When you think of yoga, you probably imagine people bending their bodies in all sorts of intricate shapes, or remember the vinyasa flow that had your blood pumping, leaving you feeling empowered and energized.
While these are definitely aspects to yoga, there is a lot more to yoga than the asanas, or postures that you do during a yoga flow. The word yoga means “to yoke,” and can be interpreted as forming a union between the mind and body.
The history of yoga goes back over 20,000 years. Yoga is a spiritual practice that has the capability of awakening the Divine within yourself and connecting you to the Source Creator. But to attain Samadhi or oneness with God, which is the ultimate goal of yoga, there are certain steps that need to be taken.
According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient text describing the theory and practice of yoga, there are 8 limbs of yoga, also known as ashtanga yoga. These limbs inform the yogi on how to live a meaningful life. The 8 limbs are as follows:
In this article we will discuss the first two limbs of yoga: the yamas and niyamas, as well as their significance to a yogic lifestyle.
The Yamas of Yoga
One can view the yamas as moral codes to live by to guide you along your life path. When I think of the yamas, I’m almost reminded of the Ten Commandments. The yamas are restraints to live by in order to master yourself and the world around you. Below we’ll discuss each yama and their importance.
1. Ahimsa – Compassion
According to The Yamas and Niyamas by Deborah Adele, ahimsa is the act of nonviolence. The word himsa in Sanskrit means violence and when you add the “a”’ in front of it, it becomes nonviolence. My guru, Erika, of Cloud Nine Yoga reminds me to address things from a positive aspect. It’s similar to the concept of viewing the glass as half full rather than half empty. With that being said, instead of perceiving ahimsa as nonviolence, view it in the positive lens of having compassion. To practice ahimsa is to have compassion not only for others and all living things, but also for yourself.
I wholeheartedly believe that in order to love and care for others, you must first love and care for yourself. For example, if you were on an airplane and the oxygen masks deployed, would you first make sure the person sitting next to you has their oxygen mask on before ensuring that you are receiving oxygen? How will you be able to help others if you can’t even breathe yourself?
So in practicing ahimsa, remember to have compassion for all that you are; for what you may consider your flaws, as well as all of the things that make you uniquely you. Even on the days where you do not feel your best or where your 100% is only 20%, be compassionate with yourself and give yourself grace.
When you find yourself in a negative loop of self-deprecating thoughts and speaking unkindly to yourself, remember ahimsa. When you are interacting with someone else who may seem rude or unkind, remember ahimsa. We don’t know why people respond the way they do in certain situations. Maybe that person is having a bad day. It’s not always easy to do, but in those moments, have compassion for their response to you because you have no idea what they are dealing with that encouraged their rudeness or mean behavior.
Remember ahimsa before you decide to kill the spider crawling near the corner of the ceiling. Ahimsa encompasses compassion for ALL things, not just people. I like to remind myself that everything is connected and everything is energy, even our thoughts. In knowing this, I do my best to practice ahimsa with all that I encounter. Yes, even the chair that I accidentally stubbed my toe on or even the fallen tree branch that I accidentally stepped on while grounding that left a 3 centimeter gash on my foot.
To practice ahimsa is to reduce harm to all, including yourself. How can you practice ahimsa with yourself in the moments when you feel like you aren’t good enough or when you feel like the world is against you?
2. Satya – Truthfulness
Satya is the act of being truthful or honest. As humans, sometimes this can be difficult to do. I’m sure we all have lied at one point or another. Even if it was a white lie, it was still unfounded in truth. To practice satya is to be truthful with everything. Your thoughts, your actions, and your communication with others.
Sometimes facing the truth can be challenging. Especially when we have to face truths about ourselves that we are ashamed of. Personally, for a long time I found it difficult to admit to myself that I am a sensitive person. I recall being offended anytime someone would call me sensitive or say, “stop being so sensitive.” I’d become filled with anger and did everything I could to prove to myself and others that I was not sensitive. I developed a hard shell of being strong and composed, casting away my sensitivity.
It wasn’t until I learned about highly sensitive people and read the book The Empath’s Survival Guide, by Dr. Julie Orloff, that I accepted that I was indeed a sensitive person. For so long I tried to hide my sensitivity because I viewed it as a weakness. I tried so hard to fight against it, losing the battle each time.
Once I was honest with myself about being a sensitive person, I was freed from the shame that I had attached to the notion of being sensitive. I began to embrace my sensitivity and viewed it as a superpower instead of a flaw. In doing so, it propelled me to deepen my spirituality and eventually led to the creation of Chasing Solana.
So although being truthful with ourselves and even with others can seem like a gut-wrenching thing to do, it can also be freeing and lead to extraordinary things. One of my favorite sayings is from the bible verse Luke 12:2-3, which basically states, “what is done in the dark will eventually come to light.” Anytime I am tempted to be untruthful with myself or anyone else, I am reminded of this. Lying does not serve you or anyone else any good,
Can you think of a time where you had to put your pride aside and practice satya? How did it make you feel to remain truthful in a situation where you did not want to be?
