Yoga is more than poses…
Yamas & Niyamas constitute the first two limbs of the eightfold path of Yoga. Their primary purpose is to refine our character and conduct. This makes it easier to meditate, live a kind life, and create a pure body with great health.
The Yamas & Niyamas are transformational. They occupy a prime place in the practice of yoga. While practicing yoga positions (asanas) helps you gain relief from certain physical and mental challenges, the deeper magic of yoga lies in the full practice that includes the Yamas & Niyamas.
The Yamas & Niyamas are the dos and don’ts of Yoga. Yoga practice is absolutely incomplete and ineffective without this practice. Yama means restraint, or what you are NOT supposed to do. Niyama means observance, what you ARE to follow. The Yamas restrain negative behavior and impulses, while the Niyamas enhance virtues, positive qualities and traits.
Patanjali identified 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas in the Yoga Sutras as the main practices. He explained that the regular practice would counteract negative thoughts, leaving you with a peaceful mind. Whenever we’re plagued by a bad attitude, greed, delusion, anger or any other internal or external mind-malady, you can lean into the knowledge and understanding of the Yamas & Niyamas and succeed in living your yoga practice in each moment of your day.
The order of the eight limbs of Yoga has significance. The Yamas are first because they produce immediate positive result. The Niyamas actually depend upon the Yamas to be effective and require their sustained practice. The Niyamas are not universal in the sense that their practice may be conditional.
The 5 Yamas
The five Yamas are non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), celibacy (brahmacharya) and non-possessiveness (aparigraha).
The Yamas are universal restraints. They are really the common-sense laws of the universe and nature. They must be unconditionally practiced without interruption, exception or excuse. Nobody is exempt. No circumstance is an exception.
Nonviolence: Ahimsa, nonviolence, is the highest virtue and the root of all other virtues. Nonviolence means not harming or injuring oneself, or any living being, intentionally or unintentionally. Non-harm is carried with us everywhere in each moment, in thought, word and action. Live and act without causing disturbance to other people, animals or to our precious Earth.
Truthfulness: Satya, truthfulness, encompasses simple honesty and transparency in all aspects of life, character and conduct. While speaking, avoid ambiguity, deception and falsehood. Be congruent. Avoid speaking the truth if it is going to hurt or harm others (ahimsa). Choose silence instead.
Non-stealing: Asteya, non-stealing, means not taking things that belong to others without their permission. This also can expand to include time (lateness) and energy. The idea of non-stealing is deeply connected to the practice of detachment. Consume less.
Celibacy: Brahmacharya, the practice of conscious energy restraint, conserve our own energies to redirect them to personal and planetary evolution. This practice includes the careful use of our powerful sexual energy, as well as preserving all energy mentally and physically. Included in managing sexual energy are thinking, talking, and even joking about sex.
Non-possession: Aparigraha invites us to live a simple life of ease. The more stuff we own, the more there is to maintain, and that may bring attachment, fear of loss, and a desire for more. All things are subject to change and destruction, which causes those who are attached to things suffering and worry. Hoarding is an act of selfishness. A hoarder typically lacks compassion. Clean out your closets! Get rid of what you don’t use and feel the freedom of simplicity.
The 5 Niyamas
The five niyamas are cleanliness (saucha), contentment (santosa), austerity (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya) and surrender to the Divine (Isvara pranidhana)
Cleanliness: Saucha, cleanliness means both external and internal cleanliness. Where we live, and where we practice yoga, is to be kept clean and free from impurities and distractions. Personal hygiene and cleanliness of mind and body is a priority. Bathe regularly, cleanse your senses, and eat light, healthy food. Avoid heavy, chemical laden food and intoxicants, which yoga warns, will numb your mind and pollute your body.
Contentment: Santosha, contentment, is a cherished virtue. Whatever problems and circumstances arise, a Yogi remains content and cheerful. Cultivating santosha creates resilience. Desires have no power over us as we become free of aversions. Santosha cultivates a positive vibration of peace and harmony in the mind and body.
Austerity: Tapas, austerity, is mastering ownership of the mind and body. It’s doing the hard stuff with evenness of mind. Develop a state of calm in the face of adversity.
Study & recitation: Svadhyaya means self-study. Cultivate knowledge that’s related to yoga and evolution. Recite mantras, devotional prayers and read yogic texts. The purpose of Svadhyaya is to be proactive in training our minds with the teachings of yoga so we can practice with deeper knowledge, awareness and a good attitude.
Devotion: Ishwara Pranidhana, surrendering to the Divine, means in essence “thy will be done”. Everything happens in Divine and perfect order. Yoga invites us to engage our mind in this contemplation as an essential part of enlightenment. Identify with the deity of your choice, and be aware of the Divine within you, as you. Surrender to the highest good of all.
Deeper Benefits of Yamas & Niyamas
Yamas & Niyamas are the first two limbs of eight in Yoga. They’re placed before the other 6 limbs because the practice of Yoga is incomplete and ineffective without them. They help us overcome negative thoughts, become more contemplative and self-aware, and support focus and concentration. They also help us attain certain mystic powers. The Yoga sutras explain the benefits of practicing the Yamas & Niyamas. Don’t ever take them lightly! Below are the boons of embracing Yama & Niyama practice.
Negative feelings such as enmity, hostility or anger disappear when you are established in nonviolence.
When you’re established in truthfulness, whatever you say becomes true, which is one reason people seek support and advice from yogic masters.
When perfection in non-stealing is achieved, all the best things in the world come to you naturally: the best people, resources, opportunities and facilities. Why? So you can use your virtues and put them to right use and benefit the whole.
Perfection in celibacy results in the accumulation of vigor in your body, and brilliance in the mind. Then you may acquire mystical healing powers as well as powers to create, improve, conceal and/or transform.
Perfection in non-possession or non-covetousness you’ll gain knowledge of the cause and effect of your existence. You’ll gain access to cosmic memory.
Cleanliness cultivates clarity of mind and a healthy body.
Contentment develops concentration, sense-control, direct knowledge of Self, happiness and cheerfulness.
Austerities help you overcome impurities and attain perfection of the mind, senses and body.
Study and recitation of scriptures develops wisdom and a personal understanding of yoga.
Devotion results in transcendent experience and a personal relationship with your chosen deity.