Yamas and Niyamas — Missing Pieces for the Modern yogi

  • Ahimsa: Meaning non-violence and non-harming, yogis should apply this both internally and externally to their words, deeds and thoughts. In order to be kind to others, we need to also hold compassion for ourselves. Do we harness negative thoughts about ourselves and others? How do we treat the planet? Do we do our best to spread peace and kindness? Reflections of our actions encourage practical applications. By consuming irresponsibly, harnessing self-hate, eating meat, living in excess, gossiping, squishing a spider instead of moving it outside, are we violating the principles of ahisma?
  • Satya: Translated as truthfulness, satya denotes that we must speak our truth within the bounds of ahisma, or non-harm. Speaking kindly with purpose ensures we remain integral and are rid of the burden of dishonesty. Are we honest with ourselves? Are we honest with one another? Do we lie to get ahead? How do we frame our speech in a way that is nonjudgmental?
  • Asetya: Meaning ‘non-stealing’ has an obvious practical application: don’t take what is not yours. To not steal from a shop or from someone else directly is in its most basic form. Other forms of stealing encourage us to ask ourselves: Do we take too much energy from others? From our surroundings? Do we steal from the earth, by taking too many resources? Do we steal from ourselves, by not taking care of our bodies or using our time in gentle and productive ways?
  • Bramacharya: For the modern yogi, this principle works with the idea of restraint and living in non-excess. Not over indulging our bodies and remaining attentive to our needs and boundaries are key to Bramacharya. Do we over indulge by eating too much? Drinking too much? Sleeping too much? Do we overconsume energy around us, including the energy of others? Do we overwork ourselves?
  • Aparigraha: This describes the principle of non-possessiveness, the realization of impermanence and the falsity of ownership. Do we have a tendency to cling to things? Do we have trouble letting go? Do we own or take more than we need? More than what makes us feel content and safe? Do we have a tendency to hoard?
Photo by Oksana Taran on Unsplash
  • Saucha: Saucha is about cleanliness and keeping our bodies, minds and surroundings clean. This includes basic-level acts of personal hygiene but also extends to our external and internal environments. Are our thoughts clean and pure? Do we exercise? Do we drink enough water to purify our bodies? Are our surroundings clutter free?
  • Santosha: This principal refers to satisfaction and its relationship with wellness. If we are mindful of the moment and grateful for everything, we live in a state of acceptance and appreciation, which is conducive to wellness. Are we grateful for what we have in the moment? Do we live in appreciation? Do we feel happiness with whatever comes our way? Do we find joy in the little things around us, regardless of difficulties? Can we even find joy in these difficulties?
  • Tapas: Tapas refers to heat and can be understood as the principles of discipline and self-restraint. If we are able to embody discipline, while having an understanding of ourselves and what is in our best interest, this principle prompts us to consider our actions as an investment into future us. Do we think about our long-term health when we act? Is our diet in line with these values? The activities we do? Can we break bad habits to make space for actions that honour our long-term well-being?
  • Svadhyaya: This principal denotes spiritual well-being and self-knowledge. In this guiding principle, do we reflect on ourselves and understand ourselves deeply, including any flaws or vulnerabilities? Do we meditate enough to tame our mind? Do we focus on or encourage our own internal wisdom?
  • Ishvara Pranidhana: This principal encourages surrender to the universe, and to surrender our egos. It works closely with Svadhyaya and asks us to trust the universe and the bigger system in which we operate. Can we trust the ebbs and flows of life? Can we do our best, and then effectively let go, without obsessing over the result? Can we find ways to be more connected to the universe?
Photo by Carl Barcelo on Unsplash

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