Mahatma Gandhi freed Indians from slavery and foreign occupation by experimenting with two key principles of Sage Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. He applied the powerful techniques of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truth) effectively to inspire and unite the masses to force the enemy out from our sacred land. Today India and the entire world is facing a much bigger enemy – the deadly coronavirus! There is no medicine or vaccine yet to protect us from this silent killer. Time to revisit Ashtanga Yoga and draw inspiration from the ancient wisdom of Patanjali?
Ashtanga Yoga was proposed by Patanjali as a method to gain freedom from suffering in human life. Yam and Niyam are the first two components of this difficult and arduous 8-step method to remove misery. They consist of five great virtues and five great disciplines that every man need to practice at all times all through his life. In the practice of Yam, he is not required to do anything, but must react to the incidents and events in his life in a well-defined manner. Whereas in the practice of Niyam, he is required to strictly observe the disciplines day after day irrespective of the circumstances.
Let us briefly explore each of these 10 techniques and arrive at the most relevant technique that could be applied to deal with the deadly pandemic.
Yam – The Great Virtues
a) Ahimsa– Himsa in Sanskrit is violence. Ahimsa is the absence of violence; it is pure love towards all. When you love someone you won’t hurt them.
b) Satya– Satya is Truth. To practice truth all we need to do is just stop lying.
c) Asteya– Steya means Theft. Asteya is the opposite of it – Honesty. To practice Asteya stop taking things that don’t belong to us.
d) Brahmacharya– Abstinence. By being celibate, man gains vitality which makes one vibrant, so that all weakness, laxity and inadequacy disappear and are replaced by extraordinary resilience, strength and energy. The path of yoga is tough, we need to conserve energy to move towards Absolute Consciousness.
e) Aparigraha– Parigraha is Greed, Aparigraha is absence of greed. By practicing Aparigraha, the tendency to accumulate worldly objects and experiences will be reduced.
Niyam – The Great Disciplines
a) Sauca– Cleanliness. We must keep our body and our surroundings clean and neat. External cleanliness is developed by maintaining proper hygiene and social distancing. Internal (mental) purity is enhanced by constant use of Mantras, Meditation and prayers.
b) Santosa – Contentment, the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we don’t have. Greatest of wealth in this world is contentment.
c) Tapas– Tapas is constant effort for the removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems by cultivating the correct habits such as moderate sleep, exercise, nutrition, work and relaxation.
d) Svadhyaya– Study and be well informed. We are required to carefully cultivate a state of receptivity, stillness and silence of being by learning Vedic wisdom which will take us to self-realisation.
c) Isvarapranidhana– Reverence to a higher intelligence or the acceptance of our limitations in relation to God, the all knowing.
Yam can be practiced simply by NOT doing certain things such as hurting, lying, stealing, possessing and sex. Whereas Niyam involves practices which have to be gone through regularly, day after day under all circumstances.
Now, let’s pick two weapons from this ancient widsom which will help us tackle the pandemic. My choice would be Sauca and Tapas. By cultivating cleanliness, hygiene, social distancing and incorporating nutritional diet and exercise, we can beat the Virus. However we must keep in mind that the 10 principles of Yam and Niyam should be practiced by all at all times to prevent suffering in future.
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