Table of Contents  
Year : 2022  |  Volume : 54  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 31-35

Essential but seldom taught Yogāṅgas

1 Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Deemed to be University, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Biology, MIT World Peace University, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission01-Aug-2021
Date of Decision08-Dec-2021
Date of Acceptance12-Jan-2022
Date of Web Publication30-Jun-2022

Correspondence Address:
Radha Soneji
Flat No. 18/5th Floor Jalkiran Building, Cuffe Parade, Colaba, Mumbai - 400 005, Maharashtra
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ym.ym_83_21

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Context: The theme of the 7th International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2021, was “Yoga For Wellness,” focusing on practice of yoga for physical and mental well-being. Since the concept of such a celebration was suggested by the UN General Assembly in 2014, yoga teaching has blossomed in almost all nations. However, a loss of rigor in the treatment of traditional yoga has resulted. Commercial aspects have reduced yoga to physical, breathing, and concentration exercises.
Aims: The aim of this paper is to discuss three neglected Yogaṅgas, the Yamāḥ, Niyamāḥ and Pratyahāraḥ, and their potential benefits (siddhi) for society in the world today.
Materials and Methods: We consulted four different reputed translations of Patanjali Yoga Sutra, during which, we generally hit on new, previously untreated aspects of the Sanskrit text.
Results: Using an holistic perspective on the whole text, we provide new translations of pāda II's twenty sūtras concerning the Yamāḥ, Niyamāḥ, and Pratyahāraḥ. Practices to inculcate each of them are also explained.
Conclusions: Traditional yoga highlights the important need to build a good character and helps develop the self-discipline to achieve high levels of both balance of mind and presence of mind; i.e., to live in the present moment, with union (yoga) of mind and body, and of thoughts, words and action, and lead a life of integrated restful alertness.

Keywords: Niyamāḥ, Pratyahāraḥ, restful alertness, Yamāḥ, Yogāṅga

How to cite this article:
Soneji R, Hankey A, Sridhar MK, Nagendra H R. Essential but seldom taught Yogāṅgas. Yoga Mimamsa 2022;54:31-5

How to cite this URL:
Soneji R, Hankey A, Sridhar MK, Nagendra H R. Essential but seldom taught Yogāṅgas. Yoga Mimamsa [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Feb 8];54:31-5. Available from:

  Introduction Top

On June 21, 2021, under the shadow of COVID-19, the world celebrated its 7th International Day of Yoga with the theme “Yoga For Wellness.” The UN General Assembly had declared 21st June as the International Day of Yoga following Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi's statement on September 27, 2014:[1]Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and Nature.

Since then, this global celebration of yoga has resulted in increasing numbers of yoga practioners. Yoga and its products and services have become a multi-crore industry, compromising the roots of yoga, reducing it to āsana, Prāṇāyāma, and Dhyāna. The world understands yoga as physical and breathing exercises that tone the body while calming the mind. Yoga as a “Darśana,” or “philosophy,” is forgotten,[2] its basic principles lost in the noise of Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, Beer Yoga, Laughter Yoga, etc.

  The Fundamental Principles of Yoga Top

Patanjali Yoga Sutra[3],[4] II.29 names the Aṣṭāṅga Yoga, eight “limbs of Yoga.” No order for teaching them is specified, but placing Samādhi Pāda before Sādhana Pāda implies priority of Limb Eight. Limb Five, Pratyahāraḥ, it says, should be learned before the final three, Antaraṅga, presented in pāda III, naming Saṁyamaḥ as their integrated practice, “Trayamekatra saṁyamaḥ,” PYS[3],[4] III.4. Aṇgas 1 and 2 are nevertheless of fundamental importance; certainly not to be neglected, as modern yoga does. Mastery of the Yamāḥ and Niyamāḥ helps the mind maintain inner peace and restful alertness developed in meditation while engaging with the outside world's threats and challenges.


Ahiṁsāsatyāsteyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ I (2.30)

The yamāḥ consist of ahiṁsā, nonviolence, satya, truth, asteya, integrity, brahmacharya, maintenance of subtle energies, and aparigraḥ, nonpossessiveness.


Śaucasantoṣatapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ I (2.32)

The niyamāḥ consist of śauca, purity, santoṣa, contentment, tapaḥ, transcendence, svādhyāya, daily mantra chanting, and īśvarapraṇidhāna, surrender to Ishwara.

To summarize these two sūtras: The yamāḥ provide restaints on behavior, whereas the niyamāḥ advocate activities which develop positive qualities of character. The Yoga Sūtra itself states:


Jātideśakālasamayānavacchinnāḥsārvabhaumā mahāvratam I (2.31)

These Great Laws are universal, not restricted by person, place, time, or circumstances.

