The Yamas and Nimayas are a dynamic duo in yoga philosophy that provide general guidelines for balanced living. They are the first two branches of a larger path intended to bring meaning and purpose to life through right ways of being. In a world in which we are given unlimited access to so much information, age old wisdom can get lost. The Yamas and Niyamas are a reminder of that simple wisdom.
These principles were written long ago and once considered mandatory vows for any yoga practitioner. The Yoga Sutra, widely regarded as the authoritative text on yoga, is a collection of aphorisms, outlining the eight limbs of yoga. These “threads” of wisdom offer guidelines for living a meaningful and purposeful life. Patanjali is the sage who wrote them.
Needless to say, a literal interpretation no longer applies to modern times. In fact, Patanjali never said anything about limitless flexibility, perfect alignment or fancy, athletic poses. He wrote of the true meaning of yoga, which is to connect with the unconscious and attempt to gently reign it in. Yoga provides the container to take on this seemingly simple task that in reality is impossible. So, instead, it’s common to view the Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines on how to live a good life and be a good human – a winning combination.
The first five Yamas are what you shouldn’t do and the last five Niyamas are what you should. The Yamas coach the yogi how to be interact with the world. Think of them as social disciplines. The Niyamas guide us how to be toward ourselves. Think of them self-discipline.
I’ve written blogs on the individual sutras based on the book The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele. You can read more about each one by clicking on the links below:
Rather than thinking of the Yamas and Niyamas as a mandatory “to-do list,” see them as suggestions. No one is dictating how to “do” the Yamas and Niyamas. In keeping with the flexible nature of yoga, that’s up to you. They are merely reminders and guidelines. What matters is most is how you live your yoga.