Yamas and Niyamas: An In-Depth Guide

Maharishi Patanjali, sage scientist and propounder of yoga, produced 196 sutras (aphorisms) on yoga around 400 CE, generally known as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, using information concerning yoga philosophy from ancient traditions. Maharishi Patanjali lays forth the full yoga philosophy in only 196 brief sentences. Each sutra asks the reader to reflect carefully and build personal knowledge of the practice. What a wonderful approach to passing on spiritual wisdom!

He define an eight-limbed, step-by-step route for establishing a healthy body and mind in the Yoga Sutra, a compilation of works produced between the 2nd and 5th century. The ultimate objective was to assist yogis in developing a stable mind, which would lead to soothing and long-lasting happiness.

While all of the stretching, bending, and balancing is really useful and makes our bodies healthier and more vibrant, it is just one aspect of yoga. The Yoga Sutras aren’t really concerned with physical yoga postures, and when Maharishi Patanjali says “asana,” he’s not referring to headstand, warrior, or downward dog; rather, he’s referring to the position you select to sit in when meditating—your asana—’seat.’

The 5 Yamas and Niyamas can alter you and your yoga practice if you learn to incorporate the whole “on and off the mat” practice into your everyday life. Everything may represent the amount of our yoga practice—our thoughts, actions, decisions, relationships with others, daily routines, and environment. The ultimate objective of this ancient system can only be fulfilled by such an encompassing and integrative yoga practice, bringing our bodies, thoughts, and spirits into harmony to set us free from the bonds and sufferings of life.

The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of the path to enlightenment, and they are sometimes referred to as “moral codes” or “right living” practices. They’re like the “rules of life’s game.” Honoring these ideals as we advance along ‘the path’ means we’re constantly cognizant of each action we do, fostering a more present and aware state of being. These 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas are strikingly similar to the Ten Commandments and the ten virtues of Buddhism, and they serve as instructions for ‘serious’ yogis on how to live a rich and happy life.

This graphic can help you understand the eight limbs at a glance.

What are the Yamas and Niyamas, and What Do They Mean?

Two of these eight limbs are the five Yamas (social ethics) and five Niyamas (personal observances). The 5 Yamas are Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (abstinence), and Aparigraha (non-accumulation), whereas the 5 Niyamas are Soucha (internal and external cleanliness), Santosha (happiness and contentment), Tapas (penance), and Swadhyaya (self-study). The Yamas are concerned with our acts in social situations, while the Niyamas are concerned with the whole connection with our bodily and psychological selves.

The Yamas and Niyamas may seem to the majority of modern yogis to be two of the most difficult of the eight limbs of yoga to incorporate into our everyday routines and lives. “How can we incorporate the Yamas and Niyamas into our lives?” is a question that keeps coming up, and it might make us feel guilty or frustrated.

The Yamas are concerned with how we act and think about other people and the environment around us. They’re social observances, or how you control your conduct with respect to others. They may also be very transforming for individuals, bringing greater mental clarity and stability. The Yamas are referred to as ‘Mahāvrata’ by Patanjali, which means “mighty vows.” They are:

1. Ahimsa: It is the Sanskrit word for non-violence. It essentially means not harming or injuring any other living being. You should strive to practice Ahimsa not just through your acts, but also through your words and thoughts. You are not shadowed by the possible dangers that come back to you as a result of your acts, whether physical, verbal, or mental, when you practice Ahimsa at all times. According to Patanjali, those who practice Ahimsa completely will have a positive impact on others around them and will become non-violent themselves.

2. Satya: It is a Sanskrit word that signifies “truthfulness” or “honesty.” You should put it into practice not just with words, but also with your thoughts and actions. If speaking the truth causes people grief, you should avoid doing so; instead, find ways to communicate openly without inflicting harm. When you always tell the truth, you avoid the confusion and stress that comes with lying or twisting the truth and having to attempt to recall what you’ve previously fabricated. As you practice Satya, you will become more aware of how you may manipulate the truth to achieve desired results, even on a subliminal level. According to Patanjali, the activities of one who is faultless in Satya are always fruitful.

