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 – Aparigraha

Aparigraha is the fifth and last of the five yamas in the 8 limbs of yoga. It means non-greed, non-possessiveness and/or non-attachment. The essence of this yama is to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment, and let go when the time is right.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says ‘Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruit of action. Do not let the result of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’.

If we do things because they are the right things to do, the outcome does not really matter.

Let’s bring it down a nudge and look at how we can practice Aparigraha in a more practical way. Generally we own way more than we need, and we hold on to it longer than what’s necessary. I think most people can relate to this. Also, when we talk about non-attachment, what we’re really talking about is letting go of the idea of who and what we are, and not try to be something we’re not. In fact, we don’t try to be anything at all. So whenever you start comparing yourself to others, you have an idea of who you are. As you let go of this idea there is really nothing to compare with. Everything gets to be just as it is. This is a way to let Aparigraha into your life. Let go of things you own just-in-case you might need it again. And ask yourself next time you go shopping, is this really something that I need, or am I being a bit greedy?

A lot of the time when we buy things, eat, drink, do drugs or whatever, it is an attempt to feel whole, but we all know the wholeness is only temporary. It’s only temporary because it’s not true. Whatever we did was not making us whole, it just distracted us from feeling something we’re trying to avoid.

Instead of trying to fill this void or emptiness, Aparigraha encourage us to rather face it. If you are a seeker of truth, you can’t keep covering the void in which the truth lays. As you let go of your attachments, you enter the emptiness and you become empty. The whole idea you had of who you were is gone, yet you still are. Just as a newly born- he or she have not created an idea of who they are. In their head, they are not even a human, they are not dead nor alive. There simply is no concept of them as an individual. Yet there they are, fully present. This is Aparigraha.

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.

It was used to encourage yogis to conserve their sexual energy and rather use it to progress on their yogic path. However, there are many other ways to look at how we can apply brahmacharya into our lives. For example, think of all the things you do, that you deep down know aren’t supportive to your spiritual progress.

Our external desires are all ‘wrong use of energy’ in terms of the yogic path. Brahmacharya encourage you to instead look within to find peace- and happiness, or whatever it is you may want.

Our external world may trigger a good feeling, but the feeling comes from within, therefor yogis look at ways to find this feeling without the need to get triggered from the external.

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.

To practice gratefulness over what/who we are and what/who we have will help reduce the feeling of not being or having enough.

When people talk non-stop and/or interrupt you they steal your attention, your time and your peace. In a way, these type of people also steal a lot of space. After being with them you may feel drained because they have been stealing your energy.

As Sivananda said ‘desire and want’, is what causes us to go out of our way to obtain something. Often, the things we buy and don’t need could be appreciated by someone else, but by needlessly taking them for ourselves, we rob others of the chance to have what they do need.  

So you see, Asteya may sound simple and superficial, but as all the yamas, they are quite deep and comprehensive.

Yamas – Satya

Satya is the second yama in the 8 Limbs of Yoga. It literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘unchangeable’. Even though our thoughts and emotions are interchangeable they form our own personal truths. As you may have experienced, what you once knew for certain, you later realised was not true.

In Sanskrit, the vibrations of the sounds in the words uttered have a direct connection to its meaning. The sound ‘sat’ holds the meanings; ‘unchangeable’, ‘that which has no distortion’, ‘that which is beyond distinctions of time, space and person’, and ‘reality’.

In yoga, we strive to find the truth of who and what we are. We search for that which is unchangeable, with no distortion and that is beyond distinctions of time, space and person. By calming the mind to such a degree that stillness happens, then we experience the unchangeable. We experience the truth.  

Even though we can look at truthfulness in many aspects of our lives, the essence of its practice is to un-identify with all we believe ourselves to be, as well as all our beliefs of what life outside ourself is. For truth to enter we must make room for it, and we do that by letting everything we think we know go.