Tag Archives: Yamas

yamas and niyamas

Yamas, and its complement, Niyamas, represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. These are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of “do’s and don’ts”, and the Yamas represent one of the “don’t” lists within Hinduism, and specifically, rāja yoga.

Yama (Sanskrit) यम, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The yamas comprise the “shall-not” in our dealings with the external world as the niyamas comprise the “shall-do” in our dealings with the inner world.

Ten yamas are codified as “the restraints” and ten niyamas are codified as set of prescribed actions (observances, requirements, obligations) in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.  Patañjali lists only five yamas and five niyamas in his Yoga Sūtras.

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yama

When our children were young, their father and I would occasionally summon up the courage to take them out for dinner. Before entering the restaurant, one of us would remind them to “be good” or we would leave. This warning was only mildly successful, but then one day their father reasoned out a more effective approach. On our next outing we stopped outside the restaurant and reminded them specifically to “stay in your chair, don’t throw food, and don’t yell. If you do any of these things, one of us will take you out of the restaurant at once.” We had stumbled upon a very effective technique, and it worked like a charm.

Interestingly, Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra written some two centuries after the life of Jesus, demonstrates a similar approach to the study of yoga. In the second chapter of his book he presents five specific ethical precepts called yamas, which give us basic guidelines for living a life of personal fulfillment that will also benefit society. He then makes clear the consequence of not following these teachings: It is simply that we will continue to suffer.

Arranged in four chapters, or padas, the Yoga Sutra elucidates the basic teachings of yoga in short verses called sutras. In the second chapter Patanjali presents the ashtanga, or eight-limbed system, for which he is so famous. While Westerners may be most familiar with the asana (posture), the third limb, the yamas are really the first step in a practice that addresses the whole fabric of our lives, not just physical health or solitary spiritual existence. The rest of the limbs are the niyamas, more personal precepts; Pranayama, breathing exercises; pratyahara, conscious withdrawal of energy away from the senses; dharana, concentration; dhyanameditation; and samadhi, self-actualization.

The Yoga Sutra is not presented in an attempt to control behavior based on moral imperatives. The sutras don’t imply that we are “bad” or “good” based upon our behavior, but rather that if we choose certain behavior we get certain results.

Excerpt From Yoga Jornal Article, Beginning The Journey, By Judith Lasater