If you've ever heard a yoga teacher mention a yama in class and looked around thinking what did she say? Lama? Is that a new pose? This, my friend, is for you.
First, it's important to explain that there are '8 limbs' of yoga. Think of a friendly old spider like Charlotte from Charlotte's Web (80's kid reference) with her 8 lovely long legs. Asana, the physical practice of yoga is just one of our wise & helpful spider's legs, the third to be precise. The Yamas & Niyamas are her first two.
Put simply they are ethical and moral guidelines that help us navigate a joyful, meaningful, pure and simple life. Eventually the idea is that we will reach a blissful state of enlightenment (Samadhi - the last of Charlotte's spindly legs).
This is my simple interpretation of the yamas and niyamas, obviously I don't claim it to be a comprehensive breakdown of each, I'll leave that to the pro's. But this is what they mean to me right now... I hope you find it helpful.