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 – Saucha

Saucha is the first of five Niyamas in the 8 limbs of yoga. When we talk about the Niyamas we talk about practices regarding ourselves. The word Niyama is often translated as ‘positive duties’.

In the second book of the Yoga Sutras, sutra no. 40 it says:

“By purification arises disgust for ones own body and for contact with other bodies”

A sentence that may seem scary, but let me elaborate. When purity is observed one will feel that even our own body is unclean. Impurities are eliminated every second. Through the breath we excrete carbon dioxide and through the skin comes sweat and then we have urine, feces and saliva. No matter how much perfume we put on, it only hides the impurities. No matter how well we try to hide it, it will come back. By realizing this, we create a new relationship with the body. We do not neglect it, but our bodily focus will disappear. Our attractions for other bodies will diminish, which will save us a lot of time and energy. As we spend more time on deeper aspects of life than our bodies, and go into the spiritual, we will gain an understanding that we are not our bodies. The real unity is not created between two bodies. What we call a masculine and feminine body are just two different pieces of meat. We will not achieve nirvana by putting two pieces of meat together.

People misunderstand Tantra yoga as something that has to do with sexual unity. In the Tibetan tantric system, shiva and sakti are discussed – where shiva is the masculine aspect and sakti the feminine. It is not about our physical form, but about the positive and negative forces in each individual. In hatha yoga we call it sun and moon. Ha means sun; tha means moon. The inner sun is in our solar plexus; the moon is at the base of our spine. To be united, these must come together. This is known as the ‘Prana-Apana union’. The energy that flows down must turn up and be returned to its source. The heat produced in meditation rises and affects certain glands, which then produce ‘nectar juice’. This flow from the bottom of our spine through the nerves, builds them up, makes them more alive and helps them become almost immortal. The word nectar (amrta in Sanskrit) means ‘immortal’. The body will be filled with light (ojas and tejas and will be converted into a ‘yogic body’).

The second book of the Yoga Sutras, Sutra No. 41 states:

“Moreover, one gains purity of sattva, cheerfulness of mind, one-pointedness, mastery over the senses and fitness for Self-realization.”

First you understand the body, then the heart becomes pure as well. When your heart is pure, you are always happy. Concentration of the mind happens automatically, without you having to try. Only an unclean mind runs from end to end, forcing us to bring it back again and again. The senses are also controlled and then comes ‘atma sarsana yogyatvani’, ready for Self-realization. These are all benefits of following Niyama’s first compliance.