There are many facets to the yoga practice just like there are to any human or any spectacularly cut diamond. Where the value in any facet is placed, of course, is determined by the person and their particular tastes and desires. Within the context of the classical teachings of yoga, however, are the ethical rules of “right living” known as Yamas and Niyamas. Such precepts for being provide a framework within to reflect and act with mindfulness and are deemed especially valuable to a yogi on the path.
Yamas are a series of agreements and understandings that contribute to yogi’s relations with others. In the eight limbs of Patanjali’s yoga system the Yamas make up the first limb and are the first step on the staircase to absolute freedom. They are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy, non-cheating), and Apariagraha (non-possessiveness).
Niyamas, like the Yamas are a series of agreements and understandings. However, unlike the yamas, niyamas underwrite a yogi’s relations to himself or herself. The Niyamas make up the second limb of the eight-limbed system of Pantajali. They are Sauca (purity), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (perseverance, austerity), Svadhyaya (study of self), and Isvarapranidhana (contemplation of the supreme).
Though it may seem contrary to ones nature to place relationship with others in front of relationship with self in the pursuit of a deeper understanding of self and ultimate freedom within, this is the task set forth in the system of Patanjalis eight-limbed yoga. The undertaking of such a task and such a mindfulness in relationship does glean more light into ones own nature and in turn provides the catalyst for the deeper introspection that is the practice of the Niyamas. When practicing Ahimsa for example, one may recognize where one has a nature of being judgmental, cruel, criticizing and rigid. In this awareness is the opportunity to purify oneself of such behavior. Another example can be found in the practice of Satya. In the pursuit of truthfulness one may find where one hides and conceals their authenticity, which in turn sets in motion the practice of contentment with what is. These are just a couple of examples that help to remedy the initial paradox of the practice of the Yamas before the Niyamas. While it is a common misconception to think of yoga as just physical posing, in fact the asana practice or the Hatha Yoga is the third limb of the eight. All of the above practices in conjunction with the fourth limb of the practice of breath exercises, Pranayama, prepare the practitioner for the more subtle journey of deeper inward turning and study of the self with a capital S. Fundamentally the eight limbed path is a system of great reward.
Like the many facets of humans, diamonds, and yoga, we choose what serves and speaks to our hearts. After a spell more will reveal itself as beautiful, remarkable, worth noting and spending time with. Until such time, there is now, and being with what is now is ultimately the most rewarding of all the practices combined.
With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,