The Yamas and Niyamas - Personal Principles for living a peaceful life.
The Yamas and Niyamas - Personal Principles for living a peaceful life.
More than just a series of postures or "Asana" or merely an exercise programme, Yoga is actually a complete system for living your best life.
Incorporating the mental, physical and emotional aspects of ones life, yoga helps to bring about complete health and happiness which ultimately leads us to "moksha" or liberation/ freedom.
In the yoga sutras of Patanjali, he lays out eight limbs of the path of yoga which form the complete system of ashtanga yoga, of which the Yoga Postures or "Asana" are just one limb.
Below is a summary of the first two of the eight limbs, which cover the personal principles, values or ethics we should all strive to live by not just on our Yoga mat, but into all areas of our life.
They are the Yamas " Restraints" and the Niyamas "Observances"
Yamas – “Restraints” Dealing with the world around us/ our environment.
The Yamas form the first limb of Patanjali’s, eight limb path of Yoga.
They are a set of five moral, ethical and societal restraints that allow us to be at peace with ourselves, our family and our greater community.
The five Yamas are;
Ahimsa – Non Violence
Usually translated as non-violence, but could also be described as compassion for all living things, including oneself.
First and foremost, we have to learn how to be non-violent toward ourselves, which extents not only to the way we treat our physical body, but also the thoughts and judgements we make of ourselves. Any thought, word or action that prevents us (or someone else) from growing and living freely is one that is harmful.
Satya – Truth
Satya involves commitment to the truth at all times which means to live and speak our truth in all situations. Additionally, practicing Satya, means not only considering what is said, but also how it is said and in turn what consequences the truth will hold. We must speak, live and act the truth in a way that also respects Ahimsa, without harming anyone either intentionally or unintentionally. To be truthful also means not to hide your feelings, not to be evasive or make excuses.
Asteya – Non Stealing
Often translates as non-stealing, which can be taken in the obvious context, but Asteya is about more than not taking that which belongs to another, this idea extends not only to physical possessions but also the less obvious mental possessions, to rob someone of ideas, opportunity, hope or joy or to exploit nature or another being for one’s own gain.
When we are unkind to another we take away their joy, when we are critical and unkind to ourselves, we take away our own joy. When we take more than we need, we are leaving less for others. When we take from nature we are taking from the animals and the earth. When we are dishonest with ourselves and others we deny them or ourselves the truth.
On the contrary, when we practice gratitude and contentment, are kind and give generously, we cultivate feelings of abundance and joy thereby offsetting the feelings of lack, jealousy or unworthiness that so often feed our need to take more than we need or behave in ways that are selfish and unkind.
In short, to practice Asteya means to cultivate awareness around what we take from ourselves and others, including nature and not just in the physical sense but also emotionally and mentally. To take only that which we need and to give generously of what we have whilst also observing Ahimsa and Satya in respect to yourself and others, including nature.
Brahmacharya – Celibacy
Commonly translated as Celibacy, but more realistically as “right use of energy”.
Meaning that we must use our sexual energy wisely, that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm another.
This concept is also relevant in every other context, not just sexually, it means to consider how we use and direct our energy and perhaps directing our attention away from external desires and pleasures and instead focusing our energy on finding peace and happiness within ourselves.
Apariggraha – Non Grasping
Apariggraha, translates as no greed or grasping but also as non-attachment.
Teaching us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and to let go when the time is right.
Encouraging us not to become rigid or fixed on ideas or outcomes, to fully accept what is and find contentment.
In our physical practice, it teaches us to have a heathy respect for our body and its limitations and to enjoy the journey rather than being so focused on the destination or Asana.
We must let go of our attachments to who we think we are, or who we think we want to be and instead become who we truly are.
Only once we stop holding on, can we truly be free.
Niyamas – “Observances” Dealing with the world within us.
The Niyamas are the second limb of Patanjali’s, eight limb path of Yoga which include five virtuous habits to help us evolve toward more harmony.
They are behaviours and observances considered as necessary for us to achieve a self-realised, enlightened, liberated state of existence (moksha)
The five Niyamas are;
Shauca - Purity
On a physical level Saucha not only means regular daily hygiene, but also maintaining an awareness of diet and maintaining purity in the body and cleanliness in one’s surroundings.
On a spiritual level, saucha also involves purity of thoughts, feelings and actions toward oneself and all beings.
Santosha – Contentment
In its most basic translation Santosha means that happiness and inner contentment should not be dependent on external factors.
It means to develop gratitude and acceptance for ourselves and our personal circumstances whether on a material, physical or mental level, rather than seeking fulfilment in things, beliefs or experiences outside of ourselves.
Tapas - Self Discipline, or Burning desire
Literally translated as “fire” or “heat” Tapas is the disciplined use of our energy. The burning desire to work toward our desired goal, and that which we know is good for us, such as; going to Yoga class, committing to a healthy diet or regular excersize or making time to study.
Tapas is that inner wisdom that encourages us to practice, even when we don’t feel like it. It is the ability to overcome the voice in our head that says we are too tired, too busy, or not good enough.
Svadhyaya – Self Study
Svadhyaya relates to our ability to observe, analyse and reflect on our own behaviour, to meditate on the self.
To acknowledge our own tendencies, our strengths and weaknesses and how they might play out in all areas of our life, but also to be aware of what influences our behaviour both past and present so that we may grow and evolve as human beings into the best version of our selves.
Svadhyaya ultimately leads to recognition of our true nature, of the fact that whilst we are individual consciousness we are but a wave in a vast sea of consciousness.
The aim is, that we may discover our own divinity, beyond the mind, the ego and our limited sense of self, but to know ourselves as that infinite life force that is present in all beings and all aspects of the universe.
Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender to the divine
Ishvara Pranidhana means to devote or surrender our individual ego to god or a higher power, which in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe, and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.
It is our willingness to let go of the idea that we are somehow separate from the whole, but rather we come to realise we are god, we are the divine.
That we are perfect whole and complete and that everything that happens to us is perfect and exactly as it should be.
None of us are perfect, and being the best versions of ourselves is a constant practice of constant evolution, its the journey we are here for.
What are your key takeaways? More than likely reading this article has bought your attention to some of the areas of your life you can work on better practicing these principles.
If you have anything to offer or add, id love to hear from you in the comments below.
Wishing you all an abundance of love and peace.