The Eight Limbs Of Yoga Explained: Yamas And Niyamas

 

We all know yoga is more than Asana (postures), but picking up a translation of Patajali’s Yoga Sutras, the ancient threads of yoga, can be a little intimidating and confusing. In this article, we will break down the basics of the Eight Limbs of Yoga starting with the Yamas.

The Yamas are moral guidelines to be practiced on and off the mat.

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1) Ahimsa

Ahimsa embodies non-violence or non-harming. We must do no harm to ourselves or on others. This doesn’t just mean physical harm, but includes emotional and verbal harm as well. In our practice, we don’t want to push ourselves into postures that may cause pain. We also don’t want to speak to ourselves in a cruel way – comparing ourselves to those around us. Treating others with compassion and being kind to yourself is the essence of Ahimsa. 


2) Satya

You must live and speak your truth, whatever this may be. Be honest with yourself and follow your true north. However, linking back to the first Yama, you must ask yourself, does your truth cause harm? Some truths may not need to be spoken. If you hold onto one, take a breath before you speak and ask yourself if what you are about to say will cause pain to the person you are talking to.  


3) Asteya

This one is easy – don’t steal! Don’t steal things, don’t steal words, don’t steal space.


4) Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya – Wise use of energy. Historically this means to conserve sexual energy but this doesn’t need to mean sex. We should use all our energy wisely, not freely giving to impulses. Think of anger. Is it always a wise use of our energy to blow up? You could take this on to your mat by taking a child’s pose when you need it or not pushing into the full expression of a posture. Listening to your body. It’s all about balance.


5) Aparigraha

Aparigraha helps foster non-attachment. I heard once we should give away the things we like, not the things we don’t. The practice of non-attachment is supposed to help us let go. If we aren’t attached to things, we aren’t upset when they are no longer around. On the mat, don’t be attached to how you think your practice should look. One day you might float into handstand and the next you feel like a lead weight. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are building blocks and the Yamas are the first on this path. These are the foundation for all our Yoga practice.


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The Niyamas

Next come the Niyamas. These are suggested practices, but where they differ from the Yama’s is that they are internally focused. These practices are to help grow your mind and body through self-discipline and practice.


1) Shaucha

This Niyama is all about purification, the idea of keeping the body clean. Through our physical asana practice and pranayama, we keep the body fit and pure. Our meditation helps keep the mind healthy. In Yoga, we also practice Kriya to help purify the body, some you may have heard of are oil pulling and tongue scrapping.


2) Santosha

Santosha points to contentment. Be content with what you have, as this is where true happiness grows from. Release the desires to chase ‘things’ as this longing can creating suffering. This doesn’t mean to stop working towards educations or jobs, but you can still be happy with where you are.


3) Tapas

Tapas literally translates as ‘to burn’. The idea that by being consistent in our Yoga practice we can burn/overcome any difficulties we may face, be it mental, physical or emotional. Some days this disciple may just involve getting onto your mat.


4) Svadhyaya

By taking the opportunity to look inwards and study ourselves, we can reflect upon actions taken or thoughts we have had. Learning from our experiences gives us the opportunity to grow and maybe even help quiet the mind as outlined in the second sutra, Yoga Chitta Vritta Nirodha. Yoga is the stilling of the mind. It also helps us to live in a way that’s aligned with our true self.


5) Ishvara Pranidhana

This reminds us to surrender to a higher power, whatever or whoever that may be to you. Surrender to the present moment and let the things that don’t serve you go. Comment to let us know how you use the Niyamas on and off the mat.


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Charlotte Temple

Charlotte Temple

Charlotte loves practicing all types of yoga, talking about it and sharing this passion with others. Qualified RYT200 (Yoga Alliance certified), you can keep up to date with Charlotte’s classes and personal practice on her website and Instagram. Keen to share and inspire others Charlotte developed her freelance writing and blogging, mainly discussing yoga and food. Be sure to connect with her on the web.

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