Yoga offers us a system of ethical guidelines to help us become more objective and self-aware. These guidelines, offered by the sage Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras, take the form of the Yamas and Niyamas.
Yama, the first of the eight limbs of yoga, teaches us to restrain certain human behavioral qualities that are inescapable parts of our lives. If not used wisely, these tendencies can create distress for us or others. The five Yamas are Ahimsa (non-harming), Satya (non-lying), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Aparigraha (non-grasping).
The second limb of yoga is Niyama, conduct that needs no restraint or limitation placed on it. The five Niyamas are Saucha (purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (austerity), Svadhyaya (self-study), and Isvara Pranidhana (attunement to life).
Attitude is the greatest single influence we have over our lives. To learn to use our attitude to our best advantage, we need to better understand the workings of the mind. The second of Patanjali’s sutras states “Yogas citta vritti nirodha,” which translates as “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations and variations of the mind.”
The Yamas and Niyamas are the most important tools we can use to sustain the positive after-effects of our yogasana practice. In yoga, the practice of alignment that begins with the body leads us to algning our bodies with the mind, and to aligning the mind with the infinite and ultimately with the eternal. In this way, yoga provides the tools that we may employ towards our final liberation. It is towards this end that we dedicate our practice.
The Ethical Guidelines of Yoga
by Kim Schwartz