Yamas and Niyamas

The yamas and niyamas have been preserved through the centuries as the foundation, the first and second stage, of the eight-staged practice of yoga: yamaniyamaasanapranayamapratyaharadharanadhyanasamadhi. Yet, they are fundamental to all beings, expected aims of everyone in society, and assumed to be fully intact for anyone seeking life's highest aim in the pursuit called yoga.

Sage Patanjali (ca 200 bce), raja yoga's foremost propounder, told us,

"These yamas are not limited by class, country, time (past, present or future) or situation. Hence they are called the universal great vows."

These terms are translated as ”effort and relaxation” or “exertion and rest”. This stage consists in mastering fundamental ethic and psycho-hygienic rules of a spiritual seeker’s life.

"When a yogin becomes qualified by practicing Yama and Niyama, then the yogin can proceed to asana and the other means."
— Yoga Bhashya Vivarana (II.29)


The yamas and niyamas are a common-sense code recorded in the final section of the Vedas, called Upanishads, namely the Shandilya and the Varuha. They are also found in the Hatha Yoga Pra dipika by Gorakshanatha, the Tirumantiram of Tirumular and in the Yoga Sutras of |Sage Patanjali.

Traditionally, ten yamas and ten niyamas are found mentioned in texts such as Trishikhibrahmanopanishad (Mantra part), Darshanopanishad, and Yoga Yajnyavalkya. In other authoritative texts like the Yoga Sutra, Vishnu Purana only five yamas and five niyamas have been mentioned. On the whole, the yamas may be said to have greater importance. As explained in the Manusmriti:

"one must always follow the yamas without any exception; one gets ruined if he follows the niyamas alone, ignoring the yamas."

Yogic scholar Swami Brahmananda Saraswati revealed the inner science of yama and niyama. They are the means, he said, to control the vitarkas, the cruel mental waves or thoughts, that when acted upon result in injury to others, untruthfulness, hoarding, discontent, indolence or selfishness. He stated,

“For each vitarka you have, you can create its opposite through yama and niyama, and make your life successful.”

Patanjali does not suggest that we live according to the yamas and niyamas in order to be good people or to obey God. His moral code describes the qualities we need in order to reach the goal of yoga: to still the fluctuations of the mind and rest in our true nature. A mind filled with love, truth and generosity is a mind that can become quiet: no fights, no guilt and no neediness.

To live the yamas and niyamas also demands a radical deepening of commitment. The focus moves from our actions to our thoughts, which, after all, generate actions.

The Ten Yamas and Ten Niyamas

The following section, with accompanying illustrations, elucidate the yamas and niyamas. Presented first are the ten yamas, the do not’s, which harness the instinctive nature, with its governing impulses of fear, anger, jealousy, selfi shness, greed and lust. Second are illustrated the ten niyamas, the do’s, the religious observances that cultivate and bring forth the refined soul qualities, lifting awareness into the consciousness of the higher chakras of love, compassion, selflessness, intelligence and bliss.

YAMAS — The 10 Vedic Restraints

Yamas - Guidelines for how we interact with the outer world. Social disciplines to guide us in our relationships with others. The ten yamas are: ahimsa, aatya, aasteya, brahmacharya, kshama, dhriti, daya, arjava, mitahara and shauca.

YAMA 1 — Ahimsa, Non-harming

Practice non-harming, not harming oneself and others by thought, word or deed, even in your dreams. Live a kindly life, revering all beings as expressions of the One Divine energy. Let go of fear and insecurity, the sources of abuse. Knowing that harm caused to others unfailingly returns to oneself, live peacefully with God's creation. Never be a source of dread, pain or injury. Not harming the environment. Not speaking that which, even though truthful, would injure others.

This also includes the principles of ethically correct nutrition and, which is no less important, getting rid of coarse emotions, which are the result of ill thoughts and often lead to rude words and actions.

