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 – Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya is the fourth yama in the 8 limbs of yoga. It means ‘right use of energy’, and often translated to celibacy. It actually translate to ‘behaviour that leads to brahman’ which in other words mean behaviour that leads to a higher power/the divine/god.

The second book of the Yoga Sutras, sutra no. 38 states:

“By one established in continence, visor is gained”

Brahmacharya means ‘the way to the Divine’. We are all looking for happiness and joy, whether it is consciously or unconsciously. When we do not find it, we often settle for pleasure. Pleasure can be beautiful but is very limited. The deeper we go into pleasure, the deeper we attach ourselves to it. If the thing or person you have attached yourself to is taken from you, you will be crushed. When we live in this way, our existence becomes one of great attachments, which creates a lot of suffering. When one practices brahmacharya, it means that we are not setteling with pleasure, but rather want to find the source of inner happiness.

In brahamacharya, it is the sexual temptations that are most talked about. Maybe it’s because they are the hardest temptations to resist, or maybe it’s because it’s the biggest pitfall. Many people associate brahmacharya with celibacy, but it is mainly about having self-discipline to resist pleasure because one has a desire to achieve something greater.

Brahmacharya challenges us to make more conscious choices and to be more present in what we do and why we do it.

The reason why sex can be a big pitfall is because here one will be very deeply involved and therefore it creates very large amounts of karma. By conserving our sexual energy, we also preserve not only physical energy, but also mental, moral, intellectual and spiritual energy. When this energy is preserved, it is transformed into a subtle energy (ojas), which tones the whole personality, builds nerves, improves brain power and calms the mind. This energy again is what becomes our glow or aura.