3. Asteya: It is the Sanskrit word for “not stealing,” and it should be followed in all aspects of life. There’s a touching tale of a little child who recovered a man’s wallet and was granted a prize when he returned it to the worried owner. “Why should I be rewarded for merely doing what is right?” the youngster answered. This Asteya mentality instilled in the boy’s psyche made it very apparent what was and wasn’t his. According to Patanjali, when you practice Asteya flawlessly, you will have all you need and will be happy with what you already have.

4. Brahmacharya: It refers to the discipline of maintaining sexual continence. Absolute celibacy is assumed for a monk or serious spiritual seeker. Students in traditional society perform Brahmacharya throughout their spiritual training or studentship till their studies are completed and they marry (around 25 years of age). They should keep a healthy connection with their spouse after they are married. When utilized incorrectly or excessively, sexual activity has the potential to detract from your yogic or spiritual journey, depleting energy that might be channeled towards spiritual advancement. It is incredibly powerful when that energy is collected and directed toward the purpose of yoga. As a result, Patanjali claims that absolute celibacy would give you enormous physical and spiritual vigor.

5. Aparigraha: It means “non-grasping” in Sanskrit (non-possessiveness.) It implies that you should only take what is absolutely essential to keep yourself healthy. Aparigraha encompasses all aspects of life and is a mindset that encompasses not just food and material goods, but also interpersonal relationships and the natural environment. You may establish an attitude of not desiring anything needless by practicing Aparigraha. The practice of Aparigraha helps you become more conscious of your underlying wants or inclinations. Your inner reasons become more apparent. The upshot of being firmly rooted in aparigraha, according to Patanjali, is a comprehension of the cause for your Janma (birth), which may be translated as an understanding of your existence.


The Niyamas are a set of rules that concentrate on our attitudes and behaviors toward and within ourselves. The Niyamas help us create a pleasant environment in which we may grow, and they provide us with the self-discipline and inner strength we need to advance down the road to complete enlightenment, inner peace, and satisfaction. Personal observances is how they’re characterized. Internal disciplines are attitudes or attributes that should be applied to both your yoga practice and your everyday life in order to advance in yoga. There are 5 Niyamas, similar to the Yamas. They are:

1. Śauca: It is a Latin word that signifies “cleanliness” or “purification.” External purity, or Bahir Śauca, refers to the cleanliness of your body and immediate surroundings. Internal or mental purity (Antaḥ Śauca) refers to your thoughts and desires. According to Patanjali, practicing internal purity will give you a cheerful mood, increased attention, control of your senses, and awareness of your own soul.

2. Saṃtoṣa:  You should strive to be satisfied in any situation you find yourself in and avoid feeling regret. This is not to say that you should accept unpleasant conditions; rather, you should attempt to better them by being satisfied and realizing that you can more successfully handle challenges if you have the mental clarity that comes from being content at all times. According to Patanjali, if you practice contentment, you will experience incomparable joy.

3. Tapas: It signifies “work” or “heat.” It is the work you put in to train your body and sense organs. Practicing yoga with discipline and eating a balanced diet are two examples. Another example is the effort necessary to maintain your attention and concentration on the yoga path at all times, putting in the effort required to reach the yoga goal. According to Patanjali, Tapas purifies the body and strengthens the senses, preparing them for yogic perfection.

4. Svādhyāya: It is a self-study method. Traditionally, this meant chanting and studying books given to you by a guru or teacher inside your familial lineage. These books were profoundly intellectual, and contemplating their meaning yielded profound spiritual revelations, notably about the link between the Jīvātma (individual soul) and the Paramatma (God). In the context of yoga, this implies that you should actively study what you’ve learned from your guru and delve thoroughly into the theory and practice of yoga, not merely taking the teacher’s statements at face value, but truly considering the meaning for yourself.

