The Yamas and Niyamas

"Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths. Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the eternal law, the dharma." – T. K. V. Desikachar,.

The Yamas and Niyamas are the first and second limbs of yogic philosophy. These limbs however, are said to be ‘lived’ and cannot be practised. They deal with our behaviour and attitude towards our relationships (Yamas), as well as the relationship with ourselves (Niyama). They play part in our social interactions, lifestyle, attitude towards the environment and skills of problem-solving. There is not one way of living these ‘standards’. They speak about values, morals and believes that help us further on the yogic path. There are certain guidelines, recommendations, and suggestions, but they are there for us to adjust to our thinking in the way that we can apply them in our lifestyle.



The word Yama refers to “discipline”, “restraints”, “attitude” or “behaviour”. Underneath you will find its five disciplines.


Ahisma: non-harming, non-violence in thought, word and deed.

To me, the first time I read that, it sounded a little too good to be true. Though, I learned to read between the lines and now see that it is not just the absence of violence, but rather discusses kindness, friendliness, thoughtfulness and taking others in consideration of our actions, as well as our duties and responsibilities. When we think about Ahisma, it does not mean we all want “World-Peace, please!”. It does not mean we all need to eat vegan-meals the rest of our lives, or get involved in ongoing fight-for-the-environment strikes. It simply means we should act and behave with consideration and attention to ourselves, others and all that is around us.

Satya: truthfulness or ‘to speak truth’

Clearer than that, I could not describe it. While, in combination with Ahisma, truthfulness without harming someone (unnecessarily). Deliberately ponder our words before we address them. Reflect and think about how they could affect the receiver. Sometimes it is better to keep our mouth shut, rather than hurting someone.

Asteya: non-stealing

Stay away from that what does not belong to us. That entails the avoidance of taking advantage of anyone or a situation, or taking too much of something we do not really need. This refers to our possessions, belongings, as well as partaking in events and happenings.
In the meantime, in our modern world, of course we need our necessities, but taking this into account in combination with the first two Yamas. It is okay to like pretty earrings, wanting to have that special scarf, stay in a fancy hotel or spend money on a massage, as long as we do not overdo it or take advantage of it.
Cherish those ‘gifts’, ‘rewards’, ‘caprichos’ (as they say in Spanish).

Brahmachkarya: celibacy or ‘right use of energy’ 

Movement towards the essential, particularly referring to sexual activity. No sex! Jokes, how could we live without.  After reading more than the average number of articles on this, it has finally become clear to me that Brahmachkarya speaks about knowing the answer to the 5 w-h questions. Responsible behaviour within our life stages: child, student, family life; with respect to our goal of moving toward truth.

Aparigraha: non-greed of non-hoarding

This Yama goes hand in hand with Asteya non-stealing. Take only that what is necessary, without taking advantage of a situation. Even if it is free.



The Niyamas have a hard time existing without the Yamas. The Niyamas can only be adapted, as soon as we have integrated and reasoned the Yamas in our (daily) life.

The Niyamas are more intimate and personal, they talk about the attitude towards ourselves. A trendy term we hear a lot nowadays; ‘self-love’.  

Self-love; “love of self” or “regard for one’s own happiness or advantage” indicates a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness. To me this means that this self-appreciation can only be reached if we treat others and that what is around us the same way as we would like to be treated. From this behaviour, we reach truthfulness and meet our personal Yamas and Niyamas.

Saucha: cleanliness

Cleanliness on the in- and outside. Cleanliness literally and metaphorically. Physically and mentally. Cleanliness of the body, mind and soul. As practical or spiritual suits you.

To me this means enough rest, a shower in the morning, and consuming a healthy, various diet. Taking life less serious for a quiet mind. Practise asana, pranayama, meditation and occasionally allow myself to have a cheat-day.

Santosha: contentment

Appreciate that what we have. Cherish that what we have been given. Value our options and possibilities, without being greedy, needy, dependent or creating a feeling of being disadvantaged.

If I have learned one thing;
Everything happens for a reason, even if the outcome is negative. If something did not happen the way you planned it, it was meant to be a learning point.

Something that would take you further on your yogic path, but more so personal and professional journey.

Tapas: discipline, austerity or ‘burning enthusiasm’

To get rid of rubbish. Pay attention to what we consume, how, and when we consume it. Pay attention to our posture, and breathing. Keep fit.

“To heat the body and by doing so, cleanse it.”

As I travel a lot, this Niyama is an important one for me. Travelling often puts me in the position I cannot practise asana as much as I would like, eat as nutritious as I normally would, or be aware of my posture, breathing, and overall health. While, I cannot or do not want to avoid travelling to take care of myself, I can take care of myself more, while travelling. All works, as long as you feel truly good about you.

Svadhyaya: study of the self and texts

Sva means “self” – Adhyaya means “examination”. Together they would translate to study of the self, or self-exploration. Before we understand ourselves, we need reference points in which we can recognize ourselves, such as the Bible, the Koran or the Yoga Sutra. Some may use mantras, others use poetry. All of it includes contemplation and reflection and very often written work.

I, myself, find a lot of fulfilment in writing, journaling, reading autobiographics, watching documentaries and finding similarities in our daily life or certain situations. All of what we sense is an experience we can learn from and take on our life path to a clearer future.

Isvara Pranidhana: surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power

“To lay all your actions at the feet of God”.

There’s no need to be religious, but do your best, try, show your willingness and determination, but do not expect only ‘good’ to happen, because of your efforts made. You could compare it with the phrase ‘written in the stars’ .
Even if the results are already decided. You certainly still have an influence, can encourage, or be a stimulus, but in moderation. And again, if it does not work out the way you were hoping for, learn from it, try again, just take a different approach.

The Yamas and Niyamas are described as the ‘golden keys to unlock the spiritual gates’, as they transform each action into one that originates from a deeper and more connected place within ourselves. I find them comparable to the morals and values of my upbringing, in which the most important understanding was; ‘what you do not want to happen to you, do not let that happen to anyone else’.
Whether you are religious, practise yoga or just want to create a peaceful mind for yourself, I believe the Yamas and Niyamas can be very comforting starting point.

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