The Yamas and Niyamas – Look a Little Deeper

Posted By Leslie Abram on Jan 11, 2019 | 0 comments

The First two limbs of yoga: The Yamas and Niyamas

Yoga is a system that extends beyond doing yoga postures; it is a way of living.

The Yama and Niyamas are a guide to choices you can make in everyday life to bring more ease and joy to you and those around you. Studying the Yamas and Niyamas will help us develop the skills to choose our attitude, to choose what we think, and to choose what we do

Living skillfully does not mean that things will always go the way we want them to; it means that we are equipped to gracefully meet whatever life greets us with.

The 5 Yamas,

A Sanskrit word which translates literally into the word “restraints” and includes:

ahimsa (nonviolence),

satya (truthfulness),

asteya (nonstealing),

brachmacharya (nonexcess), and

aparigraha (nongrasping).

The 5 Niyamas,  “personal observances,”  include:

saucha (purity),

santosha (contentment),

tapas (self-discipline, heat),

svadhyaya (self-study), and

ishvara pranidhana (surrender).

The Yamas:

1. Ahimsa: Non-Violence

“Compassion is not religious business, it is human business, it is not luxury, it is essential for our own peace and mental stability, it is essential for human survival.”
– Dalai Lama XIV

Love lies at the core of nonviolence and begins with our love of self. Not a love that is ego-centric but a love that is forgiving and lenient.

2. Satya: Truth

“The great mistake “  is believing the world is coming AT us not FROM us, that things have qualities inherent in themselves . The fluidity of truth also requires that we clean our lens, and periodically get new glasses with which to observe the world. Our seeing is limited by all the groups that shape us, as well as by our experience. What we believe, whether we are aware of that belief or not, informs everything we do and every choice we make.

Consider the truth of the heart, rather than the truth of the head.

3. Asteya -Non-stealing

Consider how we steal from others through time, attention, “one-upmanship,” power, idle gossip. How can we be a “forklift” so that everyone we come into contact with feels uplifted because they were in our presence.

How do we steal our own time? How do we steal from our present moment contentment by worrying about the future or dwelling on the past?

How do we steal from the earth and steal from the future? How can we be part of the world without taking from it excessively?

4. Brachmacharya- non-excess

Life is full of pleasurable things and we are meant to enjoy them. It gives us energy. But after a certain point if we take it to excess they can actually make us feel badly, and take away our energy. We tend to have the same patterns of behaviour and do this again and again.

How can we enjoy life without going overboard?
Food, sex, exercise, material possessions, etc
When is enough enough? Where is that tipping point between enjoying and excess?

5. Aparigraha- non-grasping

-give up thinking that external things and other people have the ability to impart happiness.

“The Big 5”
Money and Possessions
Physical Body

Attachments are like nailing ourselves to our need for someone or something to continue to be the same and to always be there for us in the same way.

True happiness comes from within, not from outside us.

The Niyamas:

1.Saucha -Purity

Clean up our acts so we can be more available to the qualities in life that we are seeking.

Like the body, the mind and soul need time to digest and assimilate. Like the body, the mind and soul need time to rest. We create this rest by allowing space that we can breathe in. Not more clutter, but more space, space to reflect, space to journal, space for closure, space for imagination, and space to feel the calling of the life force within us. (D. Adele)

Declutter our physical space. Everything we own takes up a space in our mind.

Stop multitasking. Though we brag about being able to do it, it actually decreases our productivity by 40%. It wastes our time.

2. Santosha- Contentment:

-The keys to contentment: gratitude, and living in the present moment

“In our daily lives we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but gratefulness that makes us happy.” Albert Clarke

Dropping what “should be” for “what is”

discontentment is articulated in conditional sentences, statements that begin with “if only” or it should/n’t

-Live in the present. Worrying about tomorrow doesn’t change tomorrow. But it does change today—and not for the better.
-Start each day with gratitude for what is right

3. Tapas- Fire, Discipline

Having a personal practice/routine that helps you lead the life you really want to be living.

Pattabhi Jois:, “Practice, and all is coming.”

In yoga, having a daily disciplined practice is referred to as “Sadhana”

4. Svadhyaya, -Self Study

We suffer, the yogis tell us, because we forget who we are. We think we are the boxes we are wrapped in and forget that we are really “hiding” inside. Svadhyaya, or self-study, is about knowing our true identity and understanding the boxes we are wrapped in. “ (D.Adele)

Self-study asks us to look at the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and realize that these stories create the reality of our lives.

Remember that self study is always done with compassion and loving kindness, and without judgement.

Meditation is an important aspect of self-study; it is a place where we grow the witness, recognize our belief systems,

5. Ishvara pranidhana: Surrender

Rather than paddling upstream, surrender is an invitation to go with the underlying current, enjoy the ride, and take in the view. (D. Adele)

Ideas for Meditation or Journalling on the Yamas and Niyamas

(adapted from Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life- Lama Marut )

1.Helping Someone

Think about someone you helped, and how that felt
how can you help someone tomorrow?

2. Your Blessed Life

Think about all the things that are going right in your life

food, shelter, clothing, heat, car, vacation, education, gadgets, people who love you, friends and family, health, medical care, being alive

3. Happiness

What do you want out of life?
What voices are stopping you from being happy?
Use the tools of reason and true compassion for others

4. Gratitude

Pay attention- Gratitude is the opposite of taking things for granted.
gratitude journal
mantra: Ohm, thank you, a hum complaining fast one day a week

prayer of gratitude before eating

5. Learn from difficult people
-name each person
-name what lessons you have learned from them

6. worrying about the future

“worrying about tomorrow doesn’t change tomorrow. But it does change today, and not for the better.”

-never as we envisioned it

-so why worry

hypothetical tragic events in future destroy present moment happiness

Action plan: list what you are worried about and all the possible outcomes good and bad. Reflect.

7. Lesson about the nature of Life- “Life is Suffering” Buddha (did you think you were immune?)

-suffering is part of life

-suffering is impermanent
-suffering can cause us to be able to cultivate compassion for others -suffering teaches us
-what lessons can we learn from suffering

8.  “There’s Never a Good time to be Upset.”
-does it ever improve a situation?
-resolve to maintain your equilibrium- remaining calm, cool, and collected is always the most intelligent strategy

Action Plan: The complaining fast (One day a week)

If you don’t like what is happening, reflect on possible causes, and think about what seeds to plant in present to avoid repetition of problem.

9. Randomness and Meaninglessness

We must stop blaming other people, outer circumstances, or our lack of the latest consumer gadget for our perpetual discontent.

Overcome the paralysis of lazy or cynical doubt

Take responsibility for planting the seeds today of the world you want to live in in the future.

10. Everything’s OK, here and now

Notice what’s happening:

smells, sounds

Notice that when you actually occupy the present everything is ok here and now

Be here now, keep up with the ever-changing present

Relax into that contented state of mind here in the present with nothing that needs

to be different, nothing that needs to be done perfectly, just as it is here and now


A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life – Lama Marut
The Yamas and Niyamas – Deborah Adele
The Essential Yoga Sutra: Ancient Wisdom for Your Yoga – Geshe Michael Roach

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice – Desikachar


The 8 Limbs of Yoga
  • YAMAS – Restraints, moral disciplines or moral vows.
  • NIYAMAS – Positive duties or observances.
  • ASANA – Physical Postures.
  • PRANAYAMA – Breathing techniques.
  • PRATYAHARA – Sense withdrawal.
  • DHARANA – Focused concentration.
  • DHYANA – Meditative absorption.
  • SAMADHI – Bliss or enlightenment.