Yamas & Niyamas
The Western world view of the practice of yoga is often that of movement and exercise. However, there is much more to yoga than the pure “asana” (movement); in fact, asana is only one limb of the Eight Limbed Path of Yoga. In the Eastern world, yoga is a way of life—for some it is a spiritual experience; for others it is a means to better comprehend all that life tosses our way. In my case, yoga has saved my life multiple times and it is not because I can comfortably go upside down. Yoga goes much deeper than this.
Many years ago, in my quest for knowledge and a deeper understanding, I began to dive deep into the yamas and the niyamas. These Sanskrit words and ideas of wisdom have molded the way in which I have chosen to live my life, experience my yoga and educate the population on such concepts.
The yamas and niyamas can be viewed as yogic ethical disciplines or observances that offer the practitioner a means to move through life both on and off the mat in a mindful and meaningful way. They encourage acceptance of and kindness to all, including one’s self, and offer tangible and non-tangible methods to heal.
The 5 Yamas are translated as “restraints” or social disciplines:
Ahimsa (non-violence) – invites one to be non-harmful to oneself, others and the environment.
Satya (truthfulness) – encourages one to live life authentically.
Asteya (non-stealing) – introduces one to live life with integrity, in the present moment with gratitude.
Brahmacharya (non-excess) – enables one to accept that one has enough versus grasping for more.
Aparigraha (non-possessiveness) – asks one to let go of how one thinks life should be and instead accept the life one has to truly arrive present.
The 5 Niyamas are translated as “observances” or ethical conduct:
Saucha (purity) – Maintain a pure body, thoughts and actions.
Santosha (contentment) – To be content with what we have and live authentically in the moment.
Tapas (self-discipline) – Exude your pure character and continue on a path of wellness.
Svadhyaya (self-study) – Understanding oneself to create a pathway of knowledge and acceptance.
Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender) – To let go of ego and open the heart to live life fully.
Yoga and the yamas and niyamas have provided me a pathway to wellness, the ability to be compassionate toward myself and others, and the framework to effectively and efficiently live a full life. The greatest lesson I have learned is that this life is short; thus, to live in the present, truly acknowledging all moments, appreciative for others who have entered and existed and understand that I was meant to experience them all. A full life is one that can be reflected upon at death with gratitude for everything.
Nicole Zornitzer, ERYT 1000, yoga therapist, founder of Niyama Yoga & Wellness Shala