What are the Yama’s and Niyama’s

If you are exploring or looking for a more holistic way of living, look no further than the first 2 petals/limbs of Yoga. You may have experienced more of the physical side of Yoga within a class setting however, scratch under the surface and you will find a multi-layered, multi-dimensional system that can help you live a more fulfilled, balanced, and happier life. Interested? Dive into the next bit.

The ancient tradition of Yoga originates from India as you may already know, however, its benefit is universal.

Yoga simply means to “Unite.” The integration of all the layers of life. (Emotional, physical, and spiritual).   The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are regarded as a deeply philosophical text, however, it can be viewed simply as a guide or even a manual on how to live a happier, more connected life. For me, it’s about carrying that calm, mindful experience from our Yoga practice or class into the day, week, month, and then out into the world.  It doesn’t just benefit the Yoga student, it also benefits everything and everyone around us as we live a more connected, compassionate, kinder way of life. Uniting us all, with no separation or divide.

So, there are 8 petals or limbs within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but we’ll look at the first 2.

    1. Yama’s
    2. Niyama’s

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Eight limbs of yoga

The Yama’s

I understand the Yama’s as being “Ethical Practices.” It’s about the world around you, society, the bigger picture. If we want to change the world we live in, it begins with what we do daily. It can also relate to how we behave towards ourselves. This is as applicable to life and living today as it was in Patanjali’s time.

The 5 Yama’s are

    1. Ahimsa – non-harming or non-violence.
    2. Satya – Truthfulness
    3. Asteya– non-stealing
    4. Brahmacharya –  Moderation
    5. Aparigraha– Nonattachment, non-greed, non-hoarding.

Ahimsa is really talking about non-violence in all aspects of our life e.g., never physically harming others, ourselves, and nature. It can also mean the way in which we think and speak to ourselves and others and also our actions. e.g., negative thoughts about ourselves or others, the language we use.

Satya (true essence, pure, unchangeable) doesn’t just focus on not telling untruths or lies but actually relates also to not seeing the truth or reality in our own lives and situations. It challenges us to ask the questions such as,

“If we are unable, to be honest with ourselves then how can we be honest in other parts of our lives”?

Complete honesty with ourselves requires us to create a little bit of space, stillness or at least some slowing down of the mind. It also relates to speaking our own truth and living from that place.

Asteya isn’t just about physically stealing but the craving, greed and desire that can lead to this. Lack, insecurity, wanting, feeling ‘incomplete’ …. It all boils down to feeling like there’s something missing. By practicing yoga on and off the mat we can enable ourselves to feel from within, that we are already enough.

Brahmacharya translates into “right use of energy” which makes us think about how we use and direct our energy. It makes us think of external behaviours we have that may be great at the time, but often do not lead to lasting results. Instead, it highlights “moderation” and ultimately finding peace and happiness within ourselves.

Aparigraha is about taking only what we need, keeping only what serves us in the moment, and then let go when the time is right. This teaching is saying that we should never concern ourselves with the outcome of a situation but only concern ourselves with what we are actually doing right now as we work towards that outcome. If you know you have something to do or share with the world, do it and do it with all your heart. Let go of what might come of it and just do it. (Bhagavad Gita Text)

The Niyama’s

I look at the Niyama’s as being internal practices. Practices for our own personal care help us live happier, healthier lives. These also have a positive effect on the outside world.

The 5 Niyama’s are

    1. Saucha– cleanliness
    2. Santosha – contentment
    3. Tapas– discipline, austerity or ‘burning enthusiasm
    4. Svadhyaya– study of the self
    5. Isvara Pranidhana – surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power

Saucha means cleanliness of body, mind spirit, and surroundings, all helping us towards living a positive life.

Santosha means accepting and appreciating what we have and what we are already and moving forwards from there. It is really saying to look inside ourselves to realise that peace and happiness come from within and anything external only brings attachment and continual searching.

Tapas is an aspect of our inner wisdom that encourages us to get up and do things, even when we maybe don’t really want to. It is the fire and the heat of discipline and effort. It can be our desire for personal growth.

Svadhyaya is one of my favourites and all about discovering who you are. It allows us to look at our habits and thought processes. It makes us look at our own internal dialogue and to perhaps see patterns that have become ingrained or subconscious behaviour that may be affecting our life. It allows us to become aware of repetitive behaviours or thoughts which may potentially harm us over time but also what does serve us and bring us closer to uniting with the true self.

Isvara Pranidhana in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe and making each action an offering to something bigger than us.  ‘God’ is a very tricky word to work with; there are a lot of people who find even discussing the concept of a God (or as in the Hindu tradition – many Gods!) uncomfortable. To me, this represents collective consciousness and therefore represents all of us. Cultivating trust and unity for the good of humanity.

The Yama’s and Niyama’s are truly wonderful and if you are looking for some direction with Holistic living or, you resonate with any of the above, why not try and incorporate them into your life and see what happens.  Remember, it’s all about practice. Every day, we have another chance to begin again.

KP xxx