Yamas and Niyamas - Guidelines for Conscious Living
What are they? They are not the “ten commandments” or any sort of externally imposed rules. The Yamas and Niyamas are GUIDES that must be deeply contemplated. Yoga is more than a physical discipline. Yoga is a path, with a rich philosophy. Yamas and Niyamas are ten good common-sense guidelines for leading a healthier, happier life – bringing spiritual awareness into a social context. Focus on the ones that resonate with you today. Consider their application in your life. Use your rational mind to question them, ponder them, and examine them from all angles. Yoga is not about mindlessly accepting externally imposed rules – it is about finding the truth for yourself. So question, challenge and contemplate the guidelines that resonate with you today. Let the rest go. All will apply to your life in time. You can always return to this site to review them again.
There are many interpretations of the yamas and niyamas. I have taken definitions from a variety of sources to give you as balanced and complete an idea of their meaning as possible. Yoga and Sanskrit scholars please feel free to email me with any suggestions.
Why study the Yamas and Niyamas? They help you manage your energy in an integrative manner, complementing your outer life to your inner development. They help you view yourself with compassion and awareness. They help you respect all the different values in the world, balancing your inner growth with outer restraint. They help you to lead a CONSCIOUS LIFE.Yamas and Niyamas are not about right and wrong. They are about being honest with ourselves. Living these principles will change us in the moment. Not about being "bad" or "good" – they are about living our lives in a better way, thinking and being better, moving towards understanding rather than separation. Bad things happen in everyone’s life sometimes. It is not what happens that matters – it is HOW YOU REACT TO IT.
Yamas- Guidelines for how we interact with the outer world. Social disciplines to guide us in our relationships with others. The five yamas are: Ahimsa. Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha.
"Yamas and niyamas all have their root in ahimsa (not harming living beings); their aim is to perfect this love that we ought to have for all creatures...." From the "Yogasutra-bhashya" 2.30, by Vyasa, the oldest commentary on Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, translated. by J. Varenne, "Yoga in the Hindu Tradition", Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976
Awareness and gentleness in action, thought and speech. Violence arises out of fear, anger, restlessness and selfishness.
Practice: compassion, love, understanding, patience, self-love, and
Truthfulness of speech, thoughts and deeds.
Practice: Honesty, owning feelings, loving communication, assertiveness, giving constructive feedback, forgiveness, non-judging, letting go of masks. "The elf of the tongue needs the giant to control it." Bapuji
Honesty can be used as a weapon, so be careful to be COMPASSIONATE. It
is not about being "right." Love is higher than truth. "Brutal Honesty" is
not truth. If LOVE directs how you use truth then you are practicing
Ahimsa (non-violence) must be practiced with Satya.
Concepts and Notions keep us from the truth, keep it murky. Learn to be accepting like a newborn baby. Don’t let Ego get in the way of Heart.
Not coveting, not being jealous.
Practice: use objects the right way, proper time management. Cultivate
sense of completeness, self-sufficiency, let go of cravings. If you
value material goods too much, this temptation will come upon you at
Let go of that false value.
If you attain what you want through honest means, you have no fear. If you attain what you want through dishonest means, you live with fear.
No overindulgence of mind, intellect, speech or body; moderation on all
levels concerning sex, food, and all aspects of daily life including the
environment. [This is
the most misunderstood Yama, so I will spend more space defining the
meaning of this]
Practice: not repression, but control of sensual cravings
Principle: Satisfying our desires for pleasure through food, sex, television and other pastimes hides the emptiness inside. That emptiness is spiritual starvation. Our soul needs fulfillment. There are many levels of our being, and we often do not take a holistic approach to fulfillment on all these levels. We often only see the easiest, surface level needs -and try to fulfill ourselves on a physical level.
"Brahma" = the Creator "Charya" = teacher or guide The word Brahmacharya is derived from the two words Brahma and acharya or charya (take your pick). Brahma is God as the creator or progenitor, acharya is teacher and charya means wedded to. Thus one could say brahmacharya means being wedded to Brahma or "to remain connected to Source" or to remain continuous with it
"This day, I am moderate, centered, and complete. I use my energy in ways that lead me closer to my Source. I treat myself and others with respect, recognizing the inherent Divinity of all people."
Neither obsessing nor repressing, make peace with your sensual cravings or any interests that pull you off-center from your Source. Avoid overindulgence of mind, intellect, speech, and body.
Be moderate in moderation also, so it is not a burden. It is a beautiful practice. It is about moderating the extremes and not wanting too much (consumerism). Brahmacharya brings out the FIRE in your spirit. Many energies come up. If it comes up, let it burn – smothering issues just makes them smolder. When they re-emerge they’ll be hotter. When they arise, notice what the issues are, and go deeper into your true motivations.
Fulfilling needs rather than wants.
Practice: Non-attachment to possessions, relationships.
When you take away "stuff," you face yourself. It is not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating. Make room for new growth to come.
from accumulating more than you need – “stuff” only serves to distract you
from your source, your true self.
Often, one tries to satisfy spiritual starvation with
relationships, sex, food, and material goods.
Remove the distraction, and you can connect more deeply with what
is truly happening inside.
It is okay to have “stuff” in your life – just don’t be attached to
Remain connected to your source, and let other aspects of your life
go the way the universe directs them.
Purity of body, cleanliness, good health habits, a clear and orderly environment
Orderliness surrounding the self and our thoughts. Orderliness of environment. Clearing of energy.
Accept what is, make the best out of everything.
Practice: gratitude and joyfulness; remain calm with success or failure. This state of mind does not depend on any external status.
Contentment, acceptance, and an attitude of gratitude. Remaining focused in the face of adversity. It is a practice of choosing love over fear. Following the adage "Accept that which we cannot change, Change what we can, and have the wisdom to know the difference."
The willingness to do what is necessary to reach a goal with discipline.
Practice: determination to pursue daily practices, making sacrifices as necessary, enthusiasm for the spiritual path. Joyfulness with outer discipline will lead to inner discipline.
Tapas is about austerity, sacrifice, discipline. Tapas means "heat" or "fire." Go through the heat and accept it – invite it in. The fire brings transformation. If you are not in stillness, you are craving or having aversion. Transformation happens through the fire – burn off some layers and emerge as something new – a Phoenix. Give yourself fully to your dharma (your life’s mission). Develop courage, strength and simplicity. Long sitting meditation is a disciplined practice – physical heat is generated, which "burns" the ego away to reveal the true inner spirit.
Consider the meaning of spiritual concepts – understanding the underlying wisdom, NOT accepting without question. Expanding knowledge through reading, pondering to understand the scriptures for observation of the self in relation to all life.
Practice: reflection, meditation, wanting to know the Truth.
Swadhyaya is the practice of self-observation. It gives you a pause between stimulus and response, letting you have room to breathe, relax, feel, watch, and allow. Items you are pondering may come clear to you in an almost organic manner – or it may take time for truth to emerge. Be open and have the spirit of exploration within you.
Practice: faith, dedication, sincerity, and patience to transcend the ego, which is so resistant to surrender.
Ishwara-Pranidhana is about your relationship to the divine energy of the universe. Offer the fruit of yourself, your work, and your devotion to Divinity. Keep self-actualization as your goal in your life, adjusting all your actions to serve this goal in some way. Spirituality embraces the light and the dark, so don’t judge the elements of your spirit. Spirituality is in many things – it is in our hearts. Your expression may be to read poetry, listen to music, to dance, to walk your dog. Find your expression of your surrender to Spirit and celebration of this energy.
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