The Yoga Tutor

Yama and Niyama

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 168 ]

In Patanjali's eight-limbed path of yoga, the first two limbs are yama and niyama, which essentially integrate into the yogic life the moral and ethical aspects necessary for both harmonious living and spiritual progression.

These are not simply religious beliefs or a cultural doctrine. They represent the wisdom passed down by the great sages of old, who through their exploration and experimentation came to a profound understanding of these fundamental truths of life.

These practices facilitate integration of the being into harmony with nature and the Universe. In some way or another, we all impinge upon these eternal truths, though we may not be entirely aware of our actions or their far-reaching implications.

The practice of observing the yamas and niyamas helps bring this into light. If encroachment upon any of these principles is at all serious, then one will be met with the impossibility of further spiritual development.

The first stage of ashtanga yoga is called yama -- the 'necessary refrains' (the don'ts). The second stage is called niyama, or the 'necessary actions' (the do's).
Yama can also be thought of as the actions or attitudes towards others, and niyama as the attitude toward oneself. Yama is the moral aspect, and niyama the ethical, so-to-speak.

The Yamas

Since yama comes from the root word yam, which means "to hold" or "to rule," it represents the rules of behaviour that control certain negative tendencies, the animal/instinctive nature that resides in all human beings.

These rules lead to the harmonisation of the relationships between human beings as well as between humans and the all the beings in nature.

~ Yoga Sutras (Sadhana Pada, V30)

As mentioned in this sutra of Patanjali's, there are five yamas:
  1. Ahimsa (non-violence)
  2. Satya (truth)
  3. Asteya (non-theft)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

The Niyamas

Simply to observe limits on external behaviours (yamas) is not enough for evolution. Niyama constitutes the second stage of Classical Ashtanga. It refers to the organisation of the ‘inner life’. Niyamas are the rules of individual discipline.

Through the agency of these five observances, it is the goal to profoundly restructure one's pre-conditioned personality.

~ Yoga Sutras (Sadhana Pada, V32)

The Niyamas are:
  1. Sauca (purification)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapa(s) (austerity)
  4. Svadhyaya (Self study)
  5. Isvarapranidhana (adoration of the Divine)

NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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