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.

Niyamas – Isvara Pranidhana

In the second book of the Yoga Sutras, sutra no. 45 it says:

“By total surrender to God, Samadhi is attained”

Isvarapranidhana is a lifelong dedication to sacrificing everything to God, or humanity. God does not sit in a place waiting for our sacrifices and gifts, but by dedicating our lives to human benefit, we dedicate our lives to God. Whatever we do can easily be transformed into worship of our attitude. By always having an intention that what we do is the best for everyone and the whole. If we present a chair to someone, we can do it in a way where the chair is dragged across the floor and ‘screams’. We can also lift it carefully and put it in place. Everything that is treated roughly experiences pain. It should therefore be a gentle, ‘yogic’ touch to everything we do. With this presence and intention, our smallest actions will become a way to dedicate ourselves to God. In this way, everything we do can become a form of practicing Isvarapranidhana. We can see here that spirituality is not so much about what we do, but how and why we do it.

Can you give up everything you own? Give everything to God? This does not necessarily mean that you get rid of it, but that you no longer hold on to them and have a kind of mental connection to them. We let go of all our connections and leave them to God. This does not mean that we should not have wishes, desires or attachments, but they should not be linked to us as individuals, but to life as a whole. Many people say that inner peace comes only when you get rid of ‘all desires’. That is, to get rid of all desires, but this can easily be misunderstood. The only way to get rid of all desires is to die. Wishes are a natural part of life, and all life desires. What is meant by getting rid of all desires is to get rid of selfish desires, desires with the intention of satisfying the individual. The shift here is largely about making the desires conscious and not letting them be compulsive desires, as a product of the mind and karma we carry.