Friday, August 29, 2014

Yamas and Niyamas Explained

Illustration by Rachel Sullivan
Yamas and Niyamas are part of Yogic philosophy.  I actually mentioned them just briefly in this post from awhile back, so I thought I'd give a full explanation. They are what you might call social contracts that one would follow in order to lead a more spiritually rich life.  Similar to Christianity's 10 commandments - get the idea? Here's a break down of each principle:


1. Ahimsa: To hurt others is to hurt yourself, and vice versa. This is harder than you would think, even for the most gentle person. The more I grow up, the more I realize that human beings can be pretty aggressive towards each other and sometimes be quite hard on themselves (I've had my moments with both) - why do you think that is? I truly don't know the answer. We must all manage (defend against?) these dark aspects of the human spirit, right? Greed, anger, jealousy...The point, really, that it benefits all people everywhere to be kind to one another in the long run.

2. Satya: Don't lie. I believe this one is about your speech and thoughts, ok? It has to do with restraint, kind of like filtering our negative thoughts like the ones mentioned above. Satya is about always trying to be aware of our own behaviors, so - to also be truthful with ourselves in our own inner dialogues and decisions. By exploring the idea of Satya, I realize one must actively seek out the truth (things that are real, fact, not just interpretations of your personal perspective).  Speak truth, seek truth 'bout sums it up!

3. Asteya: It doesn't usually work out for us when we take things from others when they didn't freely give it, does it? Doesn't make us feel good.  Or if you yourself are stolen from. And I don't mean just physical items, it could be things like energy - ever felt like someone has "stolen your joy"? Stealing stems from desire, or the belief that you don't have whatever it is you need, or that you won't get whatever it is. Maybe we should try harder to believe that we are content with whatever we have attained by honest means, on our own.

4. Bramacharya: Ok so, a lot of people believe this is about celibacy. And it can be, if you feel like giving it a try, I s'pose! I'd be pretty curious how that works out for you, actually, haha.  I hear being celibate gives you a substantial amount of energy to do other things, and can bring mental clarity as well. Since most of us probably aren't going to do that though, I like to consider this more like "use your energy carefully."  It can also be about limiting our sex lives, because too much sex can lead to consequences like disease, relationship problems, etc.  So the idea is to take that energy that we save from not uh, "over-sexing" I guess, and putting it towards well, more noble actions.  Be aware of how you're spending your energy!

5. Aparigraha: Its been said that less is more. And you've also probably heard at some point in your life to "take only what you need," right? Follow any spiritual path and you will find that they associate spiritual growth with simple living.  I'm sure the idea of simple living differs from reader to reader here, but the point is that surrounding yourself with lots of material things will not sustain your happiness.  Happiness cannot be bought, right?


1. Sauca: (Sometimes spelled or pronounced "Saucha"). Alright now we're talking about purity.  This can be about caring for our bodies, making sure you're washing and eating well, keeping our houses clean and clutter-free, or even our minds free from negative thoughts or patterns of attachment & obsession.  Basically, the idea is that we must try to clean and organize our lives a little bit, give ourselves that kind of care, because it helps us relax and therefore think more clearly.

2. Santosha:  Maybe this one means admitting we don't have control over everything in our lives, and sometimes we must find a new, unexpected happiness from situations that didn't go as planned.  So, santosha is typically translated as "contentment." Contentment just means being happy with whatever we have in the present moment, right? Sometimes we have a lot to be happy about, sometimes only a little, and that's just life.

3. Tapas: I interpret this principle as having to do with self-discipline.  From what I've read about the translation of the word, it comes from "tap," which means fire.  I interpret this as eagerness or enthusiasm, whether it be towards learning, working, etc.  It's like stoking a fire to keep it going, does that make sense? To me, tapas means to consistently be striving for things, maintaining that focus that gets things in life done.

4. Svadhyaya: This one asks the question: Who am I? It's about the art of self-study I s'pose.  It stresses the importance of reflecting on your life and taking steps to improve upon it. This might be a good time to try meditation if you never have! I have a few ideas about that which are posted here if you're curious.  This principle also points to the importance of reading or remembering sacred scriptures.

5. Isvara Pranidhana: Out of all the translations I saw for this one, I liked "surrender." Many say it's about surrendering to the idea that there is a God, a power greater than ourselves.  But I know some folks don't believe in God and I'm pretty confused about all that myself, so I sum it up as "be humble" instead.  To me, I take this principle as a reminder about how my actions affect other people, the whole "we're all part of the same big something!" idea, I guess?

These explanations are just from my own limited perspective, it's just my interpretation, so - it's all up for discussion if you feel like participating!  Interesting stuff, huh? Let me know if you have any questions, or if you've recently applied these principles to specific situations in our own life recently and feel like talkin' about it!


  1. Megan, is the illustration of the yamas & niyamas available as a poster or print? Like your blog! Namaste!

    1. Hi! The artist who created it for me does reasonably priced prints :) E-mail her if you're still interested, thanks so much for the comment, namaste! Her e-mail is and her website is

  2. I didn't know you had this blog. This post is great and worth reading more than once. It's a keeper! ��