical, astral, and causal, are the vehicles through which the individual evolves during the span of life on earth, and must be taken into serious account by the yogi who will discover that they can exert a powerful, controlling effect on the mind.
If wax and clay are cold they cannot be molded, nor will they take any impression; if molasses is cold it will hardly pour. It is all a matter of responsiveness. Only when warm are these substances malleable.
In the same way, unless our inner and outer bodies are made responsive or reactive to the effects of meditation, we will miss many of its beneficial effects. Hence we should do everything we can to increase our response levels, to ensure that our physical and psychic levels are moving at the highest possible rate of vibration.
A fundamental key to success in yoga is diet. For just as the physical substance of the food becomes assimilated into our physical body, the subtler energies become united to our inner levels, including our mind. The observant meditator will discover that the diet of the physical body is also the diet of the mind, that whatever is eaten physically will have an effect mentally.
Both meditation and diet refine the inner senses so we can produce and perceive the subtle changes that occur during meditation.
Meat is both heavy and toxic, especially from the chemicals spread throughout the tissues from the fear and anger of the animal when it was slaughtered. So our minds will also be heavy and toxic from eating meat as well as poisoned by the vibrations of anger and fear. And then there is the karma of killing sentient beings. Moreover, the instinctual and behavioral patterns of the animals will become our instinctual and behavioral impulses.
Fruits, vegetables, and grains have no such obstructions. Consequently, our mental energies will be light and malleable, responsive to our spiritual disciplines. Few things are more self-defeating than the eating of meat. From the yogic standpoint, the adoption of a vegetarian diet is a great spiritual boon. By vegetarian I mean abstention from meat, fish, and eggs or anything that contains them to any degree, including animal fats.
Other factors in health, physical and spiritual
Our general health also contributes to our proficiency in meditation, so a responsible yogi is very aware of what is beneficial and detrimental to health and orders his life accordingly, especially in eliminating completely all alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs whether legal or illegal. Caffeine, too, is wisely avoided, and so is sugar.
All of the above-mentioned substances–meat, fish, eggs, animal derivatives, alcohol, nicotine, and mind-altering drugs–deaden and coarsen the mind and body and consequently the consciousness. Thus they hinder or prevent the necessary effects and experiences of subtle Soham meditation.
Do’s and Don’ts
The sum of all this is that we must do more than meditate. We must live out our spiritual aspirations by so ordering our lives that we will most quickly advance toward the Goal. This is done by observing the Ten Commandments of Yoga (Yama-Niyama.)
Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are also five. Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating foundation of Yoga.
- Non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness.
- Truthfulness, honesty.
- Non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness.
- Sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses.
- Non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.
- Purity, cleanliness.
- Contentment, peacefulness.
- Austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline.
- Introspective self-study, spiritual study.
- Offering of one’s life to God, especially in the highest sense of uniting our consciousness with Infinite Consciousness through meditation.
Though Yama and Niyama are often called the Ten Commandments of Yoga, they have nothing to do with the ideas of sin and virtue or good and evil as dictated by some cosmic potentate. Rather they are determined by a thoroughly practical, pragmatic basis: that which strengthens and facilitates our yoga practice should be observed and that which weakens or hinders it should be avoided. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but of being wise or foolish.
Learn more about these essential ten foundations of yoga in the article Foundations of Yoga: Ten Important Principles Every Meditator Should Know.
One of our monks once showed me two containers. In each one was a very small, green plant less than an inch high, consisting of two leaves. “I planted these nine weeks ago,” he said. “Really? What is wrong with them?” I asked. “I used the wrong kind of potting soil, so they won’t grow,” he told me.
It is exactly the same with the study of spiritual philosophy and the practice of meditation: if there is not the right environment, inner and outer, nothing at all will come of it. Not only do we need a special place in our home favorable to meditation, our entire environment should be examined to see that it, too, is not mentally and spiritually heavy, toxic, disruptive and agitating. The same is true of our employment and our associates, business, social, and familial.
The most important environment, of course, is the inner one of our own mind: our thoughts. Our dominant thought should be our intonations of Soham. Next to that should be continual thoughts of spiritual matters drawn from our own study of spiritual writings, attendance at spiritual discourses and conversation with spiritually-minded associates. Our minds should naturally move in the highest spiritual planes. This is neither impossible nor impractical, for everything proceeds from and is controlled by the Supreme Consciousness.
The subject of the Yoga Life is extensive and we recommend you read our online book How to Be a Yogi.