The yamasa and niyamas are the do's and don'ts of life. Just as sports, schools, and households have rules, yoga has some rules to live by as well. They aren't necessarily bound restrictions, but more like a guide to help you be the best person that you possibly can be in this world. They offer structure and awareness, and can be practiced every day. They compliment a healthy lifestyle very nicely. There are some great books that parents can read to their children that teach good life lessons. When I was growing up, we read Aesop's Fables. Right now, I'm reading a book called Buddha at Bedtime. Both books use animals to teach about right from wrong. Kids love animals and the stories can illicit great discussions about life.
The Niyamas (yoga do's)
1. Purity (saucha): For the most part, this means staying away from any of the yamas (yoga don'ts). We want our bodies, lives, and minds to feel clear of negativity or anything harmful as much as possible. Purity can also reflect on how we live and take care of things, such as cleanliness, neatness, and healthy eating. For example, staying away from processed foods or meats which have come from animals who have been treated inhumanely.
2. Contentment (santosha): So when was the last time you were really happy with everything that you have and wanting nothing more? This is being content...happy with what you have and happy with yourself. It's tough in today's society, but it can be done. Just be thankful for what you have. Be happy with who you are. It could be worse. Remember, you are very very lucky.
3. Self-Discipline (tapas): Self discipline is another toughie in today's fast-paced world. It's so easy to get carried away or to lose focus. So, to start with, try changing your attitude towards things. Focus on the positive and get things done because you know they will make you a better person. This should be a fun challenge or way of life rather than a chore.
4. Self-Study (svadhyaya): Through self-study, we mean that you should be examining your spiritual self. Look at your actions and reactions. Notice your feelings, words, and experiences and see how they reflect who you really are. Study your beliefs and see if you are following what you preach. Perhaps you may want to study sacred texts such as the Bible or the Bhagavad Gita. Who are you to yourself and others?
5 Devotion (ishvar-pranidhana): In a nutshell, this niyama focuses on nourishing your spirituality. It's important to have a balance between emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. All work together as a team.
Throughout our lives, we often talk about the Golden Rule. I find that the yamas and niyamas in yoga are pretty much straightforward and feel very similar to the Golden Rule that we are taught in school and in life. Enjoy.