The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele

I finished this book during the hiatus and noticed that I never went back and reviewed it. There are actually a few books, mostly the last of the Read Harder 2019 books, that this happened with. It’s not generally a big deal with most of them, but it’s good to come back around on it as I’ve referenced this book a few times in yoga posts and will likely continue to do so. What makes The Yamas and Niyamas a great resource is that it takes those two limbs of yoga and breaks them down into the smallest parts.

As mentioned in my previous post about the yamas, there are five yamas. These are more restraints, in keeping with those that most religions also hold.

  • Ahimsa – Do no harm
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Non-excess (walk with God)
  • Aparigraha – Letting go

Taking a closer look into ahimsa, we realize things like the way our non-violent actions still harm those around us. It gets down into the way even our expectations can put undue stress and anxiety onto others. It’s an interesting concept, especially when paired with feminism and the modern view of how mother’s should be perfect with perfect children. This is harm we cause ourselves and our children that never actually benefits anyone. At the same time, the deep dive into satya and truthfulness reverts back to ahimsa and there’s a reflection on the term “brutal honesty”. Why must honestly be brutal?

Adele does this with each yama, not only sinking into it, but reflecting it against the others showing that it’s important for these restraints to coincide within the yogi. It does no good to give one preference over the others, though there will be times when we must choose. Is an uncomfortable truth more harmful than simply not mentioning it?

Then there are the niyamas, the ethical observances.

  • Saucha – purity
  • Santosha – contentment
  • Tapas – self disciplne
  • Svadyaya – self study
  • Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender

In the same way, Adele takes a deep look into each of these observances for the details that help us get there. What is purity, really? How can it be practiced? It’s definitely much greater than cleanliness and there is definitely a process to purification. Religions generally have ways to purify the soul, so to speak. Yoga doesn’t require a specific way, as it doesn’t demand a specific religion, it simply prepares our physical selves for finding the faith in and the connection to our God, as I learned in the Yoga Sutras earlier in the year. With this, we are reminded of the importance of practicing purity and cleansing ourselves of those things in our lives that keep us from seeing God in all things.

Sometimes that’s physical sometimes it’s spiritual. Either way, it’s an important practice to observe. Likewise, contentment doesn’t happen in clutter. Each niyama is important to the others in the same way that the yamas can only be practiced together to be successful.

Though the ways to practice can seem a little over the top sometimes, this is a great book for getting to the details of the yamas and niyamas. There were several notes for me that I remind myself of sometimes to help in both practicing yoga and in being a better Christian, to be honest. There are aspects o the yamas and niyamas mentioned that tie into and give another perspective on what it means to follow the Ten Commandments or teachings of Jesus. That’s one of the parts of studying yoga recently that has been interesting to explore between this book, the Yoga Sutras, and the new one I started The Yoga of Jesus. If you’re interested in studying yoga, include The Yamas & Niyamas on your TBR.

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