I want give you a little backstory on the section of Patanjali’s Sutra, II:30 – 45, that relates to Yama and Niyama.
These are the precepts you’ve probably heard about that relate to how we get along in our relationships and how we take care of ourselves. In the way that complex ideas get expressed in shorthand, the principles of Yama and Niyama are frequently described as a moral code or ‘thou shalts and shalt nots’.
From hanging out with Patanjali’s Sutra and studying his translators/commentators, I don’t think the Old Sage means to set forth a system of morality. He just is offering concepts that will help us get along in the world and a lifestyle conducive to meditation.
If the meditative state of mind is the goal of yoga, it would make sense to teach and inculcate Yama and Niyama before postures are tackled. I, for one, would have run a mile if philosophy had been emphasised and posture training minimised when I first discovered yoga. You might fall into this category, too. Fortunately, it’s never too late.
Having done all those asanas over the years has been great for my physical well-being. But yoga, we learn from Patanjali, is intended for the harmonious development of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. To paraphrase one of my favourite commentators, Vyn Bailey, for us humans to evolve, attitudes are more important than exercises. The Yama and Niyama are just the thing for the training of attitudes as they give us the skills to relate to people and get along with ease in life.