3. Asteya – Abundance
Traditionally, asteya is the act of non-stealing. One can also view it as abundance. When practicing asteya, remind yourself that you have everything you need. I know that this is not the easiest thing to do. Especially if you just lost your job and are trying to decipher how you will come up with the money to pay your mortgage or to pay your phone bill.
With the world we live in, it is so easy for us to be caught up in material possessions. Social media promotes this false reality of what life should be. We see others with fancy cars, designer clothes, and taking extravagant vacations that we dream of taking ourselves. This then leaves us feeling inadequate. We start to live from a place of lack and emptiness. We may even begin to develop a scarcity mindset.
Asteya reminds us that we have everything we need within us. When I think of asteya, I am reminded to be grateful for all that I do have. Whether it is the ability to hear clearly, the full tank of gas in my car, or the delicious leftovers from last night’s dinner, I am grateful. Practicing gratitude is one of the easiest ways to connect with a higher power.
Additionally, when I think of asteya, I am reminded to be respectful of others. When thinking of asteya as non-stealing, I ponder how I can ensure that I am not stealing from others. One way in which we steal from others without realizing it is by taking their time and energy. Before you vent, do you ask permission? Do you just emotionally dump on someone else without respect for their time and their feelings?
I encourage you to think about ways in which you’ve accidentally stolen time or energy from someone else. What can you do in the future to practice asteya with others?
4. Brahmacharya – Conservation of vital energy
As stated earlier, everything is energy. We literally have 7 main energy centers in our bodies called chakras that transmit and receive information to and from our external and internal environments. The concept of brahmacharya is the ability to conserve our vital energy. Some view brahmacharya as moderation or abstinence.
Either way, we must be mindful about how we use our energy. Do you ever find yourself scrolling on social media for what felt like 15 minutes but was actually two hours? During those two hours, what kind of content were you digesting? Did you find yourself on media pages that profit off of celebrity gossip? Were you arguing with someone in the comments about why you’re pro-choice?
These are ways in which we can drain our energy without even realizing it. Brahmacharya reminds us to honor our energy and to use it for positivity. There have been plenty of times where I’ve given my energy to things or people that did not deserve it. Doing so left me feeling drained, tense, and lowered my vibration. It is imperative that we view our energy as sacred and only use it for the betterment of ourselves and society.
If you find that something is draining your energy, it is time to let it go. Sometimes we can become entangled with energy vampires which can be a recipe for disaster. Before you engage with someone or something, ask yourself, is this good for my energy?
What are some ways that you’ve implemented brahmacharya into your life?
5. Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness
This yama is the one that I struggle with the most. Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness or having the ability to let go. As humans, it is natural for us to become attached to things. We get attached to people, material items, or even outcomes. In doing so we are setting ourselves up for disappointment.
For example, have you ever imagined what it would be like when you finally told your crush your true feelings? Did you think the feelings would be reciprocated and you both would live happily ever after? Then when you actually told them how you felt, you found out that they were in a relationship or maybe viewed you as a sister and wasn’t interested in you in a romantic way? What did that feel like? It was probably heart crushing since in your mind you imagined it to be one way when in reality, it was completely different.
When we have expectations or attachments to outcomes and they are not met, we are likely to become disappointed. But what would happen if we let go and surrendered to our attachments and expectations? Personally, once I started to embrace this concept, life became a lot easier.
When we realize that the only thing in this life that is guaranteed is death and change, we free ourselves from the constraints of what will be. Practicing aparigraha is so freeing. In doing so, we surrender to the Universe and accept that everything happens for a reason and in Divine timing.
When I feel myself getting attached to something, I remind myself to let go. Whether it is money, my favorite meal at a restaurant, or what the future holds, I free myself of anxiety by letting go of attachment to these things. What if I plan to order my favorite dish and when I get to the restaurant it is no longer on the menu? In having attachment to that meal I set myself up for disappointment.
What is something that you’ve had a strong attachment to and how can you use the practice of aparigraha to release its control over you?
The Niyamas of Yoga
The niyams are akin to ethical observances to live by. These are things that you can do everyday to become closer to God and live a more peaceful lifestyle. I believe that these are just as important as the yamas but are a bit more personal than the yamas.
1. Saucha – Cleanliness
The practice of suacha embodies the essence of purity and cleanliness. This concept can be thought of in a multitude of ways. Think about your environment right now. Are there a stack of dishes piled in the sink or laundry that’s been piling up for the last 5 weeks? How does this affect your mood and well-being? If you are like me, then I can imagine that this lowers your mood and drains your energy.
Suacha can also refer to the content of our thoughts. Do you find that the majority of your thoughts are filled with negativity or worry? Or do you practice positive affirmations everyday to keep your vibration elevated? Saucha reminds us to not only keep our environment clean, but also to ensure the purity of our thoughts and our physical bodies.
