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The Yama and Niyama

The Yama & Niyama were introduced in the Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali in 2nd century BCE. They are ethical guidelines that help us continue our practice off of the mat. Below I will list the Sanskrit name and its traditional meaning as well as our interpretation for the purposes of this series. Unless otherwise mentioned, the definitions by which we will be viewing these principles were written by Dr. Gail Parker in her book Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma:

The Yama traditionally help guide how we relate to others

Ahimsa - Non-harming

“It means leading a life that does not harm other living beings, including one’s self. This is not limited to physical harm, but includes harmful thoughts, attitudes, words, and actions as well. Starting with self is important because we cannot treat others any better than we treat ourselves. This means that in order to develop loving relationships with others, self-love must become part of our consciousness and our practice. It means we must be committed to doing no harm to ourselves by refraining from thinking negatively of ourselves, including calling ourselves names in frustration or anger. It means letting go of shame, blame, and criticism of ourselves…It means treating ourselves with respect, kindness, and compassion, and making peace with ourselves in order to make peace with others and the world at large.”

Satya - Truthfulness

“Being truthful with one’s self starts by being open to the truth of your own being. What that means is being willing to know who you are and to be who you are… You cannot be someone else better than you can be yourself.”

Asteya - Non-stealing 

Susanna Barkataki defines this as a sense of abundance that gives rise to confidence that you have everything you need right here, inside of yourself. 

Brahmacharya - Conservation of energy

This is a reminder that all energy is sacred and it should be cherished. It means managing your energy so that you can be fully present for yourself and others. It means setting and honoring boundaries while respecting those of others.

Aparigraha - Non-grasping / Accepting Change

“Accepting life on its own terms instead of holding onto the way we want life to be, moment to moment, means letting go of what was, and accepting what is occurring in the moment. It doesn’t mean we won’t be disappointed, or sad, angry, resistant, or even afraid sometimes when change is required. Those feelings are normal and natural. But it means releasing what was and looking to the future with excitement and the anticipation of possibilities and opportunities for growth as well.”

The Niyama traditionally help guide our relationship with ourselves

Saucha - Purity

“Saucha might reveal itself in your life in many ways. You might be purifying your relationships - maybe letting go of some toxic people… You might be purifying your body by ridding it of toxic substances and releasing toxic behaviors… You might be purifying your mind of thoughts of hatred, jealousy, hostility, negativity, revenge. You might be  purifying your environment by letting go of items that no longer serve or have a place in your life.”

Santosha - Contentment

“Practices of gratitude and appreciation lead to contentment. The more content you are with what you have, the more joyful and happy you become. When we are content, we are free from the suffering that comes from a sense of lack, and we become more aware of the abundance that surrounds us. We begin to feel full in our being, so we no longer have to rely on externals for a sense of completeness.”

Tapas - B.K.S. Iyengar defined Tapas as “The burning effort under all circumstances to achieve a definite goal in life.”

“It is the part of you that just keeps you showing up on your yoga mat, your meditation cushion, in your truth, in your compassion, in your wisdom, because you’ve made a commitment to remain true to your heart’s deepest desire to do so…”

Svadhyaya - Self Study

"I explore myself and know through understanding myself that I come to understand all… I observe my actions and inquire within with curiosity and non-judgement." - Susanna Barkataki

Ishvara Pranidhana - Devotion to your higher power

“It invites us to let go of our attachment to the mind as our sole authority and to open to spirit as our guide… It does not mean giving up our personal identity; rather, it means devoting ourselves to stepping into love as our true identity.”

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