There comes a time when yoga practitioners start thinking beyond their mats. When this happens, it’s the perfect opportunity to study the Eight Limbs of Patanjali. More specifically, the yamas and niyamas.
👉 The yamas and niyams provide guiding principles for leading a yogic lifestyle.
first steps into philosophy
Most people discover yoga through the physical practice: the breathing, postures, and meditation. At some point 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 BCE, a man by the name of Patanjali systemized the Yoga Sutras. The Sutras are organized into four books, or chapters, and you’ll find the Eight Limbs in Book 2.
Titled Practice, Book 2 outlines physical lessons we can undertake to achieve a state of yoga. Where most people start their deeper studies of yoga is with the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
Those eight limbs are:
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
Scan any online book retailer for the Yoga Sutras or the Eight Limbs of Yoga and you’ll be overwhelmed with the results. There are many translations of the original Yoga Sutras, so pick one and start your studies. Or like many, join an in-depth studies course to learn more.
We’re going to specifically look at the first two limbs: yamas and niyamas.
5 yamas in yoga
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
5 niyamas of yoga
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 niyamas:
1. Saucha – Purity
2. Santosha – Contentment
3. Tapa – Burning Impurities
4. Svadyaya – Self-Study
5. Isvara Pranidhana – Surrender to the Divine
final thoughts on yamas & niyamas
These are the simplest translations of each yama and niyama. However there are nuanced layers to each one, providing us with many lessons.
As you dive deeper into the inner workings of yoga, the “ten commandments” show you how to live your life with more meaning and intention.