Following the yamas and niyamas

The eight limbs are termed as such because of their equal importance. Referring to each pathway as a ‘limb’ signifies each stages importance in becoming a whole enlightened being. The purpose of living these eight limbs is to achieve Yoga as a state of being.
In the west people often begin with the third limb and practice asanas first, however it is more desirable to live all the yamas and niyamas prior to physical practice to purify the mind in preparation for asanas and meditation.  The objective is not to suppress the desire to oppose the yamas and niyamas, but to stop the desire for such things. Only when the mind is pure can it be controlled and focused.
The yamas are considered ‘moral guidelines’, the word ‘restraint is not desirable as it suggests repression of traits which may bubble under the surface and eventually explode outwards.  The yamas are also reminiscent of the guidelines we were taught as children, such as don’t tell lies, don’t hurt others, don’t steal etc. indicating the desire to return to a state of innocence that we had when we were young, before we were tarnished by Maya. Observance of these Yamas is from the navel (site of the Manipura Chakra) and help to attain a healthy mind and body and one must follow them without a desire for any end goals.
The five Yamas are:
a. Ahimsa: Non violence, non injury (this includes harm to ones self)
b. Satya: Truthfulness, non telling of lies. One must be careful not to always speak the truth as this can have a very powerful and directional effect
c. Brahmacharya: Chastity, sublimation of sexual energy. Harness this energy for creativity and discovery
d. Asteya: Non stealing, non covetedness, lack of jealousy
e. Aparigraha: Non acceptance of gifts or bribes. Observance of this yama gives you knowledge of past and future lives folding in front of you
The niyamas are actions you take in relation to yourself, and together with the yamas form a person of high moral character and ethics. Observation of all the yamas and niyamas purify and uplift the mind in preparation for deep meditation.
The five niyama are:
a.   Saucha: purity (both internal and external, of the body and mind), this Niyama gives a person strong senses and joyful awareness
b.   Santosha: Contentment in all things
c.   Tapas: Auserity, a burning enthusiasm in everything you do, burns away impurities
d.   Swadyhyaya: Study of religious scripture (and self study) allows one to commune with a desired deity
e .  Ishwara-pranidha: Worship of the lord, surrender of the ego. This final niyama brings you Samadhi
Regardless of the practice of yoga or the adoption of a religion, following the guidelines of the yamas and niyamas will help every one of us to lead better lives and improve the lives of those around us. My personal aim is to strive everyday to become a better person and let go of my negative qualities in the hope I will improve myself each day.