Keep your Yoga Alive Off the Mat with the Yamas and Niyamas

Have you ever wondered what it means to "live your yoga" or how to continue yoga "off the mat?" When I first started yoga, I thought it was only about being detached emotionally and less ego-driven. But being the human I am, I'm attached to everything and I have a huge ego.  I thought I failed to live up to yoga, philosophically... Until I actually learned some yoga philosophy.

ENTER PATANJALI

During my teacher training, we had philosophy as part of our curriculum. I loved it so much because it taught me things I didn't know about myself and things I didn't know about yoga. Throughout my training, I learned about the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

Although yoga isn't necessarily a religion, it does provide guidelines for how to live your life. Patanjali provides a pretty descriptive philosophical outlook. And yes, he goes into ethics!

The yamas and niyamas are the ethical guidelines from Patanjali. The yamas describe how you should interact with your outer world; they’re the ethical restrictions, the “Don’ts.” The niyamas on the other hand, encourages ethical observances for your inner world, the “Dos.”

Here are the yamas…

1.     Ahimsa // Nonviolence

2.     Satya // Truth

3.     Asteya // Non-stealing

4.     Brahmacharya // Moderation

5.     Aparigraha // Non-possessiveness

If I were to turn this into a Don’t list…

1.     Don’t harm

2.     Don’t lie

3.     Don’t steal

4.     Don’t overindulge

5.     Don’t be greedy

Here are the niyamas…

1.     Saucha // Cleanliness, purity

2.     Santosha // Contentment

3.     Tapas // Zeal, commitment

4.     Svadyaya // Self-study

5.     Ishvara pranidhana // Surrendering to God or the Universe

If I were to turn this into a Do list…

1.     Do clean your mind and your body

2.     Do find a sense of contentment

3.     Do practice discipline and channel your energy

4.     Do inquire about yourself

5.     Do participate in causes bigger than yourself

Why are the yamas and niyamas important?

In the order of the eight limbs of yoga, they actually precede asana practice, or what we commonly see as yoga. Because the truth is, we all need to have an ethical foundation before continuing our spiritual journeys toward Samadhi, or enlightenment. Keep in mind, the yamas and niyamas are ideals, like most things in the self-growth world. I encourage self-compassion as you explore your relationship with each yama and each niyama.

I personally find myself practicing more of some and less of others. So I decided to help create lists for each one, with practical examples we could try out or use as inspiration.

From my yama list…

Ways to practice asteya

1.     Show up on time. Being late is stealing time.

2.     If you thought of something awesome, share that idea.

3.     When somebody is talking to you, give them your full attention.

4.     Pay your bills on time.

5.     Don’t take something unless you really need it.

 

From my niyama list…

Ways to practice santosha

1.     Meditate on what Santosha means to you

2.     Try to go a day without complaining

3.     When you get a negative thought, be curious about it

4.     Remember a moment where you felt loved for who you are

5.     Make a list of things you’re grateful for

I know that there are nuances I didn’t cover. The yamas and niyamas are such a huge topic on their own, and this is a beginner’s guide to exploring them.

Download the full lists below to see how you can practice the yamas and niyamas.

Hien Hong