My exploration of the yamas and niyamas began with the formation of these three questions:
- Why is it that yoga’s path to awakening begins with an ethical system?
- Why is there so much interest in postures, breath, and meditation and yoga’s ethical system gets glossed over? (Compare the number of books written on postures, breath, and meditation to the number of books written on the yamas and niyamas.)
- What were the yogis trying to tell us?
I don’t have the answers, but I do think these questions merit our contemplation. For me, the yamas and niyamas are about laying the ground rules for our journey towards union, harmony, and wholeness. They are about living in right relationship with others, the earth, and ourselves. They are the foundational guide to our practice both on and off the mat
What could be a better or more needed place to practice harmony than in our interactions with others and ourselves? I know that if I choose to fight with my husband for instance, the “me” that shows up on the mat for postures or on the cushion for meditation is a “me” in disturbance. I am either running the story of the fight and still being mad, or I am running the story of the fight and being cruel to myself for not being kinder to my husband. Either way, harmony cannot find me; I am too consumed to experience the deeper recesses of my being or hear the call of my soul.
In a simple way, I have begun to think of the yamas and niyamas as a flashlight, shining light on the places of my life where consciously or unconsciously I am out of harmony or right relationship. In this sense, they have become a true friend ready and willing to take me ever deeper into my pursuit of integrity and wholeness.
The daily, mindful practice of these ethical guidelines begins to make us people who are not only more skilled at living and making thoughtful choices, but who are also becoming harmonious, quiet, and undisturbed. Are the yamas and niyamas easy? No. They ask us to dig deep and find the best that is in us. And they ask nothing less of us than a continual conversation that is both personal and communal. In whatever form it takes, I hope you will join me in this important conversation.
Workshops offered on the yamas & niyamas
Further resources on the yamas & niyamas