The practice of yoga can be much more than a series of postures or breathing exercises as explained in the article on the Yoga Sutras.
The ethical practices (Yamas) and personal practices (Niyamas) suggested by the Yoga Sutras are precepts that can help us in life and in a yoga class. Ultimately their practice gives us a more authentic, rich and happy life.
The Yamas: • Ahimsa - do no harm: to the other or to ourselves. See article on the importance of Ahimsa. • Satya - be honest: this means being authentic with ourselves and others and express the/our truth. In a yoga class, this means being honest with ourselves in positions and communicate for example if we do not understand or we are not comfortable and we need help. • Asetya - not take from others: this practice is evident in itself. But what it also means is to not compare ourselves to others and want to be like them. We need to accept ourselves. Everyone (ourselves included) deserve to be recognized and accepted for who they are. • Brahmacarya - practice moderation: This helps us to balance ourselves and feel good but it is not always easy with the increasing demands of life! Moderation does not necessarily mean always finding the right balance in every moment but sometimes over a longer period, e.g. it is ok to occasionally eat too much or not enough food. In a yoga class moderation also means putting in the right effort, i.e. not forcing. • Aparigraha - not being greedy: Not searching to have more than is good for us but instead searching for what is important for us. Having more does not necessarily make us happy and can harm us (e.g. trying to force our body into a yoga position that we want to achieve without respecting our limits). This is also a practice of not being jealous of others for what they have or don't have or not being angry with ourselves for being different. Everyone has their own path. None is better or worse than another.
Other ethical practices mentioned in other texts to which we can aspire to are: Daya - sympathy; Karuna - compassion; Arjava - integrity; Kshama - patience; Dhriti - tenacity; Vairagya - posting; Hri - modesty; Amanitva - humility.
The Niyamas: • Saucha - purity: thinking positively and taking good care of our bodies. • Samtosha - contentment or gratitude: being grateful for the things we have, changes our mood and energy, which changes our quality of life for the better. • Tapas - positive action or discipline: there is no magic wand in life. Action is needed to achieve a goal. We must continually try. It takes practice. We must persevere. At the same time we do not want to be too hung up the result. • Svadhyaya - the study: life is a learning process, not only by studying disciplines and learning from others but through learning from ourselves. • Ishvara-pranidhana - faith / trust and/or devotion to a higher principle: without trust in ourselves we wouldn't try anything. And without trust, faith or hope we would never continue when things are difficult. Furthermore having a spiritual practice (e.g. trying to realize our own potential or worshipping the divine: the universe, nature, God, the soul itself, etc.) or letting go to something bigger than ourselves can help us understand our place in this world and give meaning to our lives.
These values are sometimes forgotten in our society today and even the opposite sometimes promoted. It may seem a difficult task to always apply these practices in reality (even if we accept them on paper). Going back to basics, is following our heart and what we think is right. It takes courage to implement what our heart and soul are telling us. Moreover it is not always easy to read our heart. Let's start perhaps by trying to read our heart by practicing these values in a yoga class, and then see how to translate them into our lives.
Article in French: le-style-de-vie-de-la-pratique-du-yoga