The ancient Hindu texts have great wisdom to impart on us. One of them is Yoga Sutra, compiled by the great sage Patanjali, who gave us Ashtanga Yoga for living a better self. The great spiritual self-guide of the olden times, Ashtanga Yoga—or eight limbs of yoga, traveled centuries to give us a sense of direction on how to live a life of purpose and contentment. Out of eight yoga limbs, two are called Yama & Niyama, meaning “restraints” and “observances” that help us reach higher levels of living. To simplify it, Yamas and Niyamas are the “things to avoid” and “things to practice” in layman terms. Many aspiring yogis who undergo yoga teacher training in India and most especially yoga teacher training in Rishikesh are asked to follow yamas and niyamas to learn the art of yoga well. The Yamas, or “restraints” are moral practices that assist in spiritual growth.
Here’s a list of five Yamas that every yoga practitioner is asked to follow:
- Ahimsa or nonviolence: If you visit a yoga school in Rishikesh, you’ll observe that various sacred practices are a part of the daily routine through which the followers are supposed to channel their energies to thinking nonviolent thoughts. Through meditation, one comes to understand the type of thoughts and thus, through guided practices, one may shift their thinking to ahimsa. Restraining from violent thoughts and behaviors is significant in practicing this Yama.
- Satya or non-falsehood: The second Yama is all about seeking the path of righteousness by stopping any activity that promotes falsehood, or gossip. One is asked to seek the higher truth and step back from anything that goes against it.
- Asteya or non-stealing: The third Yama is all about restraining the impulse of taking ownership of something which, essentially, isn’t yours. Stealing—whether an object or a non-object—is removed from everyday conducts in totality.
- Brahmacharya or chastity: Here, the yama focuses on restraining impulses that don’t serve one’s energy in a generative way. Celibacy isn’t entirely the goal. It’s rather devoting one’s urges to a generative way of living, which promotes peace and content inside one’s heart.
- Aparigraha or non-grasping: The fifth Yama is restraining from the urge of hoarding every object that one sees. Controlling the urge to possess materials helps the mind in becoming less distracted and more centered to attain spiritual merit.
Having discussed the five “not-to-do” practices of Yamas, we now move to the Niyamas, or “observances” that complement our yamas, like the philosophy of yin-yang.
Here’s a list of 5 niyamas one must observe to achieve a better yogi lifestyle:
- Shaucha or purity: The first niyama of Yoga Sutra is to maintain cleanliness and purity of mind, body, soul. Primarily, it involves keeping things tidy, and in order, both inwardly and outwardly, so that the mind works in order too. Keeping the body and surroundings clean assists in keeping the mind clutter-free. This leads to less distraction and more attention towards attaining any goal in life, including spirituality.
- Santosha or contentment: The second observance is to practice a constant state of contentment so that it helps one break free from the cycle of mindless-misery. The more one practices Santosha, the better the scale and scope of joy.
- Tapas or perseverance: The third practice of Niyamas is perseverance, most especially in testing times. Focusing on building a healthy spiritual practice also involves guided perseverance, exercised consistently so that failure and success are met with grace.
- Svadhyaya or self-introspection: Svadhyaya is constant learning of oneself through religious texts to adopt qualities that raise well-being, and, to discard habits that lead to sorrow and anxiety.
- Ishwarpranidhana or contemplation of the Truth: The supreme reality, also known as God in religious terms, is the fifth niyama to follow. Meditating on the nature of God is part of the niyama that leads us to a slow yet steady path to finding enlightenment.
Many followers of Yama and niyama have benefited from practicing these two limbs of yoga sutra. The centuries-old scripture, that was once lost to time, made a comeback through sincere efforts of Swami Vivekananda and several scholars. Now accessible to many who want to lead a path of spirituality, yamas and niyamas serve human mind, body, and soul tremendously.