A Quick Visit to the Yamas and Niyamas
by Heather Dombrovskiy
Sometimes in a yoga class, or in an article in a yoga magazine, you may hear the words “yama” and “niyama” thrown around. Maybe you have a general idea of what these mean, or, maybe you have tried looking these up and have decided that all of the sanskrit words that help to define these are too complicated to understand. I wanted to visit these, because of a misinterpretation I feel may be out there. First, the yamas and niyamas are not a directive of what you must do in order to be a yogi. This is where some disconnect comes in. There are people out there who equate yoga to a religious practice, which it is not. It is not taking away from whatever you believe in, and it can strengthen that connection, but, that is a conversation for another day. One of the places where this misinterpretation of yoga comes from is the yamas and niyamas. Students or outsiders may see these as a form of The Bible’s Ten Commandments. They are not. Yoga is a practice. All parts of yoga. That doesn’t mean just the asanas (postures) are a practice. It doesn’t mean that just meditation is a practice. It means that those, plus breathing, plus any other part of yoga that you want to embrace, are all practices. This includes the yamas and niyamas. They are simply guidance (just as is instruction on asanas) to explore for yourself. Guidance on what Maharishi Pantajali felt could allow us to embrace “things” within ourselves that caused less emotional, spiritual and physical suffering to ourselves and others around us. He was not trying to be our God; he was trying to share what he found could lessen our load in life.
Now for the techinicals. The yamas and niyamas are the first and second limbs of yoga’s eight-limb path in Pantajali’s Yoga Sutras, a way to begin to find peace within oneself before even breathing, posing, chanting, and the like. Yep, that is how important he found them to finding our own peace and happiness. The yamas control certain negative tendencies we may feel, and the niyamas are behaviors we want to bring to the forefront of our daily lives. In a nutshell, here are the yamas and niyamas:
Asteya (non-stealing, or non-cheating)
Brahmacharya (continence, involving self-restraint and moderation in all you do)
Aparigraha (non-coveting, including no envy, jealousy or unhealthy competitiveness)
And study of the Self (Svadhyaya)
Most of these are pretty self-descriptive just by looking at the English words, but perhaps it is deeper than that. Here are a couple of examples of how you can bring some of the yamas and niyamas into a simple hour of yoga asana practice: Ahimsa, non-violence, along with Santosha, contentment, can be your exploration of your body limits in a class. Not pushing yourself past that proverbial “edge” and harming your tissues and muscles. Asteya, non-stealing, and tapas, discipline, could be your commitment to being early to class so as to not “steal” class time away from others. Just allowing yourself to begin thinking of other ways to practice bringing these into your daily activities puts you on the path of the imperfect yogi. That’s where I hope our paths will cross.
Love & Light Friends,