How the Yamas & Niyamas Can Enhance Your Yoga Practice – & Your Life

You know all about yoga asanas, but what about yamas & niyamas? Here’s why you’re missing out if you aren’t practicing these foundational yoga principles…

Most people when they think of yoga think of a series of physical exercises or poses. However, traditional yoga goes far beyond the physical. In fact, the asanas (which we commonly call “poses”) are only one of the 8 aspects (or arms) of yoga. Traditional yoga provided practitioners with “a fundamental philosophy for how to make their way through the world.” In other words, yoga wasn’t just a way to exercise, it was a way of life.

It even had its own “manual” of sorts – called the Yoga Sutra. According to Yoga Journal, in this collection of texts written between the second century BCE and the fifth century CE… “philosophers outlined an eight-limbed, step-by-step path for purifying the body and mind. The ultimate goal: to help practitioners cultivate a steady mind, leading to calm bliss.”

In fact, the first two elements of yoga weren’t even physical at all. Before you even practiced the asanas, you first would practice two fundamental ethical principles that governed how you relate to other people and to yourself. These two important principles were called the yamas (social restraints) and the niyamas (self-disciplines).

Of course, yoga has many wonderful physical benefits as well, but if you truly want to experience the depth of peace and harmony that a traditional yoga practice can bring to your life, you may want to explore some of the other limbs a little further.

You may have never even heard of the yamas & niyamas, unless you’ve taken a traditional Ashtanga yoga class, so here is a further explanation of these important principles, followed by 10 ways to implement these practices into your life, starting today:

The five yamas ask practitioners to avoid violence, lying, stealing, wasting energy, and possessiveness, while the five niyamas ask us to embrace cleanliness and contentment, to purify ourselves through heat, to continually study and observe our habits, and to surrender to something greater than ourselves. Many of these principles have multifaceted nuances. For example, Bachman says, the meaning of the niyama tapas—purifying through heat—isn’t so much about sweating out toxins in a hot yoga class as it is about tolerating the heat of friction, or mental discomfort, when one habitual pattern rubs up against a new, more beneficial one.


10 Yoga Practices To Foster the Yamas & Niyamas

Each of the practices below embodies a yama or niyama, helping you to reflect on the unique lessons it provides. The asana is also accompanied by a mudra, meditation, and mantra that focus you on the subtle and not-so-subtle ways each yama or niyama plays out in your life. Hold each pose, with its mudra, for three to five breaths, mindfully chanting, aloud or internally, its accompanying mantra. Do each practice on its own or link them together as a sequence.

Yoga Practices for the Yamas

Ahimsa (non-harming)
Satya (truthfulness)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)
Brahmacharya (maintenance of vitality)

Yoga Practices for the Niyamas

Tapas (purification through discipline)
Santosha (contentment)
Saucha (purity)
Svadhyaya (self-study)
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to a higher power)

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