Yoga is an eight-step process, the first two being very important. While yoga is generally associated with yogāsanas or various body postures, and prāõāyāma or breath control, these are only the third and fourth steps in the process of yoga. The first two steps, which are rarely talked about, are yama and niyama. These are prescriptive do’s and don’ts, so that I may stop doing things that hurt me and do things that will help me instead. This self-centeredness that we are talking about, is not selfishness. It is not an exclusion of others, because it involves a practice of not hurting, and endorses the process of actively helping. When I stop hurting myself, I stop hurting others as well, and when I start helping myself, I start helping others also. The first step then, is to stop hurting myself.
We have certain negative propensities in us, and the first one is anger. Whenever we act out of anger, our action is violent. We hurt the person who becomes the object of our anger. In the process, we hurt ourselves also. Our second inclination is dishonesty.
There is a tendency to be untruthful or dishonest. When I bend the truth or violate the truth, I violate the right of somebody else and in the process, I violate myself. The third inclination is stealing. There is a tendency we have, to take things that really do not belong to us. The fourth is indulgence, a tendency to indulge in pleasures. The fifth is possession. We are inclined to possess or hoard things, and to have much more than we require. These five tendencies are well recognized. Each of us is born with these propensities.
Anger arises out of intolerance. Dishonesty arises out of insecurity. I am afraid and therefore I violate the truth to hide some limitation in myself. Stealing arises out of a sense of deficiency. Somebody else has more than me and I find that I do not have the resources to achieve what I want to achieve. Therefore, I take recourse to shortcuts to achieve at any cost, even by means that are not fair. I indulge in pleasure because my mind wants more and more pleasure. The desire to amass arises because I feel so insecure that I surround myself with material possessions to feel a sense of security. Yoga teaches us how to become free from these five propensities, one by one.