The five yamas (restraints) and the five niyamas (observances) constitute the yogi’s moral guidelines. They are presented in the Yoga Sutras, a text written about 200BC and attributed to the sage Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras present a broad yet very detailed overview of the workings of the mind, as well as methods of harnessing the mind in order to discover Truth. (Yoga was originally a practice for the mind, not the body.) In the second chapter of the Sutras, we find a description of the eight limbs of yoga; the first two limbs are the yamas and niyamas respectively.

Initially, I didn’t understand what moral conduct had to do with yoga. And then, some time later, I came across the explanation that in order to control the mind, we first need to avoid agitating the mind. And one sure way to do this is to have in place a code that guides our behaviour, that reduces dilemmas, regrets and worries, and that encourages simple, peaceful living. Yes, this made sense to me. It’s much easier to meditate when the mind is not rocking with what-ifs and gossip and replays of arguments, and other such activity.

I am generally level-headed in my dealings with the public at large, but when it comes to my children, I sometimes find myself barely (or not) clinging onto my composure… especially when my dear children have themselves lost their composure! This situation has given rise to the question: How can I apply the yamas and niyamas to my daily life with two feisty, fiery kids? How can I use these guidelines to guide my own thoughts, words and actions? How can I teach my kids to use these guidelines as they navigate life’s ups and downs?

So tonight, the three of us sat down, and we started to put into kids’ words what Patanjali was getting at in Sanskrit. Here are is a list of the yamas and niyamas, with their usual translations. In next few days, I will add a “part 2” post, with our kid-friendly translation of these ideas! Stay tuned!

Yamas (Restraints/How to treat others)

1. Ahimsa – non-violence
2. Satya – truthfulness
3. Asteya – non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya – moderation, right use of energy, celibacy
5. Aparigraha – non-greed, non-grasping

Niyamas (Observances/How to treat yourself)

1. Saucha – purity, cleanliness
2. Santosha – contentment
3. Tapas – discipline
4. Svadhyaya – self-study
5. Ishvara pranidhana – surrender to the Divine