Let's Talk Yamas & Niyamas: The 8-Limb Path

The moment we decide to incorporate a regular yoga practice into our lives, we open ourselves up to our higher power within- the Self. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali talks about eight steps to enlightenment, or the 8-limb path of yoga. These steps serve as a guideline on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.

The eight limbs of yoga are:

1. Yama (abstinence)

2. Niyama (observance)

3. Asana (posture practice)

4. Pranayama (breath control)

5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal)

6. Dharana (concentration)

7. Dhyana (meditation)

8. Samadhi (contemplation, absorption, superconscious state)

The first two limbs, the yamas and niyamas, are all about how you live OFF the mat. Think of the yamas as things you should NOT do, and the niyamas as things you SHOULD do. The yamas consist of practicing nonviolence, nonstealing, truthfulness, continence, and nongreed. Practicing nonviolence in yourself means being mindful of your words and your thoughts, thinking before you speak, and being generally aware of ways you bring suffering onto yourself.

The second limb, the niyamas, consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, and spiritual practice. For example, developing your own personal and daily meditation practices, keeping a self-inquiry journal, or regularly attending temple or church services, are all examples of niyamas in practice. In order to come into your true nature and live a balanced life, the yamas and niyamas are the first two steps.

Many Western interpretations of the yamas and niyamas believe these first two steps relate to our moral obligations in society, but Patanjali wasn’t referring to moral obligations in this way (just look at all the yogis who went into the caves to renounce the world). Although nonviolence, truthfulness, and nongreed are all reflected and valued in our society, Patanjali was talking about following the yamas and niyamas as a promise and commitment to your true nature; to purify your mind, purify your ego, and your subconscious mind.

Incorporating these principals into your life can have a profound effect on your yoga practice and your peace of mind. Rather than trying to integrate them all at once, choose the one or two that resonate the most with you. You may find that by simply focusing on one, the others begin to fall into place.

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