Yama & Niyama

The first two limbs of the ‘8 Limbs of Yoga’ are Yama and Niyama. They are both five guidelines to how to live well. Once you learn them you’ll realise that in many ways you already practice Yoga. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first of the 8 limbs because it will be foundation of your practice. The more you are able to commit to these guidelines, the easier the rest of your practice become. I’ve never met anyone who disagree with these guidelines, because its essentially all about coming back to our true nature.

First the Yamas:
Ahimsa – Non-violence or non-harming
Satya – Truthfulness
Asteya – Non-Stealing
Brahmacharya – Right use of Energy
Aparigraha – Non-Greed or non-hoarding

Although it seems pretty straight forward when you look at it like this, it goes much deeper than you might think. For example, when you look at Ahimsa – non-violence or non-harming, most people will think about the direct action of being violent or harm someone. What about the way you think, eat, drink, say and how you move your own body. There is the direct harm we cause, and there is the indirect harm. For instance, how was the clothes you last bought produced? Or how was the food you last ate produced? Did it cause harm to the planet or workers?

Don’t worry, we’re not perfect, and these guidelines are not here to put us to shame or fill us with guilt. In fact, if we let that happen, we put harm to ourselves(!) So, relax and use these guidelines to enhance your awareness and change your behaviour towards wellness.

You may wonder why this is important for a yogic practice. So, yoga means union and it means breaking the illusion of separation between subject and object. Experiencing life as one. Albert Einstein understood what yogis have known for millennia’s. All energy is the same energy, yet we experience life in the dimensions of inner and outer world. Yoga is about not only seeing, but experiencing the outer and inner world as one and the same. The behaviour that the yamas are guiding us away from are behaviour that enhance the experience of separation. For instance, had we experienced everyone as the same as us we would not harm them in any way. We wouldn’t lie, we wouldn’t steal, hoard or spend our energy trying to fill a void(as we would already feel complete). So by practicing the yamas, we are synchronising our lives with the truth.

The Niyamas are:
Saucha – Cleanliness
Santosha – Contentment
Tapas – Discipline
Savdhyaya – Study of the self
Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to a higher being or higher power

As the yamas are more directed at how we interact with the outer world, the niyamas are more focused on the self. You may also notice the yamas are about what not to do and the niyamas are more what to do.

As you practice these more, you’ll notice how the rest of your yoga practice will enhance greatly. In hatha yoga we strive to become balanced, and by practicing the yamas and niyamas we live a life that do not cause inner conflicts, delusion and attachments, so your life become more harmonious and balanced.

Yamas – Asteya

Asteya, the third yama in the 8 limbs of yoga. It means non-stealing. It sounds simple, but its because we usually think of stealing in the terms of materialism only. There are so many other things we can steal. Attention, credit, space, time, peace and so on.

When we look at Asteya it relates to behaviour caused by thoughts, or fluctations of the mind(Vritti). ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t have enough’. The practice of yoga is about uniting and in many ways becoming whole.

In the second book of the Yoga Sutras, Sutra No. 37:

“To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.”

When we talk about stealing, we look at it from a deeper perspective than from society’s constructions. On a universal level, everything you take, without giving anything back is stealing. It could be the neighbor’s car, a bar of chocolate from the store, a flower from the meadow or a breath of fresh air. In order for us to survive, we have to take resources from nature, either directly or indirectly. When you just take without giving anything back, we carry an attitude where we take it for granted and that our life is more important than other forms of life. If we are to synchronize with unity, this attitude must go away. It’s not about counting every breath and making sure we give back what we owe, but if we find gratitude for everything that is available to us, we will naturally find a way to repay it. Without food, it is said that people die after approx. 30 days, without water it can happen in less than a week, and without air we only talk about minutes. Being aware of how fragile our lives are and how dependable we are can bring tremendous gratitude. By integrating gratitude into life, giving back will happen effortlessly, and our lives will become lives of service to others.