They are Laws of Life; yoga's overall perspective concerns the soul's path to liberation,[5] a viewpoint largely lost in modern yoga teaching. However, as Teilhard de Chardin observed, “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings immersed in human experience.”[5] We are immortal souls living in physical bodies. Veiling the soul is our individual nature, instinctive and intellectual. Without the Yamāḥ and Niyamāḥ's foundation of good character and discipline, other Yogāṅgas will not bring lasting success; certainly not yogāsana and prāṇāyāma alone.

Sooner or later, earthquakes in our personal life, times of great stress and difficulty, will bring outbursts of anger, or periods of discouragement. Our higher consciousness will fall back to earth. The Yamāḥ and Niyamāḥ are necessary to maintain progress on the path and achieve final bliss consciousness. Progress requires control of the instincts. Here, the Yamāḥ helps as they indicate tendencies to control. As with Śrī Kṛṣṇa at Kurukshetra,[6] a guiding charioteer at the reins can provide necessary restraint, keeping our pañcakarmendriyas under conrol. The Niyamāḥ, in contrast, aim to develop a cultured nature, taking joy in scriptural study, devotional practices, and helping others. Our improved inner nature will transform our outer actions.

The Yamāḥ, Niyamāḥ and Pratyāhāra: Elaboration and Siddhi [Table 1]

As the sūtras below state, first naming the Yamaḥ and Niyamaḥ as a single group, they remove impurities of mind, leading to spiritual enlightenment.


Yogāṅgānuṣṭhānādaśuddhikṣaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteḥ I (2.28)

Practicing the limbs of yoga destroys impurity and lack of discrimination, unveiling the light of spiritual knowledge.


Yamaniyamāsanaprāṇāyāmapratyāhāradhāraṇādhyānasamādhayo'ṣṭāvaṅgāni I (2.29)

The yamaḥ, niyamaḥ, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi are the eight aṅgas.

Two sūtras indicate how to practice the Yamaḥ and Niyamaḥ; subsequent sūtras expound the benefits, siddhi, of being established in them, along with descriptions of how to practice them.


Vitarkabādhane pratipakṣabhāvanam I (2.33)

For disturbed thinking, cultivate the opposite.


Vitarkāhiṁsādayaḥkṛtakāritānumoditālobhakrodhamohapūrvakāmṛdumadhyādhimātrāduḥkhājñānānantaphalā iti pratipakṣabhāvanam I (2.34)

Thoughts of harm etc., done by oneself, through others, or condoned in others, born of greed, anger, or misunderstanding, whether mild, moderate, or intense, result in endless ignorance and suffering; (again) cultivate the opposite.

We now treat the five Yamāḥ one by one, discussing each with an explanation of its practice.


Ahiṁsāpratiṣṭhāyāṁ tatsannidhau vairatyāgaḥ I (2.35)

When established in ahiṁsā, nonviolence, no being feels hostility in one's presence.

Our minds have subtle tendencies, which express themselves in thoughts and actions. However, the nature of mind means that such tendencies are picked up at the subtle level by those around us, and influence their feelings, thoughts, and actions. Any lingering hostility may cause those in our presence to feel that emotion, which may then be directed at others or back at us.

Realizing this, one's pattern of thoughts and actions will change; furthermore, one should allow the feeling of ahiṁsā to inculcate and blossom outwardly.

Mastering this is achieved by assimilating the thought deep inside together with realizing that any harm caused to others in the form of thoughts, words, or actions will return to us.


Satyapratiṣṭhāyāṁ kriyāphalāśrayatvam I (2.36)

When established in satya, one's actions achieve their fruits.

Satya represents far more than merely refraining from lying and truthfulness with words. “Sat” means existent reality or eternal. The sūtra refers to a person's actions having the full support of Natural Law, being in accordance with that Law will guarantee success.

Becoming “established in Satya” requires stabilizing the state of pure consciousness while engaging in normal activity. Such an integrated state of functioning is the natural product of regular practice of meditation. Refraining from activities such as lying, being untruthful, and breaking promises is another fruit.


Asteyapratiṣṭhāyāṁ sarvaratnopasthānam I (2.37)

When established in integrity, all kinds of wealth freely present themselves.

Here integrity may be understood on a higher level; not simply resisting temptation, but rather, thoughts of taking anything for oneself do not arise. In higher states of consciousness, a person's needs are fulfilled by Nature; no desire for extra possessions arises. What has been given to one is fruitfully used without comparing with others.

