Yamas and Niyamas
Known as the ethical guidelines to yoga, the Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs on Patanjali’s 8-limbed path to spiritual enlightenment. Understanding the Yamas and Niyamas helps us yogis live our yoga on and off our mat, guiding us toward peace, nonviolence, and bliss.
What are Yamas?
Yamas are the universal ethics, vows, and values we have towards other people and society. The yamas govern any interactions that take place outside of ourselves—including our interactions with friends, family members, and animals.
The first of the five Yamas, Ahimsa stands for nonviolence in speech, thought, and action to others and self, whether awake or dreaming. As you contemplate Ahimsa, remember: When you are nonviolent, others will abandon their hostility in your presence.
Satya is about truthfulness and integrity in all communications. Achieving Satya means aligning your actions with the truth in your heart. When we get clear about who we are, the disconnect between what we say and what we do disappears.
Achieving Asteya is about balancing that which you give and that which you receive. It represents non-stealing—which includes not stealing from others’ time by being late or interrupting them as they speak.
Brahmacharya is the conservation of life force energy. Traditionally, it includes the practice of abstinence, but in our modern culture, it’s less about abstaining from sex and more about gaining control of our senses and channeling that energy internally.
The absence of attachment and greed is the essence of Aparigraha, which can be very difficult to achieve, especially in a society fueled by instant gratification. Everyday, it is important that we practice taking only that which is necessary for our survival.
What are Niyamas?
Niyamas are a continuation of the Yamas. However, instead of governing the way in which we interact with others and the world around us, Niyamas have to do with our relationship with ourselves. They are commonly referred to as self-restraints or self-disciplines.
When you think about Saucha, think about internal and external cleanliness. In what ways do you keep your body, mind, and spirit clean? Saucha reminds us that whatever is happening to us internally will eventually show Up externally.
Santosha directly follows Saucha for a reason. When you cleanse your body, mind, and spirit, Santosha (contentment) comes naturally. Contentment means that at our core, we are whole and complete. We aren’t altered by daily occurrences because we have reached a state of bliss.
If you practice at Up Yoga, chances are you’ve heard the word Tapas before. Tapas is our zeal, or inner fire. To achieve Tapas, we must burn everything down and see what’s left. This is where transformation happens. With intense change comes intense growth.
Svadhyaya involves self-inquiry and examination (which we do a lot of at Up Yoga). Over the years, our intuition falls sleep. By being completely honest with ourselves about who we are and where our blind spots and biases exist, we are able to wake our intuition back Up.
The fifth Niyama involves surrendering to a higher power. It doesn’t have to be the Christian God you may have grown up with, or a deity at all. It simply means you have faith in a master plan, that the universe supports you, and that your life is unfolding exactly as it should.
Putting the Yamas & Niyamas into Practice
If there’s one thing we want you to remember about the Yamas and Niyamas, it’s that you already have each of them within you. Every time you step onto your yoga mat, sit atop your meditation pillow, or self-reflect in your journal, you are in the work and actively uncovering each of the Yamas and Niyamas, helping you reach a state of bliss and lifelong enlightenment.
To learn more about the building blocks of yoga, keep an eye on our Upcoming workshops.