“Without Yama & Niyama as our guides,
There is no Yoga.”
Yamas: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha
Niyamas: Shaucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya, Ishwara Pranidhana
What are they?
The Yamas and Niyamas are the foundation of yoga. They are the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eight-limbed system of yoga called Ashtanga, or Raja Yoga. You can find them in Yoga Sutras II.29-45.
Yamas and Niyamas are ten good common-sense guidelines for leading a healthier, happier life – bringing spiritual awareness into a social context. They help you view yourself and others with compassion and awareness, balancing your inner growth with outer restraint.
Yamas and Niyamas are not about right and wrong. They are about being honest with ourselves.
Yoga is more than a physical discipline. By doing asanas alone, without the incorporation of Yama and Niyama, there will be very little advancement upon the spiritual path. So, Yama and Niyama are methods of yoga in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.
Yamas: Self-Restraints, Controls
The Yamas are really the first step in a practice that addresses the whole fabric of our lives. Yama tells us what to avoid doing because it would do harm to others. All Yamas apply to actions, words and thoughts.
1) Ahimsa: Non-violence, Non-injury, Non-Harm, Compassion for all living things
• Refers to not only physical violence, but also the violence of words or thoughts
• To practice this is to be constantly vigilant, to observe ourselves in interaction with others and to notice our thoughts and intentions
• In considering Ahimsa, it’s helpful to ask, “Are my thoughts, actions, and deeds fostering the growth and well being of all beings?”
2) Satya: Truthfulness, Honesty
• This Yama is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others
• Speak with the intention of being truthful, given that what you call the “truth” is filtered through your own experiences and beliefs about the world
• Not lying, not gossiping, not concealing the truth, not exaggerating
3) Asteya: Non-stealing
• Often understood as not taking what is not ours, it can also mean not taking more than we need
• Not robbing people of their own experiences and freedom
• Non-desire for another’s possessions, qualities or status
4) Brahmacharya: Moderation, Sexual mindfulness – in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
• Does not mean giving up sex, it also means to transmute the energy of sex into something else, principally, devotion to God / Divine Spirit
• Ultimately it is not a matter of whether we use our sexual energy but how we use it
• In looking at your own relationship to sexual energy, consider whether the ways you express that energy that bring you closer to or farther away from your spiritual self
5) Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness, Non-greed, Non-selfishness, Not grasping
• Voluntary simplicity, not accumulating things beyond what is necessary, non-attachment to possessions
• Greed is not just confined to material goods – we may hunger after enlightenment, difficult asanas, spiritual powers, or perfect bliss
• The practice of Aparigraha also requires that we look at the way we use “things” to reinforce our sense of identity – objects such as the right clothes, car, house, job, or image to maintain this illusion
Niyamas: Observances, Disciplines, Devotion
Niyama is the second step of the Eightfold Path of Patanjali. Like the five Yamas, the Niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied. Compared with the Yamas, the Niyamas are more intimate and personal. They refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.
1) Shaucha: Purification, Cleanliness
• Involves maintaining cleanliness in body, mind, and environment.
• The deepest and most subtle aspect of Saucha is purity of thoughts and feelings.
• You might be purifying your relationships, maybe letting go of some toxic people in your life to make room for something more pure.
2) Santosha: Contentment, Peacefulness, Modesty, Happiness
• Feeling of being content with what we have, to live in this moment, to be present
• Santosha encompasses our mental activities such as study, our physical efforts, and even how we earn our living
• It is about ourselves-what we have and how we feel about what has been given to us, it is about our whole outlook on life. Do we look at a cup as half empty or as half full?
3) Tapas: Burning enthusiasm, Austerity, Discipline
• Literally translates as “fire” or “heat”
• Tapas is the disciplined use of our energy, directing it to keep us on track so that we don’t waste our time and energy on superfluous or trivial matters
• When we can generate an attitude of burning enthusiasm, the strength of our convictions generates a momentum that carries us forward, boring or unpleasant tasks can be transformed when we work with vigor and impulsion
4) Svadhyaya: Introspective self-study, Spiritual study
• The word Svadhyaya literally means “to get close to something” – It means to get close to yourself, that is, to study yourself
• One focus of this Niyama is learning from our own lives, we are our own teachers and our lessons are everywhere
• How does Svadhyaya show up for you in your life? What are you studying? How do you study? Who is your teacher? Is study a part of your everyday life?
5) Ishwara Pranidhana: surrender, offering of one’s life to the Divine Spirit
• Carry out all our actions, spoken, or unspoken, without desiring their fruit, and offering them to the Divine Spirit
• Believing that we have done all that we can and then trusting that things will work out
• When we sit in meditation we are practicing surrender