Becoming established in asteya is a fruit of pūrṇa. When a person is saturated with that feeling, no possession will increase their feeling of satisfaction. Realizing this blessed inner state means that desires for other's possessions are not encountered. All forms of dishonesty in thoughts, words, and actions are absent.


Brahmacaryapratiṣṭhāyāṁ vīryalābhaḥ I (2.38)

When established in brahmacarya, subtle energies are gained.

The word brahmacharya splits into components, Brahma + ācharya, meaning learned practitioner of what one teaches, i.e., here, being established in Brahman awareness as stated in the mahāvākyas,[7]Ayamātmā brahma,” and “Aham brahmāsmi.” Such a person is qualified to be a teacher (ācharya) of Brahman.

Often, “brahmacarya” is taken to indicate correct application of subtle energies, wisely before marriage, in studying and learning; similarly, after marriage, to create family success. Subtle energies are sensitive to correct use. Yoga tradition holds them directly responsible for transformations to enlightenment.


Aparigrahasthairye janmakathantāsambodhaḥ I (2.39)

Steadfast noncovetousness (brings) realization of the purpose of one's life.

Nonattachment is the sense of not needing to call things one's own or craving possessions.

Nonattachment is realized when peoples' sense of fullness of life becomes independent of their possessions. They can then give them to those in need without a sense of loss. This points to the removal of certain veils covering the true nature of consciousness. Their removal enables a person to understand deep properties of themselves and the universe around them – the why and how of it all.

Regular dhyāna leads to the sense of pūrṇa, the fullness and self-sufficiency of consciousness-within-itself. When the aspirant begins to identify with that Abstract awareness, the quality of aparigraḥ becomes established. Gaining an holistic perspective on creation reveals everything in the relative world as transitory, leading us to reflect on the nature and purpose of our lives.

The text now proceeds to the five Niyamaḥ, PYS II.40-45; the first is śauca.


Śaucātsvāṅgajugupsā parairasaṁsargaḥ I (2.40)

From cleanliness (comes) indifference to one's own body, and nonattachment to others' bodies.


Sattvaśuddhisaumanasyaikāgryendriyajayātmadarśanayogyatvānica I (2.41)

Sattva, purity, cheerfulness, one-pointedness, mastery over organs of sense and action, and fitness for self-realization (follow).

These two sūtras cover the physical and psychological conditions required to attain yoga's goal, the knowledge of self. The first sūtra is concerned with realities external to the mind, one's own body, and those of others. The second is more internal, concerning properties of the mind itself.

In II.40, the practice is clear; all practices that produce internal and external cleanliness of body will support, including daily bathing and yogic kriyas. The sequence of sūtras implies that qualities named in II.41 will follow.


Santoṣādanuttamaha sukhalābhaḥ I (2.42)

From contentment (comes) supreme happiness.

Contentment is accepting what has come to us without complaint. People who never allow discontentment or disappointment to cross their mind experience their natural state of inner happiness increasing to maximum.

Not complaining about what comes to us is the key. Complaining cramps the mind, shrinking awareness.


Kāyendriyasiddhiraśuddhikṣayāttapasaḥ I (2.43)

Tapas destroys imperfections (bringing) perfection to the body and organs of sense and action.

Rather than considering the popular meaning of Tapas as austerity like fasting, etc., we take “transcendence” as its meaning, More often Known as Kavyakantha Ganapati Muni[8] to Vasistha Ganapati Muni.

This sūtra means that long-term deep meditation removes imperfections in body and mind; it creates perfect health, refining the senses to the level of being Siddhis.


Svādhyāyādiṣṭadevatāsamprayogaḥ I (2.44)

Svādhyāya (brings) communion with one's chosen deity.

Svādhyāya” means solo practice of (orally transmitted) texts.

Recitation of texts creates a relationship between reciter and presiding intelligence.

Such a Being exists on a level where Perfection of Mind (Siddhi) brings immediate awareness of all those directing thoughts or words towards Him/Her. Regular recitation of a text creates an intimate relationship between reciter and deity.

Śravana, Manana and Nididhyāsana,[9] Svādhyāya can be practiced, i.e., listening to the teacher, contemplating the text repeatedly, becoming firmly established in it, and enabling Svādhyāya to bear fruit.


Samādhisiddhirīśvarapraṇidhānāt I (2.45)

Surrender to Ishwara perfects samādhi.

Īśvarapraṇidhāna means that a higher Being guides the devotee.

Samādhi is the state attained in deep meditation. The sūtra tells us that such states are brought about by surrendering to, and receiving the blessings of the object of the meditator's devotion.

