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The Yamas and Niyamas in yoga practice

Updated: Jun 25


Yamas and Niyamas illustration
Yamas and Niyamas illustration


If you're a prospective yoga student, you might already be familiar with the physical benefits of yoga, such as increased flexibility and strength. However, the true essence of yoga goes beyond the physical postures (asanas). It’s about cultivating a way of life that promotes inner peace, ethical behavior, and spiritual growth. This is where the yamas and niyamas come in.


What are the Yamas and Niyamas?

The yamas and niyamas are essentially the ethical guidelines and personal observances in yoga. They form the first two limbs of the Eight Limbed Path as described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Think of them as the moral compass that guides your yoga practice both on and off the mat.


Yamas (Ethical guidelines)

The yamas are the ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Here's a quick overview:

  1. Ahimsa (Non-violence) 

  • Meaning: Ahimsa means non-violence and compassion towards all living beings.

  • In Practice: Avoiding harm in thoughts, words, and actions. This could mean practicing kindness and patience with yourself and others, both in your yoga practice and daily interactions.


  1. Satya (Truthfulness)

  • Meaning: Satya refers to truthfulness and honesty.

  • In Practice: Being truthful in your words and actions. On the mat, this might mean being honest about your physical limits and not pushing yourself too hard.


  1. Asteya (Non-stealing)

  • Meaning: Asteya means non-stealing, not just physical objects but also time and energy.

  • In Practice: Respecting others’ time and resources. In your practice, it could mean not taking more space than you need or being punctual for class.


  1. Brahmacharya (Continence)

  • Meaning: Often interpreted as celibacy, but more broadly, it means moderation in all things.

  • In Practice: Using your energy wisely. This could mean finding balance in your practice and not overexerting yourself.


  1. Aparigraha (Non-covetousness)

  • Meaning: Aparigraha means non-attachment or non-greed.

  • In Practice: Being content with what you have. On the mat, it might mean not comparing yourself to others or being attached to achieving specific poses.


Niyamas (Personal observances)

The niyamas are personal practices that relate to our inner world. They help us maintain a positive environment and develop self-discipline and inner strength.

  1. Saucha (Purity)

  • Meaning: Saucha refers to cleanliness and purity.

  • In Practice: Keeping your body, mind, and surroundings clean. This could mean practicing mindfulness and maintaining a clean practice space.


  1. Santosha (Contentment)

  • Meaning: Santosha means contentment and satisfaction.

  • In Practice: Finding joy in what you have and where you are right now. On the mat, it means being satisfied with your current progress and not rushing to achieve more complex poses.


  1. Tapas (Discipline)

  • Meaning: Tapas refers to self-discipline and willpower.

  • In Practice: Committing to regular practice and pushing through challenges. This could mean showing up on your mat even when you don’t feel like it.


  1. Svadhyaya (Self-study)

  • Meaning: Svadhyaya means self-study and reflection.

  • In Practice: Reflecting on your actions and thoughts. In your practice, this could mean keeping a yoga journal or spending time in meditation.


  1. Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to a Higher Power)

  • Meaning: Ishvara Pranidhana refers to surrendering to a higher power or greater force.

  • In Practice: Trusting in the process and letting go of the need to control everything. On the mat, it could mean surrendering to the flow of your practice and being open to whatever comes.


Integrating the Yamas and Niyamas into your practice


Understanding the yamas and niyamas is the first step; integrating them into your practice is where the real transformation happens. Here are a few tips to help you embody these principles:

  • Set Intentions: Before you begin your practice, set an intention that aligns with one of the yamas or niyamas. For example, you might set an intention to practice ahimsa by being gentle with yourself.

  • Reflect Post-Practice: Take a few minutes after your practice to reflect on how you embodied the yamas and niyamas. Journaling can be a great tool for this.

  • Mindful Living: Remember, yoga is not confined to the mat. Practice these principles in your daily life—whether it’s through mindful communication, sustainable living, or community service.


The yamas and niyamas are much more than just guidelines; they are the foundation of a holistic yoga practice. By integrating these principles into your life, you’ll find greater harmony, peace, and fulfillment both on and off the mat.


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