About the Practice of Yama and Niyama…

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The first Yogic Scholar to document the Tenets for the science of Hatha Yoga was Shri Patanjali in his text Hatha Yoga Pradipika, written at least 3,000 years ago in India.  Hatha Yoga science is not a religion, it is a philosophy for the Art of conscious living.  Hatha Yoga science embraces all faiths, creeds and religions.  The original text was written in Sanskrit and the following is a transliteration that approximates the original context.  Do know Classical Indian Hatha Yoga was scientifically developed as a “101” course to allow people to be strong enough in mind and physical body to be able to sit still for extended periods of time for Raja Yoga: Kriya Yoga/meditation to develop the highest state of Conscious Living. 

There are ten tenets: five Yama known as the ethical practices and five Niyama or conscious observances.  In today’s post I will share the five Yama/Ethical Practices:

AhismaNon-violence.  Ahisma means causing no harm to any living being, including oneself, in thought, word or deed.  Non-violence is the basis of all the other Yama and Niyama.  True non-violence is love.

SatyaTruth.  Satya means not only abstaining from falsehood, but also seeing the inherent good in everyone.  Whenever possible, practicing periods of silence will greatly support one in this Yama.  A suggestion: try to be silent one morning or even one day in the week.  If that is not possible , create times where social interaction is minimized, (including FaceBook and internet!), in which you only speak when necessary with truth and sweetness.

AsetyaNon-stealing.  Asetya also means releasing the desire to possess that which belongs to another.

AparigrahaNon-possessiveness.  We all need certain possessions.  However, many of us not only accumulate more than we need, but continually desire even further luxuries.  Thus engaged, we disturb our peace of mind.  The more simply we live, the more energy can be devoted to our spiritual practice.

Brahmacharyamoderation.  Through Brahmacharya in all areas of our lives, the seeker saves, and thus accumulates great energy that can be channeled into his/her spiritual experience.  This practice is imperative for those wishing to embark upon the spiritual path.

Please do look for part two: Niyama in the next post.  Perhaps take some time to reflect on what the above Yama signifies for you.  For those who keep a journal the Yama and Niyama give us much to think and weave into our daily thoughts and actions.  Best wishes for deep Reflection, Namaste.

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194 responses »

  1. The Yama are about preventing bad behaviors. You must avoid bad behaviors that can cause pain and follow behaviors that lead to happiness. They are sort of like the Ten Commandments, but not really. Where the commandments are more like don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t over indulge, and don’t be violent. The Yama want you to look a little deeper. Instead of don’t lie, seek the truth and find the good in all. You must clear your mind of desires to have what others possess. You must be able to live a simple life. The Yama are a guide to help us achieve inner and outer peace and harmony. They also help us look at ourselves with the meditation. The Yama are the beginning steps to transform your life. These are all simple practices that everyone should really be following every day.

  2. It is interesting to me that these values and practices are present not only ing Yoga, but other religions that developed in alternate regions around the globe. My personal explantation for why this might be is that these values live at the core of most human beings. It is easy to understand why people find great importance or meaning in these concepts. They seem to assist any practitioner in being more mindful of others, of their own trials and struggles, and the world at large. Anyone immersed in a college environment is engaged in Satya, striving for the obtainment of new knowledge and truth about the world around them.

    Any American could find peace in engaging with Aparigraha, because we are pushed and pulled from every angle by corporations who wish to turn a profit from our well-earned dime. We live in a materialist society. Every now and then it is important to disengage from our material needs and desires and ask if we really need more than what we have right now. It is any easy way to do away with stress of fitting in and a great way to save money.

    By engaging with Saucha and Santosha, anyone is capable of realizing themselves to the fullest extent. It is important that we not ask more of ourselves than what we are capable of doing. It is also important not to worry about things we cannot afford or may not obtain, because after all, it is beyond our reach.

  3. This is pretty interesting. The Yama’s are like the Ten Commandments of Christianity. They both have the rule of not stealing and the rule of not bearing false witness and even the rules of not killing and not coveting peoples possessions. This actually makes you realize that Yoga and Christianity are very similar in a lot of areas.

  4. These tenets of the Yama, and the way they are presented, makes sense within the initial statement referring to “Hatha Yoga science”. We approach science, and also religion, with certain sets of procedures and practices in mind, and this is no different within the practice of Hatha Yoga, arguably a point in which science and faith can intersect. I don’t have authority to speak on this, but with the simplistic nature used to describe the Yamas, it seems they can be adopted and applied to many different situations, depending on the practitioner. Most notably, is the definition of Asetya. It’s described as non-stealing, but also releasing the desire to possess what belongs to others. It can be taken literally, as to physically not steal, but also within the interior of one’s mind, where they should not have even the desire to possess something that isn’t their’s, which can easily give way to thoughts of theft and stealing. All of this, I would argue, comes under the umbrella of practicing truth. Being truthful to both yourself, and those around you.

