What are the Yamas and Niyamas
Yamas and Niyamas
What are the Yamas and Niyamas
The yamas (restraints) and niyamas (observances) are often presented as the first two limbs of yoga. These initiate a growing shift and understanding surrounding the way a practitioner engages with the world (yamas) and themselves personally (niyamas). The integration of these practices can support the facilitation of Ayurvedic self-care practices. Similarly, the application of these self-care practices can support the integration of the yamas and niyamas.
The yamas are five restraints that assist in creating harmony between the external world and one’s behavior. They are:
- ahimsa, non-violence in thought, word or deed; physically, energetically, or mentally. We learn how to express love by not harming the happiness or freedom of another being.
- satya, truthfulness in thought, speech or action; materially, energetically and mentally. We experience the freedom of honesty expressed non-violently.
- asteya, non-stealing; materially, energetically or mentally. We increase the strength of our will and our creative power by maintaining an honest relationship towards the material items, energy, moods, intellectual ideas, power, peace, or even karma of others in the world.
- brahmacharya, energy-control; asceticism of the senses and primal urges conserves energy which can be re-directed for other goals and contribute to the efficiency of our thoughts, words and deeds.
- aparigraha; non-attachment to material items, energy, feelings, thoughts, etc. The resources and materials of the Earth belong to all beings and through an attitude of appreciation we can easily share what we do not need and maintain the mental freedom from addicting thoughts, feelings or actions.
These five restraints contribute to the cultivation of inner strength, better communication and relationships between oneself and the external world.
The niyamas are five observances which relate more to personal aspects of discipline. They are:
- shaucha, cleanliness; physically, energetically, and mentally. Purification of all layers of being, body, breath, senses, and conscious/subconscious mind increases mindfulness and self-knowledge.
- santosha, contentment; materially, physically, energetically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. If we learn to maintain a state of inner tranquility regardless of the externalities we reclaim energy and cultivate inner happiness.
- tapas, literally means to cook, also austerity or spiritual zeal; through practice and increased simplicity in lifestyle the inner fire of motivation cultivates discipline and freedom from distractions or obstacles to practice.
- svadhyaya, self-study; study that leads to knowledge of the self. Reading of sacred texts, absorption in ancient wisdom or spiritual literature which removes the veil from the light of knowledge within. To know oneself on all layers of being.
- ishvara pranidhana, surrendering all actions to the form/formless infinite consciousness. Beyond the body, senses, functions of mind (ego, intellect) is consciousness. We can learn to surrender what appears to separate us from consciousness and allow consciousness to flow freely from the source; to see the light within oneself, all beings and all of creation.
We must be practical as we approach the comprehensive application and integration of the yamas and niyamas into our lives.
The yamas and niyamas serve as useful ideals to sincerely aspire toward and reflect upon as we begin or sustain our practice. We can use our personal challenges to any given tenant as informative and further motivation to succeed in future occasions. In time, the results will be known and serve as continual momentum to solidify our integration and appreciation of these concepts in the body and mind, through our thoughts, words and deeds.
The mutual interconnection and support of Ayurvedic self-care practices can be a wonderful and practical method of integrating the yamas and niyamas. Initially one may make the connection to shaucha, cleanliness, regarding self-care, kriya, or daily dinacharya practices; however, one must be honest, satya, with themselves about their consistency, which relates to tapas, as well as non-violent, ahimsa, in the application of each practice.
Fundamentally practitioners are studying themselves, svadhyaya, and how their actions and choices in the external world relate to and influence their internal world. The knowledge of these practices stems from ancient wisdom carried to us through millennia of wisdom keepers.
Practitioners learn through the control of their senses and energy, brahmacharya, how to sharpen the mind and cultivate greater awareness within themselves and as they relate to the world as a whole.
The mystery of creation, ishvara pranidhana, becomes more and more apparent as this knowledge is maintained. Through the cleansing of the body, senses and balancing of the mind, spiritual insights are readily available to the dedicated Ayurvedic practitioner.
And this is really the greater purpose of Ayurveda as a whole, to give practitioners a path to understand the relationship between the body and mind as it relates to the world, to heal the body and mind so that spiritual pursuits are possible and successful. The foundational limbs of yoga are presented to assist practitioners in achieving wholesome results from their practice and to bring awareness to the areas where work needs to take place. Yoga practitioners benefit from the Ayurvedic understanding of right attitude, lifestyle, and personal regimen related to their constitution. The overlapping interconnection and mutual support between the schools becomes even more apparent, easily integrated and useful when comprehensively working with them both.
We encourage you to reflect upon your relationship to the yamas and niyamas daily to begin.
Are there any that are regularly challenging or unaddressed? What components come easily? Which ones are more challenging?
Contemplate each yama and niyama individually, as a daily practice to cycle through them three times over the course of a month. Slowly begin expanding elements of each into other arenas of life and you will begin to notice the effect of these integral preliminary practices.
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