Most people discover yoga through the physical practice, the breathing, postures, and meditation. Yet those are only three of the Eight Limbs of Patanjali. The first two, the yamas and niyamas, are the guiding principles for living yoga off the mat.

No, living yoga off the mat isn’t about doing tree pose barefooted in the grass, or breaking into bridge pose when you’re at work.

The Magic of a Yoga Practice

There comes a time when you’re flowing through a vinyasa class or relaxing during restorative that questions arise. Why do I feel so much better? How can I feel more content and calmer all day long? Crazy how this one-hour of poses seems to untangle everything in my life, not just my body.

And this is usually the time you starting thinking about yoga teacher training to get some of those answers. (In fact, I think every yoga practitioner should go through teacher training just to deepen their own practice.)

During teacher training, the first module focuses on yoga philosophy which always includes the Eight Limbs of Yoga and the yamas and niyamas. I consider the yamas and niyamas as the 10 Commandments of Yoga. These are the ten ways in which people who practice yoga can live their lives with intention.

Eight Limbs of Yoga

Around 600 B.C., a man by the name of Patanjali systemized the Yoga Sutras. Within Book 2 of the Yoga Sutras are the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

1. Yama – Restraints

2. Niyama – Observances

3. Asana – Posture

4. Pranayama – Breath Control

5. Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal

6. Dharana – Concentration

7. Dhyana – Meditation

8. Samadhi – Bliss, Union

Yamas

The first limb is called yama which is Sanskrit for restraint. This is how you relate to the world around you, how you show up. There are five yamas.

1. Ahimsa – Non-violence

2. Satya – Truthfulness

3. Asteya – Non-stealing

4. Brahmacharya – Moderation

5. Aparigraha – Non-greediness

Niyamas

The second limb is called niyama which is Sanskrit for observances. Ni in Sanskrit loosely refers to your soul so niyama is the way in which you relate to your internal world. There are five.

1. Saucha – Purity

2. Santosha – Contentment

3. Tapa – Burning Impurities

4. Svadyaya – Self-Study

5. Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to the Divine

The yamas and niyamas contain so many lessons, and those are only two out of the eight limbs. I hope you take some time to watch the video to get the best understanding of these guiding principles and start living yoga off your mat.

what are yamas and niyamas in yoga