The Yamas and Niyamas


The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs that Patanjali sets out and are the universal and personal moral and ethical codes. The yamas are universal codes of conduct on how we relate to the outside world, and the niyamas give us personal codes of conduct. The yamas and niyamas are more guides, rather than commandments. The yamas and niyamas give us guidelines on how we conduct ourselves individually and globally

AHIMSA – Compassion for all living things

For one who is firmly established in non-violence all hostility ceases in the presence of that one. This means to not injure or cause harm to another creature. It also means to not think harmful thoughts. The application of ahimsa should mean we act with kindness and consideration in all situations. For instance, when we are faced with carrying out our daily roles, our thoughts and actions should reflect ahimsa.

There are three classes of Himsa (ways to cause harm)

  1. Physical
  2. Vocal
  3. Mental

Vocal injury is more serious than physical injury and mental injury is most serious. By physical injury one can destroy only physical forms. By vocal injury one can destroy both physical and mental forms. By mental injury one can destroy even the form of spirit

SATYA – Speak the truth

Satya means to speak the truth but is it acceptable to speak the truth regardless of the consequences of the effect it may have on someone. We must consider our words carefully, or perhaps it’s better to say nothing at all. Satya needs to be considered in relationship with Ahimsa (compassion) we need to consider what truth is, my truth may not coincide with another. Its best to consider our actions, thoughts deeds before we act

ASTEYA – Non-stealing:

Asteya take nothing that does not belong to us. This goes further than the theft of possessions, it refers to taking time or emotions from someone who has not freely given them. It also means when we give something freely, we should not expect something in return. It will also refer to using something other than what it was intended for

BRAHMACHARYA – Sense control:

Brahmacharya is correct use of energy. Brahmacharya can be looked at in a much wider sense than controlling sexual desire. I think it can be used as control over our affliction with the latest new thing. I think the latest new fad in yoga such as hot yoga is an example. It is merely a marketing exercise which if we are not aware appeals to our fluctuating mind. The concept of Brahmacharya also refers to our conduct as yoga teachers. Amongst our students, there may be some that are vulnerable emotionally.  Roles between student and teacher can easily become confused if we are not aware

APARIGRAHA – Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth:

Aparigraha means to use what is appropriate to us at the time and to pass on things we no longer need. I think holding on to things causes fear of letting go, and this can be more than just possessions. It means knowing when to let go of relationships or allowing our children to go at the right time. Applying Aparigraha to all things points to us understanding the impermanence of all things

Yamas and Niyamas with Yoga Dharma
Yamas and Niyamas with Yoga Dharma


NIYAMA – Personal Observances

Niyama are the rules and laws we apply to ourselves to live a more positive and harmonious life. The niyamas are to be applied with intention rather than as a concept. We must act but accept what comes our way regardless. We must apply the law of karma, so if things don’t appear to change with our new way of thinking, then we still must look to ourselves for the answers.

SAUCA – Purity

Our first niyama is sauca, which translates as purity and cleanliness. This means purity both externally and internally. Applied this would mean controlling our diet, practising our asana and shat karmas, and controlling our thoughts through pranayama and meditation.

SANTOSA – Contentment

santosa is a sense of contentment and modesty. We are content with what life is offering us now, but this is not to be confused with apathy. It is more an acceptance of where we find ourselves, without feeling the need to blame out there. My feeling is this is liberating, and it frees us to make changes from a positive stance

TAPAS – Disciplined use of our energy

Pain as purification. It is usual to think of pain as bad, or an obstacle preventing us from making progress. This can be viewed in a yoga class. A new student comes with full vigour and enthusiasm, perhaps even a little too much. Then just as quickly the progress is halted because of a bad shoulder or stiff knee, resulting in a complete halt to the practice. Accepting pain as purification would mean we would stand this situation on its head. Instead, we would see the “pain” as a hurt that was already inside us and the yoga allowed it to manifest on a physical level. This does not mean we carry on as before but continue we must

SVADHYAYA – Self-study:

The fourth niyama is svadhyaya. Sva means “self’ adhyaya means “inquiry” or “examination” Put into action this would mean we are ready to be self-reflective without judgement. It means we will observe all our actions and be aware of the emotional responses aroused through the outcome of these actions, and not react to them. It means we will accept what appears to be good and bad equally

ISVARA PRANIDHANA – Celebration of the Spiritual:

Isvarapranidhana means “to lay all your actions at the feet of God.” This for me means absolute surrender, without compromise. It is an acceptance of a higher cause, without a personal “I” If we truly let go, we see the wholeness and completeness of everything, beyond our self-imposed reality of Maya.

Martin Thompson


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