5. Īśvarapraṇidhāna: It is a Sanskrit word that means “to place oneself in the supreme soul.” It may also be translated as placing Īśvara (God) within yourself. Because Patanjali does not identify Īśvara as a specific form of God, it may be understood in a manner that is applicable to diverse spiritual traditions in yoga practice. All that is necessary is that you have entire confidence or dedication in the higher principle with which you have made contact. According to Patanjali, if you have Īśvarapraṇidhāna, you will achieve complete absorption in the eighth limb of Samādhi.

Gurus have often said, and my own experience has confirmed, that yoga cannot be practiced without the Yamas and Niyamas. The other limbs of yoga can only yield results if you follow them to the best of your abilities and at all times.

How to Implement the Yamas and Niyamas in Your Everyday Life?

There is one perspective that views the eight limbs as steps, and it might lead us to assume that we can’t practice other limbs and benefit from them until we follow and master the Yamas and Niyamas. Many self-doubting questions may arise as a result of this approach, such as:

When the mind is full of anger and dissatisfaction, how do we quiet it down in meditation? If we are not ready for Tapas (penance), how can we enjoy the stillness in the posture? How can we experience Savasana’s tranquility if we are unable to let go and surrender? When our body and surroundings aren’t clean (Saucha), how can we delve deeper into our breath?

“Yoga has eight limbs, like a chair, which has four legs,” suggests another perspective. Each one is intertwined with the others. If you pull one leg, the whole chair will come with you. When the human body grows, it develops as a whole. All of the body’s organs grow at the same time. Not that the nose comes first, then the ears; all of the body’s characteristics, all of its limbs, grow at the same time. As a result, Patanjali claims that these are all the limbs (not steps) of yoga that grow at the same time.”

This realization that these eight components of yoga are limbs that develop in unison eliminates any self-doubt and provides us so much room, freedom, and joy to practice yoga as a whole with a full heart.

“Yoga Anga Anushtanat Ashuddhi Kshaye Jnanadi Apthiraviveka Khyatehe” (Sutra II—28)

“By the sustained practice of the eight limbs of yoga, the impurities are destroyed and the light of wisdom, discrimination shines forth.”

The seed of human awareness is similar to that of a seed. A seed may grow into a tree, leaves, a branch, fruits, flowers, and multiply further; similarly, the human mind can grow into a tree, leaves, a branch, fruits, flowers, and multiply further. For a seed to grow and flourish, it needs the right environment, including sunshine, water, and soil. Human awareness and the mind are similar. Either the seed remains dormant for years, preserving its potential, or it begins to bloom, sprouting. Discrimination is the germ of human awareness blooming. Freedom comes with Viveka (right understanding).

With this, understand that learning the 3rd to 8th limbs of yoga does not need mastering the 1st or 2nd limbs of yoga. It is possible to train all eight limbs at the same time. And when we train all eight limbs at the same time, we have the opportunity to reach our complete human potential. The freedom that comes from Viveka dawns on you when you practice the eight limbs of yoga.

There’s no need to second-guess or over-analyze oneself. It is sufficient to have the intention to do the Yamas and Niyamas. Simply plant the seeds, continue to nurture them with your practice, and relax. “The seeds are going to sprout.”

From Personal Experience:

Choose one Yama and one Niyama and think about how you may apply these principles in various scenarios. I began by practicing Ahimsa (non-violence to others or yourself, which means being kinder and more compassionate toward those who irritate or upset me) and Svadhyaya (deepening my understanding through self-study).

Taking things one step at a time—one Yama or Niyama at a time—will help you incorporate new ways of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving into your daily life, just like practically everything else in life. It takes time, effort, and consistency to develop excellent habits. Do your best to live by the principles that connect with you, and attempt to do something to reaffirm your chosen principle on a daily basis. Over time, you may extend your perspective to include various Yamas and Niyamas.

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