The Yama & Niyamas: Yogic Core Values

Within traditional yogic teachings, there exists what is called the five Yamas and the five Niyamas. These are often described as yoga's "moral codes" or "right ways of living" - similar in a way to the 10 commandments. However, this isn't really about right and wrong in black and white terms. The idea behind cultivating these core values into our daily life is that it builds towards a more balanced and aware state of being, which in turn leads to greater levels of happiness and, more importantly, meaning.


Who doesn't want to feel happier, more balanced, aware, and free? As someone who highly values personal growth and wellness, I definitely strive for this myself, and I also know how difficult it can be to stay true to this path when this world often presents us with darkness and hardship. I believe application of these concepts works best when we view them as suggestions for better living and prioritize them on in a relaxed, creative fashion. This way we may practically integrate the Yamas and Niyamas into the demands of our everyday lives without all the unnecessary guilt that arises from our typical perfectionistic standards as a society.


We have to consider these practices were originally created during a different time and place in history, so it's important that we apply them to our lives as we exist today - with all the cultural, social, and technological demands and norms that we face. It's about always doing our best - not being perfect - and our best can change from day to day, hour to hour! 

(self-regulating behaviors involving our inter-personal interactions - how we engage with other people and the world at large. They are basically a list of "don't dos" or "self-restraints.")


Sanskrit: Ahimsa 
English: Non-Harming

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Child’s Pose (Balasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"I radiate love and compassion."

Doing no harm in our actions, our words, and our thoughts -- both towards others and with ourselves. Freedom from negative labels, self-depreciation, harsh criticisms, and judgements. When you master Ahimsa, you live with “harmonious vibration” or, in other words, with compassion. This not only creates greater peace in your own life but ripples outward, encouraging others to live more peacefully as well. 


Sanskrit: Satya

English: Truthfulness

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Sphinx (Salamba Bhujangasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"I follow my truth and communicate it clearly."

Being truthful not only with others but with ourselves. Examining the false beliefs and stories we have about ourselves and the world and revising what is not empowering or truth-based about those ideas. Dropping the mask. Refraining from gossip and passive-aggressive forms of communication. Integrity. Showing up when we say we will and keeping our word, matching our actions to our values, and owning up when we make a mistake.

“On the mountains of truth, you can never climb in vain; either you will reach a point higher up today, or you will be training your powers so that you will be able to climb higher tomorrow.” -Nietzsche


Sanskrit: Asteya

English: Non-Stealing

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Reclining Hero (Supta Virasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

“I am capable, and others are capable.”​

Refrain from taking that which is not ours to take or anything that is not freely offered. Even when we seek to fulfill our own or others needs and desires, Asteya states we must do so using legitimate methods. Whether it’s taking material/tangible items or the time, energy, attention, and emotion of others -- if these are not gifted to us, or we have not asked and been granted them, or we provide nothing in return then we are violating Asteya. You can “steal” the attention, limelight, or credit that someone else deserves. You can steal someone’s peace and quiet, or “rain on their parade.” Attempting to take care of someone else in ways they are capable of doing for themselves can create codependency and then is a theft of their autonomy.


“The love you take is equal to the love you make.” – The Beatles


Sanskrit: Brahmacharya

English: Non-Excess

Supportive Yoga Pose: 

Seated Forward fold (Upavistha Konasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation: 

“I spend my energy wisely.”

Feeding our spirit by directing our energy in a way that best serves our highest self and greatest values. Seeking to avoid anything that over-stimulates the senses to the point of emotional turmoil, such as abusing drugs (including too much caffeine or sugar), loud/offensive music, violent media, copious amounts of perfume, or engaging in harmful sexual behavior. Too much energy focused on external, momentary sources of happiness of any kind can deplete us over time and leave us feeling empty and disconnected from ourselves and our life’s meaning/purpose. Brahmacharya is an awareness that both stress and worry are a waste of our precious energy. It means finding ease and calm in our response to life’s many imperfections which allows us to spend our energy wisely on the things we care most about.


“Exhaustion is not a status symbol.” – Brene Brown


“’No’ is a complete sentence.” – Annie Lamott


Sanskrit: Aparigraha

English: Non-Possessiveness 

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Mountain (Tadasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"I have all that I need."

