While all the stretching, twisting, balancing is very beneficial and, indeed, makes our body healthier and more tonic, this it is just one of the 8 limbs of Yoga.
For the majority of modern yogis, including me, it may seem that the Yamas and Niyamas are the hardest of the eight limbs of yoga, to blend into our daily routines, and in our lifestyles.
Ancient texts, such as Hatha Yoga Pradipika and Patanjali Yoga Sutras, focus very little on physical yoga (asanas).
When Maharishi Patanjali speaks about asana, he isn’t referring to headstand or downward dog, at all, he refers to the position you sit while meditating.
B K S Iyengar describes both, Yamas and Niyamas, as the golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates, as they transform each action into one that originates from a deeper and more ‘connected’ place within ourselves.
Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains that “Yoga has eight limbs, like a chair which has got four legs. Each one is connected to the whole. When the body is developing, the whole body develops together. All the organs of the body develop together. Not that the nose develops first and then the ears come; all the aspects, all the limbs of the body develop simultaneously. That is why Patanjali says that these are all the limbs (not steps) of yoga and they develop simultaneously.” (https://www.artofliving.org/us-en/how-to-make-the-yamas-and-niyamas-work-for-you-in-the-modern-world)
Yamas and Niyamas in your daily life
So, how can we integrate these “rules” into our lives, in a world that already gives us too many rules?
The trick is to think of Yamas and Niyamas as tools to spice up a yoga practice, to keep the practice interesting. The practice of yoga is not only a 60 minutes exercise routine, but it’s also a way of life.
The best way to practice yamas and niyamas is to live them.
- Ahimsa – Non-violence – refraining to hurt others with words, becoming vegetarian (or, at least, reduce the consumption of meat) or stop gossiping.
- Asteya is referring to not-stealing including people’s time if you have to send an email to a client, be short and concise if you need information try to google it before interrupting your colleague; show up on time when you have an appointment.
- Aparigraha – non-greediness – learn to let go – of people, of thoughts, of situations – because life keeps changing and nothing is permanent. Your wardrobe is full of clothes you don’t use anymore? Give it to charity.
On the other hand, the Niyamas:
- Saucha is about purity and internal/external cleanliness, keep your body clean and healthy eating sattvic food, where possible organic and from ethical sources, keep your space (home, office, study-desk) clean and tidy.
- Santosha is regarding practicing contentment and gratitude, be present and let go of what you can’t control, be happy with what you have.
- Tapas (not the Spanish nibbles) can be translated as austerities or discipline, in our little world we can practice this niyamas setting the alarm 10 min before and do 3 rounds of Surya Namaskar or if you have a negative thought, turn it into a positive one.
Well, said that I challenge you to practice Yamas and Niyamas for a week and notice the difference! Yama and Niyama as explained by Patanjali, are steps to discover our true nature. Without them, there is no happiness, without a code for moral and spiritual values, there is only chaos in life.
I assure you it will be easy to introduce these little “rules” into your life, and they will change the way you see your yoga practice and the world.