International Day of Yoga : The Yamas & Niyamas (Yoga’s Ethical Practice)

The online world is replete with Happy Yoga Day posts, messages, pics of people participating in events and what with the prime minister of my country, Narendra Modi himself endorsing it.

I attended a Yoga event in San Francisco,CA organized by HSS. I expected it to be a set of talks and asanas which it was, but it also taught me something new about Yoga – the Yamas and Niyamas – Yoga’s Ethical practice – Control your mind to control your body.

What’s healthy living – Isn’t it a life where you are able to handle every day situations without offending/harming others and yourselves?  

Edit 2019 : PM Modi tweeted – Yoga is ancient and modern. It is constant and evolving. For centuries, the essence of Yoga has remained the same: Healthy body, Stable mind, Spirit of oneness. Yoga provides a perfect blend of ज्ञान or knowledge, कर्म or work and भक्ति or devotion

Yama Niyama Yoga
Illustration by Rachel Sullivan

Asanas are the more well-known Yoga practice but it’s important to address the mental first to support the physical. The yamas and niyamas are yoga’s ethical guidelines ( targeting the mental well-being ) laid out in the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path ; suggestions on dealing with people around us and our attitude towards ourselves.


The five yamas, self-regulating behaviors involving our interactions with other people and the world at large, include:

  • Ahimsa: Non-Violence, Compassion for all living things
  • Satya: Commitment to Truthfulness
  • Asteya: Non-Stealing
  • Brahmacharya: Non-Excess, Moderation (often interpreted as celibacy)
  • Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness, Non-Greed.



The five niyamas, personal practices that relate to our inner world, include:

  • Saucha: Purity, Cleanliness
  • Santosha: Contentment
  • Tapas: Self-Discipline, training your senses
  • Svadhyaya: Self-Study, Inner Exploration
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender (to God), Devotion to a higher power, Humility

There can be various interpretations – Ahimsa (non-violence) for example could be interpreted as not physically harming anyone or more subtly as not to hurt someone with your words by not speaking abusively, spreading rumors or gossiping.

They go hand in hand – Aparigraha (non-possesiveness; non hoarding) is detachment from material things which can only be attained if you are content (Santosha) with what you have.

Sometimes conflicting – Should one be truthful (Satya)to the extent of hurting someone (Ahimsa) ? Here comes the realization of a middle path wherein you tell the truth as long as you are not hurting someone unnecessarily.

Studying and practicing the yamas and niyamas will teach us how to navigate everyday interactions with self and others, especially when it comes to having difficult conversations. One can learn to be gentle yet direct.

Think about it – these are basic steps for character building. We can do better by practicing these along with Asanas for a balanced, meaningful and purposeful life.

Do you agree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


#enmanadhil #IDY2017 #Yoga #Yamas #Niyamas #spiritual #health #awareness #india




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