Embarking on the spiritual journey of yoga transcends the physical postures practiced on the mat, leading us deeper into the heart of its philosophical system with the Yamas and Niyamas.
These foundational principles offer more than mere guidelines for practice; they are essential steps towards integrating yoga’s profound teachings into our daily lives, far beyond the limits of our favorite poses.
In this blog post we’ll explore the 5 Yamas and Niyamas and how you can incorporate them into your practice and daily life.
The Eight-Limbed Path of yoga
In the yoga sūtras (a how-to book on yoga c. 400-500 C.E.), we learn yoga is a journey toward freedom and knowledge.
This journey is laid out as an Eight-Limbed Path which builds from a foundation of the Yamas and Niyamas. The Eight-Limbed Path consists of:
- Yama – Guidelines for interacting with the external world
- Niyama – Guidelines for interacting with ourselves as beings in the world
- Āsana – Postures for meditation
- Prāṇāyāma – Breath practices
- Pratyāhāra – Sensory control
- Dhāraṇā – Concentration
- Dhyāna – meditation
- Samādhi – Peace/Bliss
What are the 5 Yamas and Niyamas?
The 5 Yamas and Niyamas are guidelines for how we interact with ourselves and the world around us and help us to overcome suffering and experience increased peace within ourselves and our lives.
The 5 Yamas
- ahiṁsā – non-violence in thought, word and deed
- satya – honesty and truthfulness in the words we speak, the thoughts we think, the activities we participate in, the food we eat, the way we treat our body, the way we keep our home, etc.
- asteya – non-stealing as a lifestyle, including our ideas and our behavior in relationships, and our exchange of time, energy, thoughts, feelings, trust, generosity, etc.
- brahmacarya – celibacy and the conservation of our sacred and vital energy
- aparigrahāḥ – non-grasping, allowing for a state of flow to exist within all connections.
The 5 Niyamas
- śauca – physical, energetic and mental cleanliness. Yogis must work to keep their environment clean, their physical body clean and their inner thoughts and intentions clean.
- saṃtoṣa – contentment in all situations, in every moment, allowing for yogis to experience the vast network of connectivity which weaves the fibers of existence together
- tapaḥ – self-discipline, continuing to practice and observe the experiences of life and reduce suffering for ourselves and others
- svādhyāya – self-study, the repetition of mantras and the study of sacred texts
- iśvarapraṇidhānām – connection to something which is greater then yourself
These limbs of yoga allow us to set out along our spiritual journey with a guidebook of how to approach this journey toward freedom.
Our yoga practice is vast and expansive, explore these practices with each breath and movement in your practice, there is much to be revealed through this study.
How to apply Yamas and Niyamas in life
To apply the Yamas and Niyamas in life, start by practicing mindfulness and self-reflection.
For the Yamas:
- focus on non-violence (Ahimsa) by practicing kindness and compassion towards yourself and others
- truthfulness (Satya) by being honest in your thoughts, words, and actions
- non-stealing (Asteya) by respecting others’ time, energy, and property
- continence (Brahmacharya) by maintaining self-control and moderation
- and non-covetousness (Aparigraha) by letting go of jealousy and embracing contentment with what you have.
For the Niyamas:
- cultivate purity (Saucha) through cleanliness and healthy habits;
- contentment (Santosha) by finding joy in the present moment;
- self-discipline (Tapas) by setting and pursuing meaningful goals;
- self-study (Svadhyaya) by reflecting on personal growth;
- and surrender to a higher power (Ishvara Pranidhana) by recognizing the bigger picture in life.
Integrating these principles requires daily practice and intention, gradually weaving them into your behavior and mindset for a more balanced and ethical lifestyle.
Why are the Yamas and Niyamas important for a yoga teacher to know?
The Yamas and Niyamas are crucial for a yoga teacher to know because they form the ethical and moral foundation of yoga practice, guiding both personal conduct and teaching methodology.
Understanding these principles enables teachers to create a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for all students.
For yoga teachers, the Yamas encourage behaviors that promote harmony, integrity, and empathy within the classroom, fostering a sense of community and trust.
The Niyamas support personal growth and self-care, essential for teachers to sustain their energy, passion, and ability to inspire others.
By embodying the Yamas and Niyamas, teachers exemplify the deeper aspects of yoga beyond physical postures, enriching the learning experience and encouraging students to incorporate these values into their own lives, thus fostering a more profound and holistic yoga journey.