Yama & Niyama – The principles which underpin ‘yogic’ living

Ashtanga yoga focuses on working to release the mind in order to create a path to enlightenment. In order to achieve this, Ashtanga practice is built on eight key corner stones, called the eight limbs, which seek to guide practitioners to Samadhi or a state of super-contentment, consciousness and unity with oneself. Two of these eight limbs focus on the principles which you should try to live by; principles of restraint (yamas) and principles of observations (niyama).
The direct translation of the yamas and niyamas can seem unclear or lack relativity for modern life when you first read them. However when I explored them in more detail, I came to appreciate their meaning and understand how I could apply them in my everyday life. To help others on their own discovery, I have outlined a simple definition of each yama and niyama principle and given an example of how these could be applied in our busy 21st century lives.
Yama – The principles of restraint (or things that make us better people)
Ahima – Non-violence
Do not be physically, mentally or spiritually violent to yourself or other people.
E.g.: Don’t try to push your personal ideas of right and wrong onto other people or force people into situations they might not like.
Satya – Truthfulness
Be truthful in what your say and believe, and acknowledge that truth is governed by personal experience.
E.g.: Don’t feel you have to constantly self-promote or mask a skills gap; learn to be comfortable in who you are and what you believe in.
Asteya – Non-stealing
Do not take what you don’t have permission to.
E.g.: Don’t take other people’s ideas and mask them as your own.
Brahmacharya – Moderation
Find balance and seek to consider everyone and everything with compassion.
E.g.: If you work hard, recognise the need to find time for yourself. Try to let go of any of your inner biases and take the time to consider other people’s feelings as well as your own.
Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness
Do not be greedy or attach yourself to physical possessions. Recognise that the only thing that really defines you is your own being and actions.
E.g.: Recognise that modern society has conditioned us to want/crave things we don’t possess so rather than being jealous of someone else’s achievements we should be happy with what we have already.

Niyama – The Principles of Observance (or things that we should try to live by)
Saucha – Purity
Be physically and mentally clean.
E.g.: Keep your internal body clean by eating healthy foods, don’t disrespect yourself by not keeping yourself clean and try to keep a mentally clean mind by not judging other people.
Santosha – Contentment
Recognise that feelings and comparables are relative – real inner peace or contentment will come from this recognition and achieving inner stability rather than from unsustainable extremes.
E.g.: Be happy in the moment rather than pushing yourself to extremes; don’t place irrational focus on a specific feeling/symptoms.
Tapa – Self-discipline
Put effort into everything you do and enjoy the journey of self-discipline rather than focusing on the outputs.
E.g.: Don’t put so much pressure on yourself to achieve specific things (e.g. weight loss, better pay) that you end up not enjoying the journey. The journey is the whole point!
Swadhyana – Self-study
Appreciate the different layers within your mind and personality.
E.g.: Recognise that our emotions change and that specific feelings are just one aspect of ourselves so while we may want to seek revenge over someone who has done something wrong to us, we need to recognise that it is our other principles of kindness and moderation which make us stronger people.
Ishwara-pranidha – Devotion
Be in tune with life and be true to yourself.
E.g.: Understand who you are and make your own peacefulness your priority. Devote yourself to yourself!

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