Approximately 2500 years ago, major advances in human civilization took place in Europe around Athens and in Sub-Himalayan regions. It was a time of huge spiritual advance for mankind. At around this time Sage Patanjali described existing practices of spiritual development in his text – About Yoga – or about spiritual paths to reaching the highest state of evolution possible for humans. Patanjali said yoga may be considered as consisting of eight parts, starting from basic necessities of civilized behavior in the first part and then gradually moving on to higher aspects of evolution.
The first part of yoga called yam involves basic moral and ethical behavior i.e. non-violence, non-stealing, truth, shunning greed and animal lust. The second part termed niyam begins with cleanliness and goes on to disciplined behavior and work (tap), contentment, introspection and belief in the supreme intelligence that governs the universe.
The third part of yoga is to do with physical health and ability. An ailing human cannot attend to any higher development except address the sickness. Moreover, advanced parts of yoga involve long hours of sitting still in meditation and if one cannot do that because of physical limitations then progress is not possible. This third part was termed as Asan.
In the centuries that followed Plato and Patanjali, for about a thousand years, humans attained a high degree of spiritual and material progress in regions where influence of ancient sages from Athens to the Himalayas prevailed. Moral and disciplined behavior became common place and was taken for granted. The focus then fell on Asan, the third part of yoga and a variety of postures and procedures were developed in this part of yoga. That is what has survived in popular perception down to the modern age and hence modern yoga centers around this third part, an eighth part of yoga.
Unfortunately in the ensuing centuries in Sub-Himalayan regions there has been moral decline. Basic cleanliness leave alone orderly disciplined behavior is no longer common place. There is a need now to return to the first two parts of yoga. Without it one will not derive any spiritual or deep benefits from Asan alone. It is because of this that in the book – Mystic pathways to love, peace and happiness – in the section on yoga this author has not gone into the third part of yoga at all but rather returned to the first two parts reorganized for modern times. These may be found in earlier notes of this blog too. These are described as:
- The Kriya yoga as illustrated by Baba Hairakhan, a modern Himalayan mystic
- Entropy yoga
The first two parts of yoga, Yam and Niyam are contained in latter yoga. The fourth part onwards of yoga get progressively advanced and are not of general interest to all except the fourth it being being various disciplines of conscious breathing termed as pranayam.