Niyamas and Yamas: The 10 “Commandments” of Yoga

Patanjali outlined what he called Ashtanga Yoga, or the “eight-limbed” Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga is a classification of the eight stages on the route to Self-Realization: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Ashtanga Yoga (also called Raja Yoga) is not a “type” of Yoga; it is Yoga. It provides not only an invaluable “road map” of where we are going, but specific instruction on what we must do to achieve the state of yoga (union with the Infinite.)

In this post, we will focus on the first two limbs, the niyamas and yamas, the “do’s” and “don’ts” (respectively) of our thoughts and actions and of Yoga. The first two limbs (literally “control” and “non-control”) concern outward behavior and, more importantly, the inner attitudes which lead to outward behavior. Certain kinds of thoughts and actions are discouraged, while others are encouraged. These two limbs comprise five yamas and five niyamas, which should be practiced regardless of outward circumstances. Acting in accordance with these principles allows one to live in deep harmony with the universe; mastery of each of these principles brings certain powers, which are also listed below.

Niyama (Practices, Observances)

Cleanliness (saucha)
Obvious: Purity of body and environment.
Subtle: Purity of consciousness/vibration.
Upon Mastery: Indifference to things of the body; no longer seeking pleasure physically.

Contentment (santosha)
Obvious and Subtle: Ability to embrace things just as they are.
Upon Mastery: Unceasing inner happiness, arid realization of bliss in every atom of creation and beyond creation.

Austerity (tapasya)
Obvious: Self-discipline, simplicity; removal of distractions.
Subtle: Mastery over likes and dislikes, attained in large part by not giving in to them.
Upon Mastery: Attainment of various psychic powers (siddhis).

Self-Study (swadhyaya)
Obvious and Subtle: Introspect objectively about our behavior, motivations, desires, etc.
Upon Mastery: Ability to commune with beings on higher spheres of existence and to receive their help.

Surrender (Isvara pranidhana)
Obvious and Subtle: Surrender of the self to God. Acknowledgement that there is a higher principle in the
universe than one’s own small self. Modesty. Humility.

Yama (Restrictions, Moral Restraints)

Non-Violence (ahimsa)
Obvious Sense: Never to harm or demean any living thing.
Subtle Sense: Overcome tendency to wish harm in any way, e.g., judging others.
Upon Mastery: All creatures become harmless in your presence.

Truthfulness (satya, which also means “truth”)
Obvious: Always be truthful; never say what isn’t so with intent to deceive.
Subtle: Never wish things were different from what they are; absolute self-honesty; cling to highest truths.
Upon Mastery: Whatever one says will come true.

Non-Stealing (ashteya)
Obvious: Don’t take that which is not yours; material things.
Subtle: Never desire that which isn’t yours, even praise or status or love; never gossip (i.e., try to steal another’s good name); see everything as a part of your greater Self.
Upon Mastery: Whatever you need comes to you when you need it.

Non-Sensuality (brahmacharya, lit. “flowing with Brahma”)
Obvious: Overindulgence in sense pleasures of all types.
Subtle: Interiorizing the senses; learning to enjoy God in everything.
Upon Mastery: Mental clarity and great physical strength; good health on all levels.

Non-Greed (aparigraha)
Obvious: Letting go of all attachments, even to things that are yours by right.
Subtle: Non-attachment even to your own body and identity.
Upon Mastery: Ability to remember former incarnations.


Source: Ananda Portland

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