Yama & Niyama – a guide

The spiritual path of yoga is much more than the postures we do on our mat. While the postures are important, they act as a gateway to integrating and understanding the subtler and profound practices of the yoga philosophical system, there is much more to yoga beyond your favorite yoga pose.

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.

This 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

The 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.

    • Yama
      • 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.
    • Niyama
      • 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, celebrate these practices with each breath and movement in your practice, there is much to be revealed through this study.