  5. I found reading about Hatha Yoga was very interesting. I have heard of it before however, I was not aware of what it consisted of. I find these aspects such as moderation and truth to be concepts we should remind ourselves everyday. Additionally, I find it to be very important when I practice to remind myself of some of these components. Being a science major, I like having concepts and facts as well as proof that my practices are benefiting me. I see a gradual improvement in my mental health as well reminding me of these things. Yoga is about finding power within oneself and I feel these concepts can be lost with the stress of everyday life. Mentally/physically healing by practicing but also being aware of the science component.

  6. I have friends that are actually turned off from yoga and meditation because they fear religious persecution in their own faiths. But I think it is interesting and important for people to know that the practice of Hatha yoga and meditation is actually not a religious practice at all. It is a spiritual one, and I think people have a hard time differentiating between spiritual lifestyles and religious ones.

    Hatha yoga and meditation are also tremendously beneficial to people’s health. And could really help a lot of people who have stress and different road blocks in life. I think the tenements of yoga are also really important creeds and ethics to live by. People who are afraid of yoga because of religion should also know that these different pillars of the practice are pieces to living a good and clean life, just like with religion.

    • There are sects and groups in India, especially some old school Hindus who heavily profess religious connections with yoga. However, The Sages and Shri Patanjali did not prescribe yoga to be religious at all. The AdiYogi, Shiva, is older than Hinduism. This is all very unfortunate, as Classical Indian Hatha Yoga never was shared to exclude anyone, but to offer a way to live well for All. In my spiritual journey I have come to find The Isha Foundation to embrace Yoga for All, in all aspects, so I feel safe sharing the teachings with you and others. Yama and Niyama are higher principles than those found in religious tenets as it actually offers a psycho-social basis for people to understand behaviors that are healthy and those that can lead to dangerous situations. Combined with practicing hatha yoga the principles can be actualized, better than just reading or being told what to do. Hope that makes some sense, best wishes OM

  7. The more that is discovered about Yoga in this class through these assignments are what make the practice interesting. I find that the 5 Yamas are very broad principles yet they highlight such a strong importance. Each of the rules is a wonderful step to live by in order to become a wholesome and kind person. These steps reflect on how this is not a religion but a philosophy. Each Principle supports each other to build a fine understanding of high consciousness.

  8. Of the 5 Yama practices I think I would have to work on Aparigraha. While I think it is important for everyone to have all that they might need, in today’s world not everyone does. When you don’t have to constantly be worrying about where your next meal will come from or if your drinking water is clean enough for you to drink, it seems so much easier for one to get caught up in the material things in life. For me the first time I realized that I had so much more than I could ever possibly need or want was when I visited my mother’s family in the Dominican Republic. Children there don’t always have much. One girl who, at the time, was around the same age as me told me that she had never even had a bed of her own because she had always shared a bed with her younger sister. This has always resonated with me. From then on I was always even more grateful than I previously was for everything I was given, and I have always tried to help others.

  9. I enjoy how these are set up in a way that makes them less intimidating than a religion or a rule. Of course this has to do with that statement being made at the beginning, but even the way the five Yamas are worded makes them seem very accessible…which they are. I feel that we all have these five movements within us, we just have to learn how to cultivate them. They even seem like common sense, with a little twist. It is like the fuller version of what we’re told as children. I really want to try Satya for the rest of the week. I periodically delete the social media apps I have on my phone when I notice myself becoming too attached to them, so maybe this week will be my week to do that again, too!

    These are such simple, beautiful practices that could really make such an impact on day to day life. They could even make an impact on the mind I think. If you practice them over an over they just become part of who you are and what you do. I’d love to incorporate them more into my daily life!

  10. When it comes the practice of hatha Yoga, I appreciate the correlation in which it is beneficial to both the mind and body, where most would assume yoga is a practice of one’s physical flexibility. The most essential tool to when doing Hatha Yoga more weight on the strength of one’s mind and common beliefs, not just physical capability. It through the dedication and perseverance of our moral standards that we become more inclined with ourselves through the practice of the Yama and Niyama.

    The influence behind the Yama and Niyama teachings essentially make up the standard structure of being a guidelines in which to lead a proper, fulfilled life. Through these teachings, those who follow are able to obtain true transparency and serenity. As individuals, I think we all follow a certain code or standard at which we live our lives by, and the practice shown above is simply another code that shares common ground with others codes we seem to follow today.

    I consider it important that we always uphold our normal tradition, but also consider the teachings being shown above. Despite the simplicity of the rules being instructed, I think they give a well formed blend and balance when it comes to explaining our place within the world.

  11. Tyler Schrader

    This is very righteous reading and a reminder of the true qualities of life. Most pass by and over look this day to day. The five yama or ethnical princibles are always within reach and natural within your subconscious and intuition- its just the matter of discovering it. Your decision process and morals or key to success. This is something that is contained by everyone, if only we could all contain it. The world would indeed be a different place. Peace would truly resonate. I look forward to Connecting both the five yama and Ishia Kria together. It is powerful apart but mighty together.

