The Yama's are the first of the eight limbs of yoga mentioned in my previous blog "A Brief Intro To The History And Philosophy Of Yoga".
The Sanskrit word Yama is from the root ram, to 'subdue' or 'control' and these really are about self-restraint.
The great thing about this system of philosophy is that these are simple and universally relatable laws that allow us to live a fuller life.
First we have ahimsa, non-violence. Be gentle in your thoughts, words and actions. Be gentle with yourself and others. Be gentle to the environment and other beings. Be gentle during your yoga practise. If your yoga practise is stressful, you're not really doing yoga.
Satya is next, this means to be truthful, but moderate in your giving of truth in order to not violate the first Yama, non-violence.
Brahmacharya, the third yama, is not so much "don't have sex" but nourish relationships instead, avoid lustfulness, cheating, promiscuity. Use sex to transform a relationship on all levels.
Asteya means don't steal, not just money or belongings, but don't steal peoples time or energy. Instead, be a giving person who helps others.
Aparigraha means to be free from being attached to outcomes, or physical objects, even money. It means to let things go, and allow life to flow through you.
The Niyama's are the five observances, which are the second of the 8 Limbs of Yoga.
The first niyama is Saucha which means cleanliness. This could relate to cleanliness of the body, mind and physical spaces we live and work in. Yoga helps us to clean the inside of the body and having good flow of blood and energy in every bodily system (nervous system, muscles, organs, glands, endocrine system, brain, circulatory and pulmonary). Almost all illnesses are due to some obstruction or blockage, so making blood and energy flow is so important. Think about a heart failure (blocked artery), cancer (lack of oxygen respiration in cells), stroke (blockage of blood flow to brain), the list goes on. This cleaning and strengthening of the physical body is one of the great benefits of asana practice.
Santosha is next and means that we have the choice to be happy at any moment regardless of what is going on in our life. Santosha means not waiting for happiness, but choosing it now, today, in this moment. Material happiness that comes from looking a certain way or having certain possessions is only temporary. Happiness is a state of mind and a choice.
The next niyama, Tapas, is essential for asana practice and it translates as will-power or self-disclipline. I like to think of it as the passionate desire to do your best. Don't give up, don't leave things unfinished. Not just in yoga but in life too.
Svadhyaya is about self-study and traditionally, study of the scriptures. As humans we were born with incredibly intelligent and creative minds that have the ability to contemplate the meaning of life! Take a minute to let that sink in and realise how profound your own existence really is. Use your abilities to discover all of who you are and realise your greatest potential.
Ishvara Pranidhana is dedication, devotion and surrender to a higher power. For those of you who don't believe in a god as such, it's nice to think of ishvara pranidhana as the recognition that we are all connected. That is why it is so important to give back to yourself everyday through your yoga practice or whatever your personal practice is - that which makes you healthy, happy and truly come alive. Through your personal practice, you learn what a true, loving relationship with self is. Then you can share it with others, and ultimately make the realisation that we are all one family connected in love.