Yamas and Niyamas

Yogie sitting

The late Dr. B.K.S. Iyengar described Yamas and Niyamas as the “golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates”.Rather than commandments, Yamas and Niyamas can be seen as a guide to living a soulful life—a way to bring our bodies, minds and spirits into balance.

Maharishi Patanjali, believed to have lived in the 2nd Century BCE (Before Common Era or Before Christ) was an Indian sage, scientist and doctor who wrote the Yoga Sutras.Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is seen as the authoritative text of Yoga.In this text, Patanjali talks about the 8 limbs of Yoga, which provide a guide for a meaningful life.The Yamas and Niyamas are 2 of the 8 limbs referred to by Pantajali. The Yamas or “social ethics” focus on our actions in community with others and the world as a whole.The Niyamas or “personal practices” focus more on Self, on our relationship with our physical and psychological selves.

Joga Junction will delve into these 2 limbs and how to integrate them into your day to day life, taking your Yoga Practice off the mat and into your world.


Ahimsa (Non-violence)

– to do no harm.Not only physical non-violence but mental, spiritual and emotional non-violence as well.You can first apply this to your physical yoga practice—avoid coming to your mat with judgement of your self—tainting your energy with desire and expectation making room for self-love and self-acceptance.Then begin to broaden your thoughts and actions beyond the mat—avoiding harming others, not speaking violently about others (gossip)—embracing kindness and compassion.

Satya (Truthfulness)

– committing to truth in all things—your words, actions, intentions.Living authentically and without fear.It is the fear of others judgements, anger, disappointment and abandonment that leads us the direction of non-truth.Practicing Ahimsa and the other Yamas will help you to welcome and accept love which fuels honesty.

Asteya (Non-stealing)

– Asteya is more than not stealing physical things.Think of a time when you were someone’s ‘listening ear’—did you really listen or did you go into your head to reflect on your own similar experience, coming up with a reply before the person is even finished?Non- stealing applies to another’s time, their vulnerability.It also refers to refraining from taking more than you need.

Brahmacharya (Non-excess)

– moderation.Managing practices/behaviors that take energy away in unhealthy ways.“What can’t you detach yourself from and why?” It can be relating to physical objects or patterns/habits/reactions that can take away from living more simply and deflect your energy away from the Highest Reality.

Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness)

– a knowledge of one’s self and confidence in one’s abilities and being content with “where you are, with what you have, and with whom you share it with”. Non-possessiveness is refraining for grasping or clinging to any person, event or thing and respecting the journey.


Santosha (Contentment)

– be content where you are. Be content with what you attain. Actively practice gratitude and appreciation for what is. “Look inside the fence, not over it.” When you practice Santosha you find that what you need in right here in the moment.

Tapas (Self-discipline)

– the practice of willingly going through adversities or challenges without complaint. Making choices that support the “you” that you want to become. Clearing away from mind and body of the “daily residue” that can accumulate, clouding your vision. Self-discipline to stay on the path of love and truth—this fuels an internal fire which is known as Tapas.

Svadhyaya (Self-study)

– turning inward, observing thoughts, feelings, the inner self and learning about the Self. Building self-awareness allows you to avoid competing with others in your Yoga practice and off the mat. Over the course of your life, we experience events that leave “scars”. We hold on to these, in our bodies, minds and spirit until we go back and get rid of them. Svadhyaya is not easy—but it is incredibly rewarding and worth the work.

Ishvara Prandihana (Surrender)

– a letting go and surrendering to the higher Self—to see yourself in the context of the Universe. Ishavara Prandihana is about faith and courage and celebrating your life and surrendering to it.

Saucha (Purity)

– physical, mental and environmental purity. Saucha invites us to purify/cleanse our bodies, our thoughts, our words. To clean out what does not serve you, physically and mentally. It also refers to how we treat the environment. Taking care of your self and your environment allows you the freedom to give of yourself to others.

Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “To the extent you practice Yamas and Niyamas, you will go deeper into your practice and purpose of yoga.There is no need to doubt or analyze yourself too much.Jest the intention to practice Yamas and Niyamas is good enough...Just sow the seeds, keep nurturing them with your practice and relax.The seeds will sprout.”

Take the lead from nature—as the snow melts and new growth begins, you too, can begin to plant seeds of personal growth through the Yamas and Niyamas and use them both on and off your mat to move toward personal freedom.

In peace and harmony,