One can make ethical mistakes, including crimes, as a result of either ignorance, lack of understanding of the universal order and of one’s own place and role in it, or out of indulging in the emotions of spite, condemnation, resentment, anxiety, fear, etc., which are vicious manifestations of the lower self.

YAMA 2 — Satya, Truthfulness

Adhere to truthfulness, not intending to deceive others in our thoughts, as well as our words and actions. Refraining from lying and betraying promises. Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. Knowing that deception creates distance, don't keep secrets from family or loved ones. Be fair, accurate and frank in discussions, a stranger to deceit. Admit your failings. Do not engage in slander, gossip or backbiting. Do not bear false witness against another.

YAMA 3 — Asteya, Nonstealing

Uphold the virtue of non stealing, neither thieving, coveting nor failing to repay debt. Control your desires and live within your means. Do not use borrowed resources for unintended purposes or keep them past due. Do not gamble or defraud others. Do not renege on promises. Do not use others' name, words, resources or rights without permission and acknowledgment.

YAMA 4 — Brahmacharya, Divine Conduct

Practice divine conduct, controlling lust by remaining celibate when single and faithful in marriage. Before marriage, use vital energies in study, and after marriage in creating family success. Don't waste the sacred force by promiscuity in thought, word or deed. Be restrained with the opposite sex. Seek holy company. Dress and speak modestly. Shun pornography, sexual humor and violence.

YAMA 5 — Kshama, Patience

Exercise patience, restraining intolerance with people and impatience with circumstances. Be agreeable. Let others behave according to their nature, without adjusting to you. Don't argue, dominate conversations or interrupt others. Don't be in a hurry. Be patient with children and the elderly. Minimize stress by keeping worries at bay. Remain poised in good times and bad.

YAMA 6 — Dhriti, Steadfastness

Foster steadfastness, overcoming nonperseverance, fear, indecision and changeableness. Achieve your goals with a prayer, purpose, plan, persistence and push. Be firm in your decisions. Avoid sloth and procrastination. Develop willpower, courage and industriousness. Overcome obstacles. Never carp or complain. Do not let opposition or fear of failure result in changing strategies.

YAMA 7 — Daya, Compassion

Practice compassion, conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings. See God everywhere. Be kind to people, animals, plants and the Earth itself. Forgive those who apologize and show true remorse. Foster sympathy for others' needs and suffering. Honor and assist those who are weak, impoverished, aged or in pain. Oppose family abuse and other cruelties.

YAMA 8 — Arjava, Honesty

Maintain honesty, renouncing deception and wrongdoing. Act honorably even in hard times. Obey the laws of your nation and locale. Pay your taxes. Be straightforward in business. Do an honest day's work. Do not bribe or accept bribes. Do not cheat, deceive or circumvent to achieve an end. Be frank with yourself. Face and accept your faults without blaming them on others.

YAMA 9 — Mitahara, Moderate Appetite

Be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy fresh, wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation. Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a disturbed atmosphere or when upset. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.

YAMA 10 — Shauca, Purity

Uphold the ethic of purity, avoiding impurity in mind, body and speech. Maintain a clean, healthy body. Keep a pure, uncluttered home and workplace. Act virtuously. Keep good company, never mixing with adulterers, thieves or other impure people. Keep away from pornography and violence. Never use harsh, angered or indecent language. Worship devoutly. Meditate daily.

Allow yourself the expression of remorse, being modest and showing shame for misdeeds. Recognize your errors, confess and make amends. Sincerely apologize to those hurt by your words or deeds. Resolve all contention before sleep. Seek out and correct your faults and bad habits. Welcome correction as a means to bettering yourself. Do not boast. Shun pride and pretension.

NIYAMAS — The 10 Vedic Observances

Niyamas, how we interact with ourselves, our internal world. The practice of Niyama harnesses the energy generated from our practice and cultivation of the yamas. Niyama is about self-regulation — helping us maintain a positive environment in which to grow. The five niyamas are: hri, santosha, dana, astikya, ishvarapujana, siddhanta shravana, mati, vrata, japa and tapas.

