We live in a world that contains different continents, countries, cities, societies, cultures, each with their own codes of conduct that apply to each person, according to their gender, age group, eduction, line of work, etc. and determine how they are expected to think and act. Some of these values are enforced by law and called rules, others are applied by the pressure that society exercises upon the individuals, and others are dictated by the groups that the person is inserted in, which may be sports groups, religion, leisure, or anything else. So there can be dozens of variables that influence what a person is expected to believe they should and shouldn't do.

In the beginning of all times, when there was nothing but Light and Consciousness, we were one with our true Essence and immersed in purity, kindness and unconditional love. There was no need for rules, because there was absolute Order in the flow of the Universe. All these rules and codes started to take place as we started to move away from our true Self, and had to force that order which we once naturally had. But being rules that were created at a lower level of consciousness, they don't necessarily reflect those initial principles that we came from, but rather they can be a reflection of the way that specific society functions (e.g. some societies believe in monogamy and some don't).

Like in a tree, we originated from only a few branches with the basic rules for mankind. They then ramified again and again and again, into thousands of small branches, each one being a rule or code of conduct applicable to a group of people, a time and a place. However, if we start to follow the branches all the way back to the tree, they start to merge into larger, thicker and stronger branches and eventually connect to the trunk of the tree. And in those original branches, we can find the root of all the principles of all societies. These are the Yamas and Niyamas.

We can think of the Yamas and Niyamas are the foundations for a life of peace and consciousness, within ourselves and towards the world. They are a guide to human conduct, applicable to all people, all times and all places. They also constitute the first two limbs of the eight-fold path of Yoga described in the Sutras (original Yogic texts). Traditions such as Tantra explore the profound impact of these 10 principles to our lives, in order to shift our Consciousness and change our understanding of the world.


Yamas - relationship with the world

Yamas relate to our interactions with the world, that manifest in thoughts, words and actions. Each Yama relates to a different aspect of that interaction, and is impregnated in our life in great depth, so reflection upon that aspect can bring awareness as to how we relate to it and the impact that has in our life and the lives of others around us. And the concepts may appear simple but they are certainly not straight forward.

Let's take Asteya for example - non stealing. On a first analysis we could think "that's not me, I'd never steal anything". However, how many times have we pressured someone else into doing something that we wanted? Didn't we just then steal their freedom to do something else that they preferred?

Or, not even going that far, how many times did we think of having a nice thing in our lives that was someone else's? We haven't actually stolen it, whether it was because of our good will, fear of social criticism or anything else. But that doesn't discharge the fact that the thought of having it was there. The ultimate aim of the Yamas and Niyamas is not just to eliminate the act itself (e.g. physically stealing), but the tendency to commit it (the thought or intention of stealing). How we do that is to focus on the virtue related to that defect (e.g. sympathetic joy and to feel genuinely happy on behalf of that person). Because at the end of the day, the fact that someone has that nice thing is nor good or bad, it's neutral: but if we feel joy rather than greed or jealousy, the only people that benefit from that are ourselves (and consequently the people around us).


Niyamas - relationship with ourselves

The Niyamas are about returning our body, our emotions and our mind to their original purified state. To turn our attention inwards, and start an inner exploration that leads us to answer the great questions in life. And to realise that we don't have to go anywhere: we are already there, the only thing we need is to become aware of it.