Yamas and Niyamas | Yoga’s Guide To Living Peacefully

by Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Live a more fulfilling, happier life off the mat by internalizing the yamas and niyamas of yoga. This blog post explores these two concepts and shares how you can apply them in your own life.

Let me share with you a secret: one of the things that attracted me to yoga were the yogis I knew. These were people who have been practicing yoga for a couple of years. I noticed they tend to have this “glow” I couldn’t really explain. They appeared calmer, simpler, and, best of all, happier. I thought I wanted the same thing in my life. Of course, who wouldn’t? However, as I learned to do yoga, I realized the reason may be anchored on the practice’s yamas and niyamas.

Yamas and Niyamas | Yoga’s Guide To Living Peacefully

Learn The Ethics Or Moral Codes Of Yoga

Yamas and niyamas can be described as the guiding principles of yoga. Some even believe these are the Hindu’s equivalent to Christianity’s Ten Commandments (they have many differences, but they share similarities too, as you will discover later). I prefer to call them moral compasses or ethics.

8 Limbs of Yoga

Our discussion about yamas and niyamas will begin with the eight limbs of yoga. This philosophy is the core of yoga and even describes what yoga is about, which is a union of the mind, body, and spirit. Check out the image below to find out what comprises these 8 limbs:

Yamas

Yamas and Niyamas | Yoga's Guide To Living Peacefully

What are yamas? As you can see in the image pertaining to the eight limbs, it refers to restraint or control you impose upon yourself. You see, yoga doesn’t delight in excesses, which explains why, despite the complexities of the postures, there’s always the sense of simplicity in them. Some relate yamas to the relationship between yourself and others or the world. While the two concepts may be quite different, they are not once you go deeper.

When you exercise restraint or moderation, you are less likely to cause harm in others. To understand what this means, just look at the principles under yamas:

  • Ahimsa (non-harming)
  • Aparigraha (non-greed)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Satya (non-lying)
  • Brachmacharya (self-restraint or celibacy)

To put it in another way, if you are not greedy, then you can be more generous. If you don’t lie, you become a real representation of yourself to the world. If you exercise self-restraint in sexual pleasure, for example, you respect yourself and others in the process.

As a side note, remember when I said how these principles can be similar to the Ten Commandments? Well, there’s proof right there!

Niyamas

Yamas and Niyamas | Yoga's Guide To Living Peacefully

If yamas are about restraint or moderation, what are niyamas? The principles under niyamas are considered as observances, moral codes, or personal practices. Thus, if yamas deal with your relationship with the community, niyamas focus on the self. Look at the list below:

  • Tapas (sacrifice and discipline)
  • Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender)
  • Saucha (clarity)
  • Svadhyaya (self-exploration)
  • Santosha (contentment)

I believe if one person wants to change the world, he or she needs to begin doing that to himself or herself. Moreover, if one practices these principles of inner conduct, doing yamas shouldn’t be as difficult as one perceives. For example, if you have self-contentment, there’ s a very small chance you’d steal or be greedy.

Why Practice Yamas and Niyamas

You may ask, “I get that yamas and niyamas are a part of the eight limbs of yoga, but what do they mean to me and doing yoga?” The answer is a lot.

First, you have to understand the meaning of doing yoga. It’s definitely way more than developing proper breathing or doing perfect asanas. It’s about achieving oneness, receiving peace, and, most of all, avoiding suffering, may it be physical, social, emotional, or spiritual.

Further, there’s really no point in doing yoga if you don’t take the mind-body-spirit connection off the mat. These elements are interrelated, after all. For instance, if you are unhappy because you have been untruthful or greedy, it can result in a sloppy execution of postures.

As for me, yamas and niyamas teach me to be truthful in everything I do, say, and think. Truthfulness is an incredibly powerful tool and value any person can ever have.

Would you like to see how yamas and niyamas are integrated into yoga? See this video by Melissa West:

Practicing yamas and niyamas is extremely difficult, and don’t expect yourself to get all of them right. You also don’t need to do extreme changes in your life to achieve them. For one, you really don’t have to be celibate. It’s actually the little good things you do for yourself and others that can help you enjoy these principles in your life. For example:

  • Take care of your personal hygiene to exercise saucha.
  • Remove your anger and evil thoughts against others to live ahimsa in your life.
  • Arrive at your appointment on time to learn asteya.
  • Learn to accept the things you can do at this moment as a form of santosha.
  • Work out for at least 30 minutes a day consistently as a way of living tapas.

In yoga, you can begin your practice with yamas and niyamas with mudras and chants.

Enjoy a life truly well lived! Read these amazing tips! If there are topics you want me to discuss, please share it in the comments section below.

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