    Aparigraha is a big leading factor for our generation. We are in a technological revolution. Everything revolves around materialism. The biggest distraction of all. Living in an illusion of plastic lives roaming through life step by step. One day i will sell all my belongings to take the world by the hand.Where everywhere is home, free as a bird. I find myself holding onto things that are meaningless that congest my being. Its good to let go- start fresh, me myself and I. This is a good place to start and many other negative qualities root from this.

  12. The greatest challenge in practicing the tenets of Yama is not the challenge of achieving enlightenment, but rather living a Yama life in a capitalist society. A number of the aspects of Yama involve living modestly and un-materialistically. While embracing the idea of non-violence is a no-brainer, forgoing the allure of objects is much harder. Personally, I love buying stuff, from records and action figures to books and clothes. However, the practice of yoga is about finding fulfillment in one’s self rather than material things. I understand this, but it is still a hard aspect to forgo being raised in a nation that stresses the importance of purchasing truly meaningless things.

  13. It’s interesting that this has scientific roots instead of religious ones. I was raised in a christian household and went to church and a lot of their ethical and spiritual thoughts are very similar. Love thy self, love thy neighbor, get rid of greed and jealousy. It’s the same concepts, but with different words. I also find most of the religions I know about also hold a lot of these values. It makes me wonder if these religions developed these ideas scientifically. It also reminds me of the video from last weeks journal assignment, the video about stress, it is scientifically proven that your outlook on life and how you let it stress you affects your health. If you love yourself and others and don’t let negativity penetrate you then what do you have to be stressed about. I also wonder if people who study this truly practice it. In the church God is love and christians are suppose to be loving. However they often, not always, shame women, hate LGBTQ folk, and don’t follow their own rules of love.

    • Good question, hopefully those exposed to principles of conscious lifestyle may become motivated to start living in harmony with these values. In my travels I have found that many places in the East wherein folks are raised with this values keep to them. When communities share values it helps to reinforce each other. Namaste

  14. It is fascinating to learn about ancient yogi text , but even more interesting to observe the similarity of the ethical codes that have been spread throughout human history. The Yama ethical practices don’t seem to far off from old biblical codes or even mythological text before then. Ashism being non- violence is a general ethical code, but truth, non-stealing, non-possessiveness, and moderation all link up with commonly know “sins” such as Baring false witness, envy, gluttony, and greed.

  15. I think several people had mentioned this in the earlier comments but I also find the Yamas to be very similar to the Ten Commandments in the Catholic religion. I was raised Catholic so adhering to the Yamas is not a drastic transition for me, Some of them go without saying such as the statement about not stealing but others like “seeing the inherent good in everyone” can be much more of a challenge. I know I speak not only for myself when I say that I can sometimes be very quick to judge based off appearances or first impressions alone. This is an aspect of my personality that I hope to one day to be rid of. I think it’s wonderful how much more there is to Yoga than just the physical aspect and am looking forward to the positive changes it will bring to my life.

    • You have started here a good beginning to creating a worthy essay. I hope you do not spend time reading others journals as most so far have not taken the time to submit worthy assignments. Keep on your own path and I am certain you may end up developing good yoga journals. OM

  16. I’ve come to learn that yoga is not only sport and relaxation, but truly a way to live. The Yama and Niyama is absolute proof of that. I see this as a list of rules and ethical ways of being. Similar to a way a bible tells people how to do right and live well. This practice becomes almost religious. I apreciate this way of councious being, and taking considerate steps toward being a more whole and well being person.

  17. These guidelines are very important and seem to lay out practice that are taught in many other religions but leave out the more judgmental and divisive attitudes that are often brought with them. Yoga has such a focus in self improvement and reflection that there isn’t time to judge others. You may give them the tools but it is up to them to use them. I really admire that about this practice.

  18. Noah Chestnut

    I find this quite intriguing, It aligns itself almost like it’s a religion. But why? I think it’s similar because most religions have a base set of rules and so does this. It explains that you shouldn’t steal, kill or anything like that. And it’s very interesting because I always looked at yoga at strictly an exercise. But the more I learn the more I see yoga is a way a life, not just exercise.

  19. Reading about the Yamas was significantly intriguing because a although they guidelines, they do not come across in a bounding or threatening way as some religions do or how some people feel they do. The words used themselves promotes the conscious way of living, one that actively helps you. Thinking of these state in a mental, spiritual sense and not just literally as opposed to being told “Do not” or “One Shall not” like that of the Ten Commandments in The Bible or other similar religious text. I grew up in a religious household and I was very distant from the catholic practices because of the many confines it had and the negativity it pushed on me was very clear. It was unconsciously trying to follow rules and not do wrong because I was told not to by something. However I connect to text like the Yamas because allows you to actively be conscious of these steps and to know why so it benefits you as well as others. I think this is extremely powerful and progressive, to be more conscious of your living and not just blindly following laws but to know why and to give it meaning.

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