Introduction to Yama and Niyama

Introduction to Yama and Niyama

by Chandra Om

Lord Shiva

Yama and Niyama are the foundation of Yoga—the first and second stages. The qualities to be cultivated by the serious practitioner. Applying these principles will help to control passions, emotions and to avoid disturbing anything or anyone.

Eventually practice of these foundations purifies the mind, develops compassion and love. We begin to see that we are all the same, feeling as one with all God’s creatures.

Without Yama and Niyama, we cannot succeed in meditation. It would be like starting a fire with wet wood. You would cause a great deal of smoke, but do nothing but bring tears to your eyes. Or you could compare it to taking drugs.

The pleasure you experience may be nice, but it is not teaching you to master your self so that you can be independent. Along with the third stage, asana, these three limbs constitute the outward quest. The deepest part of the practice is inward and is found in the last three limbs.


There are five yamas or ethical restraints. Part of the discipline is to cultivate these as part of daily action as well as in formal practice.

These are the yamas:

  • Ahimsa ~ Non-harming
  • Satya ~ Truthfulness
  • Asteya ~ Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya ~ Celibacy
  • Aparigraha ~ Non-covetousness

These are the qualities to be cultivated.

Ahimsa (Non-harming) is perfect harmlessness in thought, word and action. Eliminate the beast nature within. Ahimsa is positive, cosmic love. To abstain even from the slightest harm to any living creature, mentally, verbally or by deed. By injuring another you injure your own self. By serving another you serve your own self. Love all. Serve all. Hate none. Insult none. Injure none in thought, word or deed. Ahimsa is a wonderful quality of the heart. Ahimsa is Supreme Love. Ahimsa is a weapon of the strong. It cannot be practiced by weak persons.

Satya (Truthfulness), in which thought, word and act should agree. Satya does not twist or modify whatever you have heard or seen, it must be spoken of as it is. In Satya truth alone triumphs. God is truth. You can realize truth only by speaking truth. By speaking truth, the mind is purified and the Divine light dawns.

Asteya (Non-stealing). Desire is the root-cause for stealing. If you are established in non-stealing, all wealth will come to you.

Brahmacharya (Celibacy) is purity or freedom from lust in thought, word and deed. It is freedom from sexual thoughts and sexual urges. If you are established in Brahmacharya, you will have tremendous energy and great will power. Yogis do not waste the sexual fluids, but conserve them to transform them into Cosmic energy to lift the consciousness up Shushumna

Aparigraha (Non-covetousness) removes anxiety to preserve, fear of loss, sorrow in loss, hatred, anger, untruthfulness, stealing, attachment, agitation of mind, restlessness, cares and worries. Aparigraha gives peace, contentment and satisfaction. Aparigraha also means non receiving of gifts conducive to luxury. Never take from life more than you need for simple living. Keep just what’s needed for life’s sustenance. Lose the desire to have what belongs to others. Be always content and satisfied with whatever you have. Have faith in God! He will provide everything (whatever your karma allows you to) at the right time and place. Too many possessions create attachment and this brings pain and misery.


There are five niyamas or observances of self disciple. Part of the discipline is to cultivate these as part of daily action as well as in formal practice.

These are the niyamas:

  • Saucha ~ Purity
  • Santosha ~ Contentment
  • Tapas ~ Austerity
  • Svadhyaya ~ Study of the Self
  • Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Self-Surrender to the Lord

These are the qualities to be cultivated.

Saucha (Purity) is perfect purity in body, thought and action. Keep the body free from smoke, drugs, alcohol and food that is tasteless, stale, excessively salty, hot, dry, bitter, overcooked, over-ripened, unclean, fried or oily. Shun the intake of flesh. Do not make your stomach a “graveyard” by ingesting cadavers (meat, fish, and fowl) and/or embryos (eggs). Eat natural foods like fruits, vegetables and nuts. Drink water and natural fruit and vegetable juices. Avoid garlic, onions and indulgence of sweets. Thus, you will be freed from many deadly diseases and success in meditation is certain. The mind, little by little, must be freed from feelings of lust, envy, pride, fear, jealousy, arrogance, hatred and delusion. All demoralizing thoughts must gradually be driven away with the power of positive thoughts. Devotional songs (kirtan), repetition of mantras and the reading of holy books will greatly help you to achieve this.

Santosha (Contentment) is the result of knowledge of the laws of Karma. Everything is as it should be. Everything that happens to you is due to your past actions. Lord Jesus said, “There is not one blade of grass that moves without the will of God”.

Tapas (Non-stealing). Feel a burning desire for liberation. Cultivate a burning effort to be strict with everything. This is why there are people entering into great meditations. Austerity also means strictness with yourself. But, if there is too much, it may hurt others. Be sensitive, according to your situation. For true Tapas, (or any real success in Yoga, a Guru is necessary).

Svadhyaya (Study of the self). Observation of your own self. Study scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads or any scripture that allows the nature of the Self to be revealed. Reflect on what is real and what is not real. Keep trying to see what is real. Reflect on the sheaths of the body. Gradually, through meditation, you realize the presence of the eternal consciousness within.

Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to the Lord). Dedicate everything to the Lord. Keep saying in your heart, “everything is for you, my Lord.” Devotion to God is renunciation of all actions and ego to the Lord. The Lord is nothing but your own real self. Surrender, say “Take Me”. This leads automatically to samadhi. Read holy books that inspire surrender while adhering to the yamas.