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The Yamas & Niyamas are derived from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras

The word sutra literally translates to ‘thread,’ as this text is woven with 196 insights to encourage deeper mindfulness.  Within this ancient text, Patanjali discusses the 8 Limbs of Yoga, which is essentially an eight-step path toward enlightenment.  The first two steps 1) Yama -- Social Code & 2) Niyama -- Personal Code, set the foundation for greater insight into one’s own choices and how those are reflected onto others.  The Yamas and Niyamas are further divided into 5 parts each, breaking down the components of our every interaction.

We first look to the Yamas to find peace in our external affairs.  The Yamas are often referred to as Moral Restraints because each item can be taken as something to NOT do.


            1) Ahimsa // Non-Violence

Ahimsa is not only referring to putting an end to physical violence in your lives (i.e. adopting a vegetarian lifestyle), but also observing verbal and mental gentleness -- stopping the cycle of harsh words and harsh thoughts.

            2) Satya // Non-Lying (truthfulness)

In addition to speaking with gentleness, we learn to speak with honesty to foster our most authentic and grounded expression.  By speaking your truth, you create space to evoke truth from others.  This also puts us just that much closer to truly Knowing universal truth & divinity.

            3) Asteya // Non-Stealing

By eliminating jealousy and cowardice, we liberate ourselves from the bonds of grasping.  There is a fairness unfolding here; when we do not take more than we need, we receive more than we could ask for.  There is a universal exchange at play; the best way to receive is to first make an offering.

            4) Bramacharia // Non-Indulgence (celibacy… sort of) 

Bramacharia is often misunderstood or deduced down to celibacy.  While that is one way to express bramacharia, the essence of this Yama goes far beyond that.  This component of non-indulgence is not asking us to refrain from participation in our lives and in our passions, but rather to refrain from the point of excess – to find bliss without getting lost in it.  Bramacharia is a mechanism of protection that helps us maintain our own vitality, not just sexually, but emotionally.

            5) Aparigraha // Non-Possessiveness

Aparigraha is about finding simple contentment – finding an understanding that we belong to the universe and not the other way around.  Acting with non-possessiveness in mind reminds us of the collective responsibility of this shared experience.  It is not about what you own, but what we all share in the creation of this reality.

Next, we purify our own minds & thoughts by tapping into the Niyamas, or Personal Observances.

            1) Soucha // Cleanliness

As we consider soucha, we are invited to bring our focus inward.  While there is an emphasis on physical hygiene and respect for your human vessel, there is also a level of internal purity – clearing out the clutter of or minds and the toxins of our bodies.  This attention to internal purity allows us to feel lighter as we move through the world.

            2) Santosha // Contentment

When we give ourselves permission to truly experience contentment, we are suddenly more present with our surroundings and more grateful for the subtleties of our lives. It is about encountering peace within the journey, not just the end result.  This openness to subtle contentment manifests as true and unwavering bliss.

            3) Tapas // Austerity

Austerity is a way to demonstrate reverence for the Divine.  In practicing tapas, we observe pressure to seek comfort and rather than immediately reacting, we notice what arises.  Here we find purpose in that which may not feel entirely convenient to us.

            4) Swadhyaya // Self-Study

Tapas helps us find and maintain the dedication to our own spiritual growth and studySwadhyaya allows us see disturbance as an opportunity to understand our own nature.  The more clearly we see ourselves, our patterns, our stories, the more the spirit flourishes.

            5) Ishwara Pranidhana // Surrender to the Universe

Ishwara Pranidhana invites us to seek truth beyond creation—beyond separation— to surrender to all that is manifest in this world.  As we embrace the totality, we learn to watch the universe unfold.



Sensible actions reflect sensible thoughts and the other way around.  These ideas serve as succinct reminders of how to live in harmony with ourselves and with others, by unifying our outer actions with our inner attitude.

This is my offering to you; my interpretation, my synthesis of ancient teachings.  Please take with you the pieces that speak to your soul.  I honor my teacher, Rishi Sudhir, for shining his light brightly enough to reveal these deep insights and joy.  If you would like to continue with your own study of the Yamas & Niyamas or another other yogic philosophy, you may enjoy Four Chapter on Freedom, Swami Satyananda Saraswati’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras.


Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutra's of Patanjali

by Swami Satyananda Saraswati