A meditator's own efforts will never alone achieve Samādhi. They create excitations of consciousness, whereas Samādhi, the least excited state of consciousness, has no excitation.

How, then, can it be attained? The answer is that, once Pratyāhāraḥ has turned the mind inwards, awareness dives deep within of itself, naturally and automatically. The transcending process is spontaneous and natural. The practitioner surrenders to the impulse of Nature, letting the process happen by itself.

The aṅgas are the limbs of yoga, not the steps. Perfecting any one of them leads to the ultimate goal. When one is perfecting any one limb, others follow.

Sūtras II.54 and II.55 elucidate yogāṅga 5, i.e., Pratyāhāraḥ, the last Bahiraṅga, outer limb. It prepares for practice of yoga's Antaraṅgas, which constitute the inner essence of yoga. Pratyāhāraḥ's practice and proper understanding are essential to the overall success of yoga Sādhana.


Svaviṣayāsamprayogecittasyasvarūpānukāraiva indriyāṇāṁpratyāhāraḥ I (2.54)

Pratyāhāra is the Indriyas becoming disconnected from their objects of perception and action so the Citta comes to imitate its own (inner) form, as it were.


Tataḥ paramā vaśyatendriyāṇām I (2.55)

From that (follows) supreme mastery over the Indriyas.

Sūtra II.54 explains Pratyāhāraḥs meaning as turning the attention towards the Self, away from the organs of sense and action. Sūtra II.55 comments that this leads to mastery over them.

For most people, the attention is engaged outwardly with sensory information and how to respond to it. It never engages with the true feeling of inner peace. The purpose of yoga practice, however, is to become increasingly aware of that internal feeling of peace so that it becomes the stable foundation of all our life experiences.

The practice allows Pratyāhāraḥ is that a person innocently with eyes closed, allowing some aspect of the inner quality of peace to naturally come to awareness. Once aware of the inner quietness, they can naturally direct their attention to it. This inward direction of the attention is nothing other than Pratyāhāra.

One point needs clarifying: The position of the word, “iva.” Most renditions of the Sanskrit attach “iva,” to the word “indriyāṇāṁ,” creating doubt about how the indriyas are to be treated during Pratyāhāra. However, if we attach 'iva' to the previous phrase, svarūpānukāra, it makes perfect sense. The self can never be the object of attention. “It can only be known by becoming it.”[10] The finite attention can only proceed to the subtlest level of relative awareness but cannot enter the self.[10] Patanjali's comment, “as it were,” instructs the adhikārī to integrate that aspect of yoga philosophy into understanding Pratyāhāra.

  Discussion Top

These sūtras emphasize the importance of building good character traits; self-discipline to achieve high levels of presence of mind, living in the present moment, and yoga's concept of union of thoughts, words and action. Swami Vivekananda emphasized the following perspective on life:[11]

”Each soul is potentially divine. The goal is to manifest this divinity by controlling nature, external and internal. Do this either by work, or worship, or psychic control, or philosophy-by one, or more, or all of these- and be free. This is the whole of religion. Doctrines, or dogmas, or rituals, or books, or temples, or forms, are but secondary details.”

Aspirants must understand the procedures that carry them along their chosen path to freedom. Siddhis are milestones. PYS directs the aspirant to take specific steps to achieve them. The Siddhis acquired through practice of Yamāḥ, Niyamāḥ, and Pratyahāra, the essential but seldom taught Yogāṅga, have been elucidated to magnify our understanding of human potential.

We should not neglect the spiritual aspect of life. A Tibetan story[12] tells of a dying King who asks each of his four wives to accompany him to the beyond. The first who is his constant companion, refuses; so does the most beautiful, while the third whom he loves most, says she will accompany him to the graveyard, but no further. Finally, the most faithful and uncomplaining, but neglected, agrees. The four represent Physical Body; Wealth and Possessions; Family and Friends; and Soul.

Most people neglect the last. Science denies her completely, but the essential reality of life is spiritual, not material.[5] Spirituality is to be centered in the inner dimension of peace while engaging in all life's challenges. Bhagavad-Gita[13] 6.44 proclaims: ”Knowledge of Self is never lost; each lifetime continues to develop it, picking up where the previous life left off.”

All yogāṅga play essential roles in holistic human development. We should all become saturated in Yamāḥ and Niyamāḥ. Then, they will radiate like germinating sprouts, making the world a peaceful place to flourish, encouraging human potentials to blossom.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

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Vasudevan TM. Bibliotheca: The Road to Wisdom: Library Philosophy & Practice. NE: Lincoln; 2017.  Back to cited text no. 9
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