The very first aphorism of Patanjali’s Yoga is…he defines Yoga: “cittavṛttinirodha yoga”, Yoga is nothing but “cittavṛttinirodha”; “nirodha” means controlled, cessation; “cittavṛtti”, “vṛtti” means tendencies of consciousness; “citta” is of course the stuff of consciousness. “cittavṛtti”, human being finds that his whole consciousness is full of tendencies; these tendencies are in constant mobility. It is like a market place the whole human mind is a market place: hustle-bustle and there is no place even to move about. One idea comes upon another idea and before it is grasped the third idea has already invaded you, and it is a tremendously busy place, a constant commerce is going on between outside and inside. To make this consciousness absolutely still, according to Patanjali, that is “Yoga”.
What is the process of making it still? The following is the process: first of all you should observe Yama and Niyama (yama, niyama). Yamas are five and Niyamas are five. Yamas are rules, regulations: Yamas are certain attitudes which you develop in every activity: Satya (satya) is the first; Ahimsa (ahiṁsā) is the second; Brahmacharya (brahmacarya) is the third; Asteya (asteya) is the fourth (not stealing, do not steal, do not covet possessions of the others); Aparigraha (aparigraha), do not store beyond a certain limit, Aparigraha: (Parigraha (parigraha) is a storing, accumulating, Aparigraha is ‘non-accumulation’: do not accumulate).
In all your activities of life, according to Patanjali, we should practise these five things. In every activity, in thought, in mind and speech, be ‘truthful’; ‘never hurt anybody’, complete non-injury; Brahmacharya, complete ‘continence’; Asteya, ‘do not steal anybody’; if something belongs to somebody else, this is from the Isha Upanishad that we had seen earlier: tena tyaktena bhuñjīthā mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam, (Isha Upn. 1), “By renunciation you enjoy, but do not covet somebody’s else wealth”; mā gṛdhaḥ, do not covet; mā gṛdhaḥ kasya sviddhanam, the wealth which belongs to anybody, whatsoever, do not covet it: this is asteya. Aparigraha is to keep your requirements limited and never accumulate. These are Yamas.
Then, there are five Niyamas. Shaucha (śauca): keep yourself clean. This is a Niyama; this is a rule, rule of life: clean. Shama (śama), be calm. Tapa (tapas), always be hard working with austerity, concentrated, full of attention. Svadhyaya (svādhyāya), apply yourself to the study, and Santosha (saṁtoṣa), have contentment. These are the five Niyamas.
When you have conquered these five things or you have done this for a long time, then a strict process of psychological practice begins. Many people, not realising the importance of Yama and Niyama, they neglect these two important steps, they go straight to the third step: this is Asana (āsana). Asana is to take your posture; erect, stable, comfortable: this is Asana. Try to sit always, as much as possible without any kind of movement of your body, without any kind of flagging, without any idleness, with all diligence and try to be able to sit in the same position as long as possible. This Asana has also a psychological meaning, not only a physical meaning. You have seen many people flying from one work to the other, taking up one work, giving it up after some time, taking up a second work, after some time giving it up, third work…this is the lack of Asana. For any kind of Yoga, when you start a work, keep stable to that work. If you go on flying from one work to the other, then you can never attain any kind of goal. This is like a rolling stone, which gathers no moss: so do not become a rolling stone. You be stable. This is the third step: Asana. When you can be strong enough to rest in one good position, comfortable position, without strain, then you have achieved Asana.