For me most of the classical commentaries on the yamas and niyamas read like a shot of vodka. They’re pure and quick, and when I’m done I’m not sure what hit me.
By contrast, I’ve just finished reading a new commentary that went down like a glass of really good wine. It has substance, overtones, complexity, and it bears the flavor of something lovingly aged and bottled with care.
Like the taste of a fine wine, the wisdom of Deborah Adele’s The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice lingers nicely after the sip.
It illustrates the shades of meanings of each ethical principal with copious examples – brief vignettes from the life of the author, folk stories from myriad traditions, moving quotations from luminaries of all stripes. One of my many favorites is from her discussion of the niyama of self-study:
“There is a Cherokee story in which the grandfather is explaining to his grandson that two animals live inside his heart, a wolf and a lamb. When the grandson asks what he is to do, the grandfather replies, ‘Feed the lamb.’”
Think about that little grain of wisdom for a minute. If it doesn’t start a pearl growing in you, there are countless others in the book that may.
But what really distinguishes her commentary from the others I’ve read is its consistent emphasis on the relationships between ethical principles. Focusing on one in each chapter, she demonstrates how deeply the ten yamas and niyamas interdepend. And she illustrates over and over again how they relate to the value systems we apply – whether consciously or unconsciously – in every moment of our daily lives.
This is a humble book. Its cover art may not grab your eyeballs on Amazon, and if you crack it open you won’t find soulful photos or glossies of gods and chakras. You’ll probably finish reading it in a few hours. But even a small investment in this luminous paperback may leave you permantently richer.
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