In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga, beginning with the Yamas and Niyamas, which illuminate yoga’s inherent design. In Sanskrit Yamas connotes reins, the restraints employed by a charioteer. The Yamas steer our interactions with others, teaching us how to navigate our interpersonal world with ethical behaviors to respect all others and create harmonious coexistence. “May all beings everywhere be happy and free...” Niyamas shares the same root, with the added prefix Ni, in this instance indicating inward or within. The Niyamas guide our internal practice and right relationship within ourselves. “...and may the thoughts, words, and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.”
The Yamas and Niyamas direct and focus our actions to achieve freedom and happiness for all, to reach ultimate union, or enlightenment. They are often described as guideposts, numbered in order reflecting Pantanjali's elucidation in the Yoga Sutras. However, we might consider the Yamas and Niyamas more as trail-marking cairns comprised of stacked stones. We might imagine that the stones have tumbled, and that we may rearrange them more stably in such a way to better illuminate our path and lend to more coherence. Let's consider a cairn with Satya & Santosha at its base, and place Brahmacharya & Svadhyaya second. We stack Aparigraha & Tapas third at the midpoint, followed by Asteya & Saucha. We cap the cairn with Ahimsa & Ishwara Pranidhana at the pinnacle. Arranged in this way, we're clearly directed toward social activism and anti-racism; it's the only way forward with applied practice.