Without firm foundation a house cannot stand. Withoutthe practice of the principles of Yama and Niyama, which lay the firm foundation for building character, there cannot be an integrated personality. Practice of Asanas without Yama and Niyama is mere acrobatics. Discipline does not arise from one’s own mind. It has to be learned from outside. External discipline puts you on the right path. Only a disciplined persone is a free person. Patanjali says the rules of Yama and Niyama are the mighty universal vows. They are the golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates.
These disciplines channel the energies of the organs of action as well as the perceptive senses in the right direction. It is essential that they be observed and followed.
Non-Violence or Non-injury in words, thought and deeds. All beings around that person who reached perfection in Non-harming abandon their hostile behaviour.
Truthfullness. Spoken words fructify into action.
Non-stealing. All kinds of treasures are bestowed on him who observes Asteya.
Continence, Chastity. For a chaste or celibate person vigour, vitality, energy and spiritual knowledge flow like a river.
Freedom from avarice or greed and non-covetousness. Freedom from greed implies a high degree of non-attachment to material things including body and this loosens the forgotten memories about former exercise.
So as Yama is universal, social practice, Niyama evolves from individual practices necessary to build up the sadhaka’s own character.
The 5 Niyamas are:
Purity, Cleanliness. One’s daily bath is external. Asana and Pranayam cleanse one internally. They help to cleanse one’s thoughts, words and actions and make the body fit for its Lord to dwell in.
Contentment which brings about a state of Cheerfulness and benevolence.
Austerity, which is a burning effort involving purification, self-discipline and austere practice. it purges and purifies body, senses and mind.
Self-study and study of the scriptures. It enlightens the practitioner with the knowledge of his inner immortal being.
Surrender of the self to God, or devotion to the Lord. It brings the inner being to its creator, the supreme God.