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Discover the Foundations of Yoga: Yama and Niyamas

According to yogi tradition, there are eight limbs of yoga that are ethical guidelines and practices that are necessary for the transition from the outer to the inner. These guidelines were set out in the classical yoga text, Yoga Sutra by Patanjali. Peacefulness and oneness can be obtained through this transition. Yoga is a lifestyle that requires the ability to be free from what we think we know. The limbs are related to all aspects of human existence and can be practiced in synchrony or separately. Each is as important as the next.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga Are:


2. Niyamas

3. Asana

4. pranayama

5. pratyahara

6. Dharana


The Yamas and niyamas are the foundations of yoga and are a type of living and being. These are important as they must be achieved in order to transition into further practices and ultimately reach a union.

Yamas are defined as self-constraints or controls. They are a way in which we impede our thoughts, language, emotions, and actions with regard to how we interact with others or our surroundings and nature. They remind us that we are all connected. Niyamas are inner restraints so refer to our daily activities, our attitudes, emotions, and thoughts toward ourselves.

Yama and niyamas are necessary in daily life as they allow us to cultivate a more present and conscious way of living. They are guidelines for moral and ethical conduct, but they bring our awareness towards our actions and thoughts. Meaning they provide us with a more mindful existence. It is only through this path that we become a more present human and are able to cultivate a healthy life and feeling of contentment. Our quality of life is dependent on our quality of living and the yamas and niyamas help us to improve that quality of living.

Yamas and Niyamas are more related to yoga off the mat as they give us a framework for a higher experience of existing, but they also improve our experience on the mat as they allow us to improve the other limbs of yoga, such as pranayama, pratyahara and meditation. Ultimately helping us reach samadhi, ‘union’ or oneness. However, without the practice of yamas and niyamas, asana practice is merely an act of physical movement. We must be strong in these first in order to achieve yoga completely.

There are ten yamas and niyamas. Five of each. One of the Yamas is Satya which is defined as truthfulness, being honest to our self and being true to others. Acting with strong moral principles and not concealing or exaggerating the truth to make yourself feel or be perceived better. In essence we should not distort our reality in our expressions or actions to anyone. Satya is not just associated with the truth but also was we perceive the truth to be based on our own options. One way we can practice this is by being silent and listen to what our thoughts are telling us. In this way we can determine what information we are listening to before asking ourselves whether we are speaking the truth or letting our prejudice dictate our intentions. Just because we think we know something, it does not make it the truth. As Satya is a restraint it refers to one’s ability to refrain from untruthfulness and thus it must be done with extreme awareness.

It is about being cautious with our words and thoughts. Satya is the second yama and works in harmony with the first being ahimsa which means non-violence to others, nature and our surroundings. Satya is about slowing down so that when we choose to use certain words or thoughts they are in line with ahimsa. You can be truthful without harming others and you can be non-violent by being truthful. These two things should be in line and complement one another.

Ultimately it is the way we communicate our truths that make them unharmful. Off the mat Satya can be very powerful as it is self-transformative. We speak our truths and they are more likely to come true. On the mat, asana and pranayama for example, are more open and powerful if you are truthful with the people around you and yourself. The Yamas and niyamas if done correctly are a profound tool towards improving the health of our body but also our mind. They lay the foundations for a more peaceful way of living and are thus very important for our health and well-being.

The ten yamas and niyamas are universal gift according to yoga traditions. They are not confined by class, where you live, your experience or time. However, they have religious roots and are practiced in Hindi religion and Buddhist philosophy. In the Upanishads, the ancient Hindi teaching and philosophy, there are twenty codes of proper conduct and practices recorded in the final section, Vedas. Ten are yamas which include some that are present in yoga teaching, for example, ahimsa and Satya but also include other teachings such as Daya for compassion and Mitahara for diet.

There are also ten niyamas or observations. They also include some similarities for instance tapas for discipline or austerity. But included may other teachings such as Dana for charity and Astikaya for faith. Buddhist philosophy also shares the same goals. According to ‘The five Precepts in Buddism’ by Thich Nhat Hanh, there are parallel views with the yoga principles of yamas and niyamas. These five precepts are no killing, no lying, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no intoxicants. Closely mirroring the yamas found in yoga sutra.


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