Generating gratitude for what we have and freedom from wanting more than we need or have. An attitude of abundance. Take only what we need, keep only what serves us, and to let go of the rest. Focusing on the process, not the product – the journey and not the destination. Acceptance. When we let go of grasping and clinging to old beliefs and ideas, relationships, and objects, we connect more with our true-selves and our passions can then flow freely. We do what we do for the love of it, rather than to gain approval of others. It also means not accumulating “stuff” out of fear or greed.


“The things you own end up owning you.” (Fight Club)


“Abundance is a process of letting go; that which is empty can receive.” -Bryant H. McGill



(intra-personal practices - how we engage with our inner world. They are basically a list of "dos" or "observances.")


Sanskrit: Saucha 
English: Cleanliness

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Knee to Chest (Apanasana) 

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"My heart is pure. My mind is clear."

"Clear eyes, full heart, can't lose." (Thanks, Coach Taylor!)

Physical and mental “hygiene” – keeping your mind, speech, environment, and body free from clutter and contamination. Treating our bodies with care by eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep, and getting regular physical activity. Does not mean purification of the body, as we cannot prevent the natural deterioration of the human body. Our truest essence is separate from our bodies, free from aging and illness. Cleanliness of mind = regulation of emotions, thoughts, & beliefs, offering us freedom from intense mood shifts and over-reactivity to life’s endless complexities. Anger, hate, prejudice, greed, pride, fear, and harmful negative thoughts are a source of impurity of the mind which can be “cleansed” through regular use of mentalization, mindfulness, and meditation - skills which are commonly picked up in therapy. Orderliness and cleanliness within our environments (home, work, car) also supports a calm, “clean” state of mind.


Sanskrit: Santosha

English: Contentment

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Knee Down Twist (Jathara Parivartanasana)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"This moment is perfect just as it is." 

An underlying joy that life’s unexpected let-downs and imperfections cannot shake. Acceptance of life as is, letting go of your war with reality. Welcoming adversity – “offering chaos a cup of tea.” The dialectic between acceptance and change - when we accept things as they are without resistance, we actually free ourselves to make changes. Relaxing into the moment you’re in, despite frustration and discomfort. Creating space for contentment rather than chasing after it. Replacing the limited self-talk of “should”, “can’t”, and “too hard” with empowering speech - "I can, I will, I choose"...


“Serenity now!” (Seinfeld, Frank Costanza speaking)


Sanskrit: Tapas

English: Self-Discipline

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Chair (Utkatasana) 

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"The light of consciousness glows within me."

Translated as “inner fire,” meaning to generate heat through the action and effort put into anything you do that elevates you and others. Having a purpose or aim in life – a vision of your future you are working towards.  Doesn’t have to be massive investments of time and energy – just needs to be intentional, consistent, and performed whole-heartedly. (Think of the dog that walks himself – holding the leash in his mouth.) Mindfully conducted, healthy habits that support connection to your guiding principles and personal values.  Avoiding mindless habituation – getting out of autopilot. Connection to an “inner fire” – a sense of purpose - inspires us to develop and grow. Th work involved then no longer feels like work – there’s no forced sense of obligation when we’re connected with a deeper “why” for our efforts.   


“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Nietzsche


Sanskrit: Svadhyaya

English: Self-Study

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Rabbit (Shashangasana) 

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"I expand my self-knowledge and reflect on my life with acceptance.​"

Self-study. Yoga places more of a focus on the spiritual “Self” while the Western approach is more about self-identity. Exploring who you are, flaws and all, without judgement or shame. Examining incongruence between your actions and values. Seeking to understand your habits, beliefs, traditions, values, and interests with empathy and curiosity. Understanding the universality of the human condition – growing in your compassion towards yourself and others in this understanding. Balancing between your state as an individual and as part of a larger system - both the “wave” and the “ocean.” Holding and validating your own sense of reality and truth created from your personal experiences while accepting that others may have a very different but equally valid sense of reality and truth based on their personal experiences. Operating from knowledge that one’s perception of another is a reflection of the self.


“The unexamined life is not worth living.” -Socrates


Sanskrit: Ishvara Pranidhana

English:  Attunement to Consciousness, Release of Ego 

Supportive Yoga Pose:

Seal of Yoga (Yoga Mudra)

Supportive Verbal Affirmation:

"I surrender to my highest self & dedicate myself to the good of humanity."

Whether you believe in a benevolent essence in the