The first stage of yoga including, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is the comprehension and application in life of moral precepts, moral and ethical norms and rules of conduct in society. Why is this important and why did Patanjali set these precepts as the foundation, so to speak, of all yoga teaching? These rules allow us to work through our limitations caused by the activity of our Ego. Yama and Niyama are the foundation of yoga, teaching us to take responsibility for our own behavior, and until we start practicing and implementing these principles in our lives, it will be difficult for us to move forward on the path of self-development. The Yama (Sanskrit ययम) helps us overcome selfish tendencies by following the principles of which we live in harmony with all things and show respect for all living beings. The first principle of Yama is Ahimsa, or nonviolence, doing no harm to ourselves or to others. All the other principles of Yama are also designed to lead us away from the egoic path. The ego will at first fiercely resist all our attempts to get out from under its influence, but as we gradually introduce these principles, we form the habit of acting accordingly, and they become an integral part of our daily life. In addition to the fundamental principle of Ahimsa, Yama also includes the following rules: Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya, or discipline of the senses, and Aparigraha (non-stealing).

The next stage of yoga, Niyama (Sanskrit नियम, niyama), is a system of self-discipline. Without it, we cannot stand on the path of self-knowledge and spiritual self-improvement. Niyama includes the following rules or virtues: Shaucha (purity) – our food, house, clothing, body, thoughts and feelings are pure, and we do not allow foul language. Santosha, or contentment, when we accept ourselves as we are and are content with what we have. Tapas, or sensible ascesis, instills in us self-discipline and diligence in achieving our goal in the path of yoga. Svadhyaya (self-knowledge) consists in the study of spiritual literature, comprehending higher wisdom. Ishwara Pranidhana – trust in the Almighty – we trust in the divine plan.

Even if you began your yoga path precisely from the mat, you are bound to realize the importance of following the principles of Yama and Niyama and see that without applying these fundamentals, further progress along the path will not be as effective.