I’ve been in public restrooms and have watched people walk directly out of their stall without washing their hands in disbelief. There have been times that I’ve gone a few days without showering. This is the absence of saucha.
When we practice cleanliness of the mind, body and soul it is refreshing. Taking time to wash away the energies of the day is self-care. As we are energetic beings, it is easy for us to pick up other energies from our outer environment. By cleansing ourselves and our space, we can create an environment that feels good to be in. Washing ourselves daily is like washing away anything that we picked up that doesn’t serve our highest good.
What is your favorite way to implement saucha into your daily routine?
2. Santosha – Contentment
Historically, it has been easy for me to focus on all the things in my life that are wrong instead of what is right. For so long I disqualified the positive while highlighting the negatives. I found it difficult to be content with things how they were.
Santosha is the ability to be content with life, regardless of how it is. It’s recognizing the good, the bad, and the ugly and having the ability to be at peace regardless of what is occuring. I like to think of santosha and aparigraha together. Accept things for what they are and let go of your expectations for how you think they should be.
Practicing santosha means finding happiness in the small things. It’s being grateful for all that happens and having the power to view circumstances and events on the brighter side. Going back to the concept of seeing the glass as half full rather than half empty, this is an easy way to understand the essence of santosha.
When I think of santosha, I am reminded that everything happens for a reason and what will be, will be. The Universe makes no mistakes. Even if we can’t comprehend why something unfolds in a certain way, there is rhyme and reason to it. It is up to us to be at peace with it and learn and grow from the experience.
Have there been times where everything seemed to be working against your favor? How were you able to practice santosha in the midst of the storm?
3. Tapas – Austerity or Discipline
Has there been a time where you were filled with vigor and passion for something that brought you joy? This is the best way that I can describe tapas. Tapas is the thing that wakes you up in the morning and encourages you to go forth with enthusiasm and zeal.
In practicing tapas, we embody discipline and structure. It is the Saturian energy of hard-work and continuity. To achieve our goals, we must be consistent and put our energy towards what we strive to accomplish.
Whether it is in our spiritual practice, in our professional life, or in our relationships, we must be disciplined to achieve the desired effects that we strive for. This is not always the easiest thing to do. I know that there have been days where all I wanted to do was lay in bed and binge the newest 3 part Netflix documentary. And that is okay.
But tapas reminds us that after we rest, we must get back to our routine in order to meet or exceed our goals. Having a daily schedule or using a planner can be an excellent way to ensure that we remain disciplined in doing what we need to do to be successful.
How have you used tapas to accomplish something that you are proud of?
4. Svadhyaya – Self-Study
Who am I? For so long that is a question I pondered almost daily. Svadhyaya is the practice of studying yourself and going in depth to discover your inner workings. There are many ways in which we can gain insight into who we are.
One of my favorite methods of self-study is analyzing my natal chart. Astrology is a science that can provide us details about how the planets and constellations in the galaxy impact us on Earth. Besides that, I enjoy studying numerology and the significance of my life path number as well as my destiny, soul urge, and personality number.
Both of these sciences have provided me with the insight to apply myself in a practical way and do the things I feel that I incarnated on this earth to do. Svadhyaya reminds us to look within and to remain curious about who we are and what our purpose is.
Another way to practice svadhyaya is through meditation. Meditating allows us to go within and connect with Source. In meditation, useful information can be revealed to us that propel us in a direction that we may not have expected to go in. It helps us to be attentive to who we are and to understand ourselves on a different level.
What are your favorite ways to practice svadhyaya?
5. Isvara Pranidhana – Devotion to God
The final niyama is one that can be challenging to practice, especially when we feel like the Universe is against us. Isvara Pranidhana is the practice of being devoted to God. It is the ability to be in union with a higher power and surrendering to God’s will.
Embracing this niyama is stepping out of the matrix and realizing the intricacy of life and the Universe. It is being intentional with your actions and letting go of selfishness. It is the ability to be more like our Creator and less like a robot constructed by societal norms and expectations.
Isvara Pranidhana reminds us to live a meaningful, selfless life. It reminds us to be devoted to the greater good of humanity and to live well for ourselves and others. Fostering a deep spiritual connection with God can make this niyama easier to practice. When we trust the Universe and surrender to God’s will, we live abundantly.
Have you found it difficult to practice Isvara Pranidhana? How did you overcome this?
We are not perfect. But we are perfectly made in God’s image. Embracing the yamas and niyamas and implementing them in your daily life can help you live a more fulfilling life. When we consciously make the decision to embrace these moral and ethical guidelines we begin to fill different. No longer are we worried about the mundane or what-ifs. Instead we accept life as it is, take it one day at a time, and ride the highs and lows with ease. We adapt to the rhythmic flow of life and in turn we find peace.