The eight fold path of yoga starts with 5 restraints or yamas and 5 observances or niyamas.
I have always hated being told what I should and should not do and I think most of us feel the same way. Its safe then to assume that the yogis must have experienced the same reservations at some point in their lives.
We are all selfish beings, but misguided about where our happiness and well being lies. This is very apparent when we see the state of the planet and how we are systematically consuming our way to its destruction. As a part of nature, we are all subject to her laws.
When you help others, you simultaneously help yourself; when you harm others, you simultaneously harm yourself.
This is the universal law of nature and it applies to all of us. According to the law of nature, one cannot perform an action that harms others without first generating negativity, anger, hate, fear and jealousy in the mind. These feelings are not pleasant and its impossible to be a happy person when your mind is filled with these defilements. Similarly, to perform an action that helps others requires that we generate love, compassion and goodwill first.
As soon as we start to understand and experience for ourselves what is truly profitable for us, then we can really be selfish and enjoy all the benefits it brings!
Ahimsa is the first Yama (restraints). It is non violence, not hurting or harming of other living beings or yourself in thought, word or deed.
Satya – Truthfulness in communicating your thoughts and feelings accurately without hurting the other. Satya is communicating only when required; communication which fulfills some purpose by the other receiving this information. All harsh words, half truths, exclusions and gossip are considered lies.
Asteya – Not stealing possessions, ideas and credit for someone else’s work. Not earning your salary by being lazy at work is also a form of stealing.
Brahmacharya – Not indulging in sensual pleasures and using moderation in all aspects of life.
Aparigraha – Not hoarding or being greedy by having only as much as you require and no more.
The 5 niyamas or observances are:
Sauch – Purity of the body and the mind.
Santosh – Contentment with what you have but not with who you are.
Tapa – Burning or bearing hardship on the spiritual path to overcome old habit patterns and make way for new ones.
Swadhyaya – Self study.
Isvarpranidhan – surrender to the divine / god or to a higher reality.
The last 3 niyamas form the crux of kriya yoga or the yoga of action.