The Yamas and Niyamas

A group of people walk into a classroom and each student uniquely takes from that class what they need most. - For me this was the yoga philosophy part. I dove in deep without ever looking back.

I can remember vividly how much I anticipated taking this yoga journey and how much I needed this training to save me from my self destruction.  I took this training very seriously and for me at the time I needed the philosophy part first.  Now years later I'm starting to give equal dedication towards the asana too.  Like I said, I think we hear or give great attention to what our soul is needing at the moment.  At any given time when I'm teaching, I bet every student takes something completely different away from my class.  Just like I do when I go to someone else's class.  It's also a lot of information to take in and the body/mind may need days...months...or even years to figure certain things out.  It's a practice; right!  

So I wanted to share with you some of my personal experiences that I had with the yamas and the niyamas.  In my training we went over one per month and by doing so, literally lived what we studied.  In yoga we study Pantanjali's eight limbs (ashta=eight, anga=limb) and the first two limbs are Yamas and Niyamas.  Pantanjali was a sage (profoundly wise person) who lived around the 2nd century BCE.  I always explain them like they are kind of like the ten commandments of yoga; the do's and don'ts of life.  You would think that asana (pose) would be first on the list, but it's not... it's the ethical standards that come first.  So maybe I was onto something when I did the teacher training.  


Ahimsa- nonharm

Satya- Truth

Asteya- nonstealing

Brahmacharya- moderation

Aparigraha- noncovetousness


Saucha- Cleanliness

Santosha- contentment

Tapas- heat, self discipline

Svadhyaya- study of the sacred scriptures and of one's self

Isvara pranidhana- surrender to God


My lessons:


Ahimsa-  nonharm

This one was a tough one, ugh...  My thoughts at that time was, that I had tortured myself enough to last a lifetime.  I wish you could say you could heal yourself overnight and correct your belief system that quickly too, but boy it's a process and not an easy one.  Not sure if its the self critical Leo side to me or the Catholic upbringing, but I was filled with guilt and extremely critical of myself.  Side note, when you're critical of yourself you are very critical of others.  So, throughout the month I gave myself permission to love myself UNCONDITIONALLY, forgive myself, and to let go of beating myself up everyday.  

Satya-  truth

I can remember back to being a child and having my hair dried at the hair dresser and she almost scorched my scalp off. Did I say anything? Nope;  I was too insecure and scared to speak up for myself.  During training I was in a not-so-good work environment.   I thought with my newfound confidence I was gaining with teacher training, I could maybe muster up the courage to speak up for myself when it mattered most.  Looking back it might have been more dramatic then I would have liked, but I did get the message across, I am a Leo after all.   Guess what,  every chance thereafter I would practice using my voice even if it meant me feeling shaky inside with fear.   Thing is, it's just like working out a muscle the more you use it the stronger you get.  

Asteya-  nonstealing

Oh how wonderful it is to complain.  Not when your on the other end that is. Before you get on the defense here with this, I'm talking about the chronic complaining about the same situation, over and over again.  It's like beating a dead horse.  Enough is enough.  We all have our own shit to worry about and being around a complainer is not fun and absolutely draining.   Thing is when we complain to others we steal there peace and dump our own crap on them.  There is a difference in venting and complaining.  Complaining is a repetitive way of voicing your "poor-me" attitude to others without the direction of you doing something about it.  Sometime complaining actually perpetuates the situation...adding a negative force of energy around it.  I did this at the time about my dislike for my job at the time of training.  So, with much practice I tried my best to forgo complaining to everyone and anyone about how unfair my work situation was.  Eventually in time, I was able to move on from that work situation.  I guess the point is to be mindful of how your taking from others and sometimes yourself.  This could be about time and energy.  I still struggle with this one.  

Brahmacharya-  moderation or "right use of energy"

This one could be fun to work on and with a little discipline you could actually master it.  I'm nowhere near mastering it, but very mindful of how beneficial life is when your practice moderation in all things.  During training my focus was to practice moderation in multitasking.  I think I might actually have undiagnosed hyperactive ADD or could be my caffeine intake.  So, I focused on doing one thing at a time and really being present in the task.  Trust me when I say at first this was totally brutal for me.  This could also be with how you eat, how much you drink and maybe cutting back on too much TV time.  In the yoga text, this Yama mainly pertains to abstaining from sex when you are not married and fidelity when married.  We were taught in my training to look at it with a broader sense.  Being mindful of your right use of your energy and being wise with it.  So, take a good look at your life and see where you might be putting unhealthy amounts of energy.  Self awareness is key.

Aparigraha-  Non-possessiveness

During training my car broke down after having a brand new engine placed in it.  I remember sitting on the side of the road and having a non-attached feeling towards what was happening.  I just sat on the road calmly and had it picked up.  My thought at the time was to not be so attached to this car, maybe this was happening because my heart was set on a mini cooper.  This makes me laugh now because I did end up getting a cooper and that car too broke down too. I'm now driving a Subaru.  Life is funny like that.  So, maybe the idea here is to not be possessive of things in our life, because you never know what the universe has in store for you to take the place of the item or maybe person in your life that you were holding onto so tightly.  We don't really "own anything", we are just souls passing by in this lifetime and taking care of things for the next generation; loving them, admiring them, and setting them free when the time is right. Have a deep trust of the natural flow of life and where it may lead you.  I think I remember my teacher telling me in the hindu tradition it is expected of you to give away even prized possessions if someone has asked for it; not expecting anything in return.  It's always beautiful to have a giving heart.



Saucha-  Purity

I took this one as to cutting back on my negative internal dialogue.  Having clean healthy thoughts is something to strive for, but I think with the human spirit we tend to lead towards the negative ones.  It's natural to have this yin/yang balance, thing is to not let the NEGATIVE take over.   I set the intention that month to challenge myself with changing a negative thought to a positive one and focused on positive self talk.  My internal dialogue goes something like this:  "Why the **ck did you do that!?", "I'm not smart enough.", "I'm not good enough for that." You get the point.  We can really beat the hell out of ourselves.  Be nice to you!  

Santosha-  Contentment

"Thank God for Santosha!  I have finally made it to the end of the tunnel and see and feel the light.  The last couple of months have been such a challenge and deep transformation has occurred.  It felt as though I was a caterpillar morphing into a butterfly going through all the changes inside and out.  I finally feel a sense of contentment with my life, the past, the present, and the future, whatever that holds.  Every morning that I wake up I focus on the good, thank God for all he has blessed me with and stay in the moment.  I used to not want to be here anymore and did whatever it took not to feel what it is I had inside of me.  I now have transformed my life to face feelings and fears head on and to breathe through anxiety and ride it out like a wave.  Those days of feeling anxious are getting less and less and I'm not forcing or judging how fast or slow it is occurring... I'm just being.  I now feel ease, love and have become more with my breath and inner being.  I am love and peace."  

Tapas-  Self discipline

Looking back I can remember getting up earlier than I would have liked to practice yoga every morning; it was dark and I was tired, but I wanted to put the work in.  That's the thing about tapas, its about hard work and determination to do what you set your mind to do.  

Svadhyaya-  Self study

It's hard to take a deep look at yourself and your tendencies.  I mean who wants to even admit to themselves that they might have taken a wrong path or made a bad decision.  Thing is sometimes it gets to the point where it is easier to take that hard look, that self study, as opposed to numbing every part of your being to just get through the day.  Honestly that's exactly where I was at this point in the journey, I needed to forgive and learn exactly where these things stemmed from - giving myself permission to let go and move on.  

Ishvara Pranidhana-  Surrender (to God)

I just went over in class last night the importance of surrendering to the natural flow of life, because the more we fight it, the more we suffer.  It's like flowing down a stream and if you start to swim against the current, you start to struggle and almost seem to go nowhere.  During the training this was difficult to understand, especially for a control freak.  It's like when you're in a panic attack and you fight to regain some control of your senses only to realize it's not helping, and once you let go and allow that energy to flow... it moves away from you quickly.  We are human beings experiencing a human life and for me surrendering to my higher power of God was very important to me.  It's having this faith in something that is more powerful then yourself and knowing that by letting go you allow God in.

Namaste~  The light in me honors the light in you...

Namaste~  The light in me honors the light in you...

Om shanti shanti shanti,” it’s an invocation of peace. In Buddhist and Hindu traditions you chant shanti three times to represent peace in body, speech, and mind.
— Yoga Journal