Yamas and Niyamas: An Inside Guide to The Ethical Principles of Yoga

Yoga is known to have a number of benefits including increased flexibility, improved circulation, and greater self-awareness. However, yoga frequently comes to be solely associated with the actual motions and flow that is performed during its practice, otherwise known as vinyasa yoga. The ethical principles that accompany these motions are often left unknown; however, they are just as important to the practice of yoga as the actual movements themselves.

Here to help you embrace your best internal and external self, this is an introduction to the yamas and niyamas, the ethical principles of yoga.

Yamas and Niyamas – What are They?

Yamas and Niyamas come from The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, a collection text of 196 Indian sutras. Traditionally, a sutra is a collection of truths and principles or aphorisms, which outline the eight limbs of yoga.

This text is seen as an authoritative vehicle for offering a guide on how to successfully live a meaningful life. Those practicing yoga are encouraged to establish a healthy mind and body through practicing yamas and niyamas, the first two steps on the path to spiritual awakening.

The Five Yamas 

Ahimsa

Ahimsa embodies the notion of non-violence and non-harm. This can primarily take form by non-harming yourself or others through words, actions, or even mean-spirited thoughts. Ahimsa means being kind to yourself and those around you, uplifting your mind and body with positive thoughts while spreading it outward to others. Ahimsa is practicing self-love because one you have love for yourself, you carry it around with you.

 Satya

Satya encourages truthfulness and honesty with yourself and other people. This principle holds that we do not deceive ourselves in thoughts, actions, or emotions whether that is internally or with others. Truth in all aspects of life are necessary to successfully embody Satya.

Asteya

This ethical principle means non-stealing. Though stealing can be interpreted in the literal sense of not taking things that do not belong to you, it also translates to stealing time or energy. Asteya can mean looking away from Instagram for a few hours and utilizing that time for something beneficial. It can be as simple as not misleading other people in relationships, not interrupting conversations or not claiming someone else’s work as your own. Asteya emphasizes justice, not just towards others but to ourselves as well.

Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is the principle of self-restraint or limiting desires of excess. Practicing Brahmacharya entails learning when you have enough of something and being happy with this amount. Life presents a number of physical and mental temptations whether they are material or emotionally driven. This principle encourages obtaining control over these impulses and breaking any bonds that may hinder your progress.

Aparigraha

Aparigraha means non-possessiveness and non-greed. It encourages the banishment of feelings such as jealousy and need for control. Practicing this principle can mean not being jealous of other people’s successes and not being greedy for the things we cannot possess. The only thing we are able to fully possess is ourselves, and embracing the best form of this internal self means letting go of negativity, jealousy, and greed that enslaves us and does not allow our minds and bodies to peacefully flourish.

The yamas in total constitute a code of social restraint in which we learn to to avoid the negativity that limits our own capabilities and self-growth. The yamas focus on achieving self-love and comfort within our own lives, principles that should be manifested by all.

The Five Niyamas

While the yamas focus on bettering ourselves by eliminating the harms of the internal self and external world, the niyamas emphasize self-discipline through emphasis on purification.

Saucha

Saucha applies to cleanliness which can be practiced in any environments. Cleanliness refers to having a clean space to work or to breathe. It can also mean wearing clean clothes and showering to rid the body of the day’s stresses. This allows for an open and purified energy to orbit around you. The difference between clutter and organization and messy versus clean may not seem essential, but these small differences undoubtedly play a big role in the way we navigate and embrace life.

Santosha

Santosha mainly applies to contentment in being happy with ourselves even when we feel as though we shouldn’t be. Of course there is always room to improve in molding ourselves to be better versions, but even the most minute accomplishments should be celebrated, even setbacks. This is all part of santosha.

Tapas

Tapas refers to discipline and heat in terms of finding passion in the things that we do. This passion turns into a sort of self-discipline which can easily be applied in all parts of life – working, our education, and relationships are just a few examples.

Svadhyaya

This practice utilizes studying both the self and sacred scriptures/ texts. Sacred texts does not physically refer to reading The Yoga Sūtras in their entirety but rather studying our inner selves, desires, and reflecting on that. This principle embodies becoming more aware and utilizing motivational scripts and texts to help us affirm our beliefs and become closer to obtaining self-realization.

Yamas and niyamas
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Isvara Pranidhana

Perhaps one of the more complicated disciplines in surrendering to a higher power, Isvara Pranidhana is a more spiritual principle. In today’s world this does not have to mean God but something that you yourself believe in and look towards for guidance. Surrendering can mean God, but it can also mean nature, the universe, or something that motivates you. Find what you believe in and utilize that to harness your own energy.

Practicing these moral principles is beneficial for both the internal self and for the wellbeing of those around you. Try incorporating little bits of yamas and niyamas into your everyday life and see the value they bring to even the smallest of things. Even if you choose not to, just as I received an unexpected eye awakening in learning these principle, perhaps you have as well.