Take enough yoga classes and you'll no doubt hear at some point one of your teachers quote from the Yoga Sutras, one of the classical yoga texts written supposedly around 300 BC. The Yoga Sutras, a compilation of 195 aphorisms, or verses, was written by a sage named Patanjali. Although very little was known about Patanjali - including who he (or perhaps she) was - he is credited with authoring significant volumes of knowledge on yoga, meditation, Ayurveda and Sanskrit grammar.
His most famous work, the “Yoga Sutras”, often referred to as the bible of yoga, is a concise piece of literature which conveys the practice of yoga, as well as the philosophy behind the practice. Arranged in four chapters, the Yoga Sutras presents a roadmap containing essential advice for daily living: not just a set of practices; but guidelines that, if followed diligently, will allow the practitioner to enhance their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing and remove obstacles to true happiness. The Yoga Sutras therefore, is essentially a step-by-step guide to a more meaningful life and spiritual fulfilment.
If you've been practicing yoga for a while, it's quite likely that you're familiar with asana (postures), pranayama (breath control) and meditation (mental stillness). These make up some of the "limbs" of Patanjali's eight-fold path, also known as Ashtanga Yoga. The first two steps on this eight-runged ladder to everlasting bliss are known as the yamas and niyamas, the core values of yoga that provide the ability to create harmony within yourself and your environment. Without observing these ethical precepts, we remain in difficulty and suffering. By adhering to these guidelines, we become more integrated human beings; that is, we begin to understand the nature of connection to others and our environment, and find ourselves more often in a state of joy. This is a necessary state to be in, if you are aiming to transform your life.
In this day and age of 12-step programs, 30-day challenges and 40-day revolutions, it seems that Patanjali was well ahead of his time when devising the eight-limbed path. The yamas and niyamas give the yoga student or spiritual seeker a framework within which to study, an eight-stepped program that unfolds progressively towards inner and outer peace. Through non-harming, peace, truth, abundance, moderation, contentment, purity, self-acceptance, dedication, and meaningful connection, you'll begin to refine your relationships with self and others. If you align your life with the yamas and niyamas, then the remaining six limbs of practice, contemplation, and meditation work coherently towards inner transformation.