NIYAMA 1 — Hri, Remorse

Allow yourself the expression of remorse, being modest and showing shame for misdeeds. Recognize your errors, confess and make amends. Sincerely apologize to those hurt by your words or deeds. Resolve all contention before sleep. Seek out and correct your faults and bad habits. Welcome correction as a means to bettering yourself. Do not boast. Shun pride and pretension.

NIYAMA 2 — Santosha, Contentment

Nurture contentment, seeking joy and serenity in life. Be happy, smile and uplift others. Live in constant gratitude for your health, your friends and your belongings, Don't complain about what you don't possess. Identify with the eternal You, rather than mind, body or emotions. Keep the mountaintop view that life is an opportunity for spiritual progress. Live in the eternal now.

NIYAMA 3 — Dana, Giving

Be generous to a fault, giving liberally without thought of reward. Tithe, offering one-tenth of your gross income (dashamamsha), as God's money, to temples, ashrams and spiritual organizations. Approach the temple with offerings. Visit guru with gifts in hand. Donate religious literature. Feed and give to those in need. Bestow your time and talents without seeking praise. Treat guests as God.

NIYAMA 4 — Astikya, Faith

Cultivate an unshakable faith. Believe firmly in God, Gods, guru and your path to enlightenment. Trust in the words of the masters, the scriptures and traditions. Practice devotion and sadhana to inspire experiences that build advanced faith. Be loyal to your lineage, one with your satguru. Shun those who try to break your faith by argument and accusation. Avoid doubt and despair.

NIYAMA 5 — Ishvarapujana, Worship

Cultivate devotion through daily worship and meditation. Set aside one room of your home as God's shrine. Offer fruit, flowers or food daily. Learn a simple puja and the chants. Meditate after each puja. Visit your shrine before and after leaving the house. Worship in heartfelt devotion, clearing the inner channels to God, Gods and guru so their grace flows toward you and loved ones.

NIYAMA 6 — Siddhanta Shravana, Scriptural Listening

Eagerly hear the scriptures, study the teachings and listen to the wise of your lineage. Choose a guru, follow his path and don't waste time exploring other ways. Read, study and, above all, listen to readings and dissertations by which wisdom flows from knower to seeker. Avoid secondary texts that preach violence. Revere and study the revealed scriptures, the Vedas and Agamas.

NIYAMA 7 — Mati, Cognition

Develop a spiritual will and intellect with your satguru's guidance. Strive for knowledge of God, to awaken the light within. Discover the hidden lesson in each experience to develop a profound understanding of life and yourself. Through meditation, cultivate intuition by listening to the still, small voice within, by understanding the subtle sciences, inner worlds and mystical texts.

NIYAMA 8 — Vrata, Sacred Vows

Embrace religious vows, rules and observances and never waver in fulfilling them. Honor vows as spiritual contracts with your soul, your community, with God, Gods and guru. Take vows to harness the instinctive nature. Fast periodically. Pilgrimage yearly. Uphold your vows strictly, be they marriage, monasticism, nonaddiction, tithing, loyalty to a lineage, vegetarianism or nonsmoking.

NIYAMA 9 — Japa, Recitation

Chant your holy mantra daily, reciting the sacred sound, word or phrase given by your guru. Bathe first, quiet the mind and concentrate fully to let japa harmonize, purify and uplift you. Heed your instructions and chant the prescribed repetitions without fail. Live free of anger so that japa strengthens your higher nature. Let japa quell emotions and quiet the rivers of thought.

NIYAMA 10 — Tapas, Austerity

Practice austerity, serious disciplines, penance and sacrifice. Be ardent in worship, meditation and pilgrimage. Atone for misdeeds through prayashchitta (penance), such as 108 prostrations or fasting. Perform self-denial, giving up cherished possessions, money or time. Fulfill severe austerities at special times, under a satguru's guidance, to ignite the inner fires of self-transformation.


1. Yamas and Niyamas, Courtesy to Himalayan Academy


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