In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, there are 8 limbs, or steps, systematically presented as the basis for the practice of Yoga. The first two of these, known as yamas and niyamas present preliminary practices to purify and stabilize the being to prepare for the practice of yoga. Many people consider these to be moral precepts, but in reality, they are simply ensuring that the physical, vital and mental being can effectively hold and utilize the force without becoming imbalanced, or misusing the force for unintended purposes. Long experience has shown that failure to undertake this purificatory activity can lead to grievous harm and destroy the benefits of the yogic force if it happens to come to the being. At the conclusion of the preparatory phase, the body will be solid and healthy, the vital force will be balanced and steady and able to hold and transmit the more intense energies that result from the practice, and the mind will be clear and harmonious, not getting disrupted or disturbed as it undergoes the pressure of the yogic process.
A natural result of these practices is the creation of a status of being that one may call observational rather than reactive. This status permeates all the activities of life, and is not restricted to a special time or function for yogic practice or meditation of some sort.
Dr. Dalal observes: “Though the different paths vary greatly in their methods and processes, certain elements are common to them all. One such universal element is a certain preliminary cleansing or purification of the outer nature, consisting of the physical, vital and mental consciousness. An attempt to enter into the inner consciousness without adequately ridding the outer consciousness of its turbidity is apt to fail; if at all one succeeds in some measure, one is most likely to be confused , misled or overwhelmed by the experiences of the inner consciousness without a sufficient foundation of a calm purity in the outer being.”
“A second element common to all paths of inner growth consists in developing an in-gathered attitude, a state of inner concentration which progressively replaces the state of outer dispersion characteristic of the normal consciousness. The in-gathered state is most often sought to be inculcated through the practice of meditation. That is why, to many people, the spiritual life is almost synonymous with the practice of meditation: ‘…when they think of the spiritual life, they immediately think of meditation’. [The Mother] Such an attitude tends to lead to a false compartmentalisation of life, a division and antagonism between the spiritual life and the ordinary life. However, true spirituality lies, not in any form of practice, but in living in a certain state of consciousness pervading all life and activities. Meditation — in the sense of a set practice — is not indispensable for cultivating such a spiritual state of inner concentration; action and work done with the right consciousness also produce a state of meditation.”
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Introduction, pp. xix-xx