yamas and niyamas


Yoga is an experiential practice, just the way that Life is. You cannot simply sit down and read a book about yoga poses and breathwork and then expect to understand it. Life is the same. It is about getting out there and doing it.

There is no secret that at the core of all human beings is the desire to be happy and free, and to have some sort of meaning to our lives. This is what drives us to get up and out of bed every morning.

Our culture teaches us that we may find these things through material possessions such as new shoes, a new car, or the latest Macbook Air. We might even think that going to yoga class and attaining the best downward dog may give this to us. But oftentimes the experience of happiness and meaning is all too fleeting.

Enter yoga philosophy. ……

Patanjali, an Indian sage, compiled the Yoga Sutras approximately 2000 years ago. They are a guidebook made up of 195 sutras or words of wisdom. The Sutras outline an eightfold-fold path to enlightenment – it is like a blueprint to self-discovery and inner happiness and contentment. Just like life, they are meant to be studied, practiced and acted upon.

THE YAMAS are the first rung on the ladder of the eightfold path, and can be likened to moral truths and ethics and how we interact with the world.

  1. AHIMSA: kindness, compassion, nonviolence.
  2. SATYA: truthfulness
  3. ASTEYA: nonstealing
  4. BRAHMACHARYA: moderation in all things – to conserve body energies and creative force
  5. APARIGRAHA: non-greed, non-hoarding

THE NIYAMAS are the second step on the eightfold path, and these consist of practices to develop and improve our own relationship with our Selves.

  1. SAUCHA: cleanliness, inside and out
  2. SANTOSA: contentment
  3. TAPAS: self-discipline. To overcome weaknesses and build inner strength and willpower
  4. SVADYAYA: self-study
  5. ISVARA PRANIDHANA: surrender. Recognizing the Divine Essence in all beings

A really simple way to integrate these principles and practices into our lives is to look over the yamas and niyamas and see if there is one that resonates with you in this moment.

Is there one that intrigues you, that fires you up, or that you can relate to?

Choose one and write it down on a sticky note. Put this up onto your bathroom mirror as a reminder to you each day. Commit for 4 weeks – reflecting at different times of the day your current state and how it relates to the quality that you are cultivating.

Bring to this practice the qualities of a child – be patient, be loving, be kind, be curious and above all, have no judgements about yourself. Make it fun.

Committing to integrating some, or all of these practices into our lives leads to a much better understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. By developing a healthy, loving relationship with ourselves, we can find the courage and strength to step out into the world and to follow our hearts.



(N.B. I will discuss the remaining 6 limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path to enlightenment in a future blog.)