Ashtang yoga, has provided a detailed and scientific way, to experience our Superconscious Self. It has given a language to the similar steps that happen at the core of almost all the spiritual paths.
Ashtang yoga, has 8 steps. The 8 successive yet concentric steps are yama (restraint), niyama (observance), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (Superconsciousness).
Each step has to be mastered with whole heart and soul. Once mastered, that step does not disappear. It is still very much needed for climbing the ladder.
The most important foundational steps are yama and niyama. What are these?
Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali tell us, to bring Yama into our lives, we must try to bring energies of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, non-possessiveness in all actions, words and thoughts.
To bring Niyama, we must try to develop purity, contentment, austerity, self-study with scripture study and surrender to god.
These energies slowly transform our body, mind and consciousness. Then the practice of dharana and dhyana bring us closer to the Divine.
Many times people are misguided and misinformed by teachers, who themselves have not built a strong foundation of yama(restraint) and niyama(observance). They jump into their inner spiritual journey at different steps in a haphazard way. Though one can get a lot of physical benefits with asana and pranayama but not much spiritual benefits without the practice of Yama and Niyama. This can lead to disappointments for the seeker because no lasting results are achieved. Many give up any practice or fall into false practices, which do not bring any spiritual light.
Paradoxically, if someone truly brings just Yama and Niyama into their life, even if they do not practice any let alone true meditation of Dhyan and Samadhi, they get immense spiritual benefits. When one is content, not wanting more of everything ~ money, power and prestige , not manipulating people, has compassion and kindness for all, has surrendered the past and future to Lord; one’s body and mind gets naturally stable in yoga. These, Yama and Niyama practices, lead to less desires and thoughts naturally. Such is the power of purity.
The truth is that the spiritual path is simple. There is nothing hidden or mysterious, it is just self-realization of universal truths. Only thing required by the serious seeker is to keep practicing slowly but sincerely.