The Yamas and Niyamas

The Yoga Guidelines for Ethical Living

The Yamas and Niyamas are referred to as the Yogi ethical guidelines for living. 

When taking a first look down through the list it’s hard to not compare them to the 10 commandments.  And in truth they are aligned with the commandments but how they are taught and shared differs greatly.

These guidelines are seen as an aid to healthy living, not as a set of rules that we must obey.  So you may look at the commandments and receive the message that, if I obey each of these then, and only then, I can call myself a good person. And if I am living beyond these rules then I am bad.

The Yoga perspective looks at the guidelines as a means by which to get ourselves back on the right path when life has pushed us out of connection with ourselves. So if you find yourself in a state of feeling agitated, angry, hurt etc., you can use the guidelines to analyse yourself through and they can help you better understand and unravel what it is that is causing you unease.

There are 10 in total, 5 Yamas and 5 Niyama’s. The word Yama in Sanskrit meaning ‘restraint’ and Niyama meaning ‘observances’.  Below is a very brief insight into each one and each month we take one in particular and explore in greater depth.

The Yamas

Ahimsa – Nonviolence:   Nonviolence can be in our thoughts, our words or our actions and can be towards others or towards ourselves.  The intention when working with the concept of Ahimsa is to question, not why the violence, but why the pain and practice compassion and self-love to remedy.

Satya – Truthfulness: This refers to our ability to speak our truth in favour of speaking our mind.   It plays a delicate dance with Ahimsa and in situations where there is a tug of war between being truthful and being non-violent, non-violence should always win.  In the heat of the moment the most truthful response may be to say, ‘I cannot find respectful words to continue this conversation so I have to step back’.

Asteya – Nonstealing: Non stealing from the Earth, from others, from our own future and from ourselves. An outward focus leads us to compare ourselves to others, if we show up lacking we take from them the contentment they may have with their position. If we find ourselves superior, our egos are at play taking up space that doesn’t belong to us.  Either of these usually comes from a place of inner discontent so without judgement we explore our motivations for comparing ourselves.

Brahmacharya – Nonexcess: Non excess speaks to taming our over-indulgences or aiming to keep balance in where we direct our energy.  There are the obvious overindulgences such as fast food, alcohol etc. but we can also over indulge in any area of our lives,  in study and forget to live, in gossip and lose compassion. The intention is to restore balance not to restrict ourselves.  

Aparigragha – Nonpossessiveness:  Being able to let go.  Accepting that things change and allowing the old out and the new in.  Holding on to a possession, an idea or an aspect of self-identity can hold us back from the unfolding of your true self.

The Niyamas

Soucha – Purity:  The idea of providing yourself with the opportunity to cleanse.  This can be a cleansing of your body, of your friendships, of your possessions.  The intention is to notice when you feel depleted and see how can you cleanse, or how can you treat yourself to purity, good food, good company, good healthy activities.

Santosha – Contentment:   Notice it when it comes, often we only notice contentment when it’s on its way out.  Of course, we each have struggles but we also each have cruising periods in our lives.  It can be a couple of hours or a couple of months.  The intention is to notice and honor them by enjoying without guilt or filling the space with ‘doing’.

Tapas – Self-Discipline:   Our immediate association with the word Discipline can be a sense of restriction.  However, the word discipline comes from the word Disciple, i.e. to follow what you Love.  With this in mind we shift our perspective and change our behaviour to enhance the aspects of our lives we want more of.  Ask yourself how can I support myself so that I have more time, energy and enthusiasm for the life that I love.

Svadhyaya – Self-Study: This is at the root of all the others, none of the others are possible to explore without an ability to be self-aware. Be brave and over-come the ego. The underlying intention for self-awareness is to achieve self-connection. And from a place of self connection all other aspects flow more freely.

Ishvara Pranidhana – Surrender: Accept it as it is, everything we are faced with in life is there to teach us and guide back to a place of self connection.  As such there is no blame, no guilt, no regrets it just it what it is, acceptance.

Asteya :: Nonstealing

Non stealing from the Earth, from others, from our own future and from ourselves.

Shared on Community Chat Sunday March 28th 2021

When exploring this topic we looked at how we might take from others in order to achieve a sense of contentment in ourselves.  When we want the success someone else has achieved, when we wish for the happiness someone else appears to have.  The aim is to notice this wanting in ourselves so that we can identify why it is we feel lacking and nourish ourselves back to wholeness without the need to take from someone else.  In relation to Ego the explanation from Osho on the Ego came into conversation.  

From the understanding that we are all of one source, one spirit the ego has its role to play in separating us from the whole so that we could experience our individual selves.   Issues with the ego arise when we forget we are originally of one source.  There is no better or worse there is just another experience being had by another aspect of spirit contained in the boundary of the Ego.  A weak ego can cause problems with daily living as a person may lose a sense of identity, it can be connected to psychosis when in the extreme.  It is the inflated ego however that gives ego its bad reputation.  The inflated ego is when we project our ego into space that is not ours to occupy.  Then we don’t have the goods to follow up on the promises and declarations we make.   Or we presume that excelling in one area gives us the right to claim success in others.  This is when we steal from those around us.  

Asteya also speaks to how we take from the earth.  Touching on the topic of climate change and the enormity of the problem it can be noted that overwhelming a population with fear can be demotivating, it can steal from us the belief that we can make a change.  In all aspects of Asteya we look for how we can give rather than take.  In relation to climate we can look at how we can use the talents of artists and musicians in our community to bring a positive message of what CAN be done.  We can bring hope to motivate action rather than fear.

We can steal from our futures and steal from ourselves.  If we viewed ourselves as the ancestors of the future generations, the ancestors that they may talk about or even pray to, what would our legacy be?  Will future generations be saddened by us and the planet we hand over to them, or will they be grateful that we kept the light of hope shining, listened for the deeper truths and found our way out?  

Most importantly we aim to not steal from ourselves, to not steal our time with constant doing, knowing that not every moment has to be productive.  To not compare ourselves to others and steal from our own enthusiasm.   To not steal time from ourselves.   The creation of time was so that we would not experience everything at once, so that we could perceive individual moments and experiences as they pass through the present moment.  In the moments in between the coming and the going, the doing and the achieving, there is just you.  Take time to rest and reflect and contemplate. Filling all your time with ‘doing’ is stealing from your experience of ‘just you’.