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Yamas & Niyamas: A Yogic guide & truly meaningful resolutions

Updated: Feb 4

Focus of the Month: January

written by Marlene

New Year - New Me?

As we step into the dawn of a new year, the tradition of setting resolutions to enhance our lives takes center stage. While fitness goals and lifestyle changes often dominate our lists, there exists a timeless and profound set of principles that can revolutionize not just our year, but our entire way of being.

On my personal yoga journey and for millions of other yoga practitioners the Yamas & Niyamas have been and still are today important landmarks to living mindfully and harmoniously. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient guide to ethical and conscious living, encapsulate the Yamas (social and ethical restraints) and Niyamas (personal observances), which transcend the confines of conventional resolutions. Instead, they offer a holistic framework for transformation, weaving together the tapestry of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

What are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?

The Yoga Sutras is a sacred text in yogic philosophy that was compiled by the scholar Maharishi Patanjali around 400 CE. In just 196 sutras (aphorisms) Patanjali maps out a complete system of Yoga. Today, The Yoga Sutras is considered to be one of the most important philosophical texts on the path of Yoga and is one of the most referred-to sources of yogic wisdom.

Yoga is often reduced to its physical aspects. All the flowing, twisting and balancing are certainly very healthy for our bodies, yet Yoga Asana (postures) is just one small piece of Yoga according to Patanjali.

The Sutras are subdivided into four chapters providing a very practical guideline towards enlightenment:

Chapter 1: Samadhi Pāda - guidance to self-realization for advanced practitioner

Chapter 2: Sādhana Pāda - step-by-step guidance for common-people

Chapter 3: Vibhuta Pāda - higher levels of spiritual development

Chapter 4: Kaivalya Pāda - description on how to live in the world in a detached manner

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Sādhana-Pāda, holds significant value for individuals on a spiritual or yogic journey. The Sādhana-Pāda, also known as the "Chapter on Practice," provides a practical guide to the path of yoga and outlines the steps to attain self-realization.

In this Sādhana-Pāda Patanjali introduces the eight limbs - known as Ashtanga Yoga, the eightfold path to yoga. The eight limbs clearly show that Yoga is much more than just a physical practice. They offer a holistic approach to well-being and a complete, comprehensive guide towards liberation. The limbs encompass ethical and personal observances (Yamas and Niyamas), physical postures (Asanas), breath control (Pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), concentration (Dharana), meditation (Dhyana), and absorption into the divine (Samadhi).

Following graphic can help you understand the eight limbs at a glance:

Yamas & Niyamas: Golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates 

The five Yamas (social ethics): Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (energy moderation), Aparigraha (non-grasping) and the five Niyamas (personal observances): Saucha (internal and external cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (right effort), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion) are the first two of the eight limbs described by Patanjali. These 10 guidelines or ethical principles are like ready-made New Year’s resolutions. The Yamas primarily focus on our actions when in community with others, while the Niyamas focus more generally on our relationship with our physical and psychological selves.

These principles provide guidance for ethical living and self-discipline, fostering mental well-being and a more meaningful life.

BKS Iyengar describes both the Yamas and Niyamas as the ‘golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates’, as they transform each action into one that originates from a deeper and more ‘connected’ place within ourselves. From that state of being, we move closer towards connectedness and unity, and start to not just ‘do’ yoga, but live and breathe ‘yoga’ in each and every moment.

"Yoga is not about touching your toes. It is about what you learn on the way down."

– Jigar Gor

Yamas: Social and Ethical Restraints

Ahimsa (Non-violence): Embracing peace within oneself and towards others, relinquishing hostility and irritability. It involves noticing negative thoughts and fostering an open and accepting attitude.

Satya (Truthfulness): Moving beyond personal viewpoints, satya encourages integrity and humility, emphasizing both spoken and unspoken aspects of communication.

Asteya (Non-stealing): Extending beyond material possessions, asteya urges respect for others' time, energy, and ideas, promoting fair trade and abundance.

Brahmacharya (Energy Moderation): Viewed as a personal energy-conservation program, Brahmacharya encourages managing one's energy wisely, avoiding disturbances to the mind and emotions.

Aparigraha (Non-grasping): Advocating non-hoarding and stewardship, Aparigraha encourages reflection on genuine needs and a mindset of abundance over accumulation.

Niyamas: Personal Observances

Saucha (Purity): Saucha involves maintaining cleanliness both physically and mentally, fostering calmness and uncluttered thoughts to connect with one's essence.

Santosha (Contentment): Rooted in accepting life as it is, Santosha encourages finding joy in the present moment, releasing the constant desire for perfection.

Tapas (Right Effort): Tapas represents self-discipline and internal fire, directing effort towards cultivating healthful habits and breaking unhealthful ones.

Svadhyaya (Self-Study): Encouraging self-awareness, Svadhyaya involves studying oneself, observing habits, and fostering empathy without judgment.

Ishvara Pranidhana (Devotion to the Highest): The pinnacle of spiritual practice, Ishvara Pranidhana involves surrendering to a divine essence, seeking communion with the highest power.

The following graphic can help you understand Yamas and Niyamas at a glance:

These ethical precepts provide a blueprint for harmonious living, encouraging practitioners to delve into self-awareness, align with higher principles, and cultivate a more fulfilling life. By incorporating these principles into daily life and practice, individuals can embark on a transformative journey toward lasting contentment and inner peace.

If you would like to dive deeper into the Yamas and Niyamas described by Patanjali, we invite you to join our New Year Immersion - A comprehensive 7-week online course, introducing you step by step, limb by limb into the yogic principles, helping you to practice and embody them in all aspects of our life.

We hope to see you on the mat!

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