Using the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we will take an 8 week journey through Yoga’s 8 component parts. Breaking them down and making them the focal point of practice. This week we will discuss the Yamas and Niyamas together as they are best explained.
“As with any addiction, the more an individual attempts to attain happiness or fulfillment through control, manipulation, competitiveness, or aggression, the more inadequacy, unworthiness, isolation, alienation, suffering and illness will result.
Our sense of inadequacy creates fear and a growing sense of isolation. Along with fear comes the need to keep situations and people under control. In this way we believe we can hold our world together and will be safe. This is the dilemma of our illusion. Since the connection to unity we are longing for is ultimately to be discovered within ourselves, the external search for unity creates the friction and tension. This struggle pits us against others also striving to achieve the same goals. We get caught in a cycle of protecting our perceptions of reality as though protecting our turf at all costs is the purpose for our existence.” Excerpt from Nosara Yoga Institute Interdisciplinary Yoga Teacher Training Manual
This passage for me summarizes the base for the discussion of the Yamas and Niyamas. The Yamas and the Niyamas are best discussed together because the Yamas are the rules or codes of conduct for living and comprises of the “shall-not” in our dealings with the external world as the Niyamas comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world.
As you become more familiar with the Yamas and Niyamas it will be obvious why they play such an important role in the yoga practice.
The Yamas are best summarized as ethical restraints; restraining from violence (Ahimsa), stealing (Asteya), while fostering truthfulness (Satya), generosity and personal conservation. These acts allow you to have a clear conscience and helps your interaction with the rest of the world allowing for focus on the yoga practice. The Yama of non-violence really resonates with me. It focuses not only on restraining from violence towards all living things but it also builds upon cultivating the behaviors opposite to violence, such as kindness, patience and tolerance for all living beings. It teaches to respect living beings as a unity, the belief that all living things are connected. This includes being kind to ourselves, non-violent in our thoughts, and truly releasing all thoughts and behaviors that can prevent us from focusing internally during our Yoga practice.
The Niyamas are qualities to nurture. There are ten traditional Niyamas, but in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali the focal point is on 5 of them; cleanliness or purity of the body and mind (Shaucha), contentment (Santosha), the endurance of the opposites (Tapas), self-study (Svadhyaya) and devotion (Ishvarapranidhana).
The Yamas and Niyamas are best studied together because of the balance it brings to the ability to eliminate external distractions that allow for internal awareness. It also allows for the Yoga practitioner to put the right focus on the Yoga practice. Understanding that the true purpose, the true base of the practice is in the connection to unity, and realizing that the unity we are longing for is ultimately to be discovered within ourselves.
Summary of the 8 limbs of Yoga and a preview of what we have left to cover.
Yama – self-control, self-restraint, moral principles
Niyama – precepts, observances, fixed rules
Asana – yoga pose
Pranayama – regulation of prana, lengthening of the prana
Pratyahara – withdrawal of the senses from their objects (week 1)
Dharana - contemplation, concentration
Dhyana – meditation
About the author: Get Lifted is a Chicago area yoga instructor with ten years of background and experience in both practicing and teaching yoga. He has traveled the world practicing and studying with teachers deeply rooted in the ancient forms of the art, philosophy and science of the practice. His over 1,000 hours of yoga teacher training has been with instructors with combined yoga teaching experience of over 100 years; passing down the tradition of kriya, puja, pranayama, mantra, samyama, yoganidra and asana.