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Limbs of Yoga : Yama and Niyama

In our previous article on the limbs of yoga, we could read that there are many schools of thought around yoga. We explained that these schools are based on a variable number of limbs, which are steps needed to reach the "Yog." We also explained that the most popular philosophy was the one of Patanjali.

Patanjali's philosophy contains eight limbs. The first five are external practices, and their goal is to prepare the body and mind. The three last are internal and expand the consciousness to reach the "union."

Yama and Niyama are the first two limbs of yoga described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Their goal is to harmonize one's actions towards others and self.

Yama, the social code.

Yama is considered the social code and is meant to harmonize the interactions between people. It comprises five elements: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha.


Ahimsa is understood as non-violence towards self, others, and things. Going further than physical violence, the principle of Ahimsa is meant to be applied in actions, but also words and thoughts.

A person following Ahimsa should not harm herself or others, as well as nature and non-living things.


Satya is the second principle of Yama and can be translated as truthfulness. It implies that the practitioner stays truthful to others, but also himself. Satya requires being respectful of one's own body and limitations during physical practice and recognizing one's boundaries of the mind.


Asteya, the third principle of Yama, is translated to non-stealing. This principle says that one should not steal from others but also from himself.

This principle can go pretty deep. It is not only about stealing material things from someone else but also about not using more resources than necessary and about not stealing or losing time. This principle is a lot about time and resources management and how one should use what he needs only.


Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama. It is associated with celibacy or the proper use of energy. It encourages the yogi to use his power to reach a higher purpose instead of reaching external desires.

It can refer to many different aspects, but it is basically about restraining ourselves from simply fulfilling our desires or urges. It is about gaining control over our external needs.


Aparigraha, the last Yama, is related to non-possessiveness, non-greediness, and non-attachment. It teaches the yogi to take what he needs and value sharing with others. It is meant to avoid the want of material gain.

According to that principle, the yogi should give up the need for possession, whether material or spiritual. It is the total separation from the sense of competition.

Niyama, the personal code.

Niyama is the personal code described by Patanjali and is the second limb of yoga. Its goal is to harmonize the internal feelings of a person. It is also composed of five elements: Shaucha, Santosha, Tapah, Swadhyaya, and Ishwara pranidhana.


Saucha is the first principle of Niyama. It translates into purity or cleanliness. It implies keeping our bodies clean inside and out and keeping our minds clean by avoiding negativity in actions, words, and thoughts.

Some cleaning practices in yoga are meant to maintain the cleanliness required by Saucha. The principle also encourages the yogi to examine what he says, thinks, or does to stay in a state of positivity and purity.


The second principle of Niyama is Santosha. It can be translated as contentment. Its teaching is to accept what we have and what we are now and move forward.

Santosha is about avoiding basing our sense of peace and happiness on some external things. It is about learning to be satisfied with what we have without always seeking more.


Tapah, the third Niyama, can be translated to austerity or discipline. It teaches the yogi to have passion, self-discipline, and courage. It focuses on the importance of finding your goal in this life and directing your energy toward reaching it.

Cultivating Tapah helps the practitioner stay motivated for personal growth and reach his goals.


Swadhyaya is the fourth Niyama and is related to self-study. It encourages the yogi to analyze his body and mind to understand their needs and limitations.

According to that principle, the yogi should be open to observing his emotions, feelings, reactions, and actions to identify his limitations and cultivate a will for improvement.

This self-observation can help the yogi to understand the global consciousness and how he fits in it with the others around him.

Ishwara pranidhana

This last Niyama, Ishwara pranidhana, is the most important. It is defined as surrendering to God or Supreme Being. In essence, it means cultivating a deeply trusting relationship with the universe. Ishwara pranidhana means offering our actions to the universe and the collective consciousness that connects everything. It is about believing that our actions are part of something bigger than us.

In brief, Yama and Niyama are principles guiding the yogi's actions to harmonize them with others and himself. They are each composed of five elements, covering many aspects of life. They serve as a chance for introspection and align the yogi's actions with his values.

Fully living according to these principles is a long process. Once the yogi is following the rules of Yama and Niyama, he can progress to the other limbs of Patanjali's yoga, which will help him expand his consciousness.

At Japam, we teach yoga according to the eight limbs of Patanjali, and we apply the Yama and Niyama principles to our daily practices and interactions. Don't hesitate to contact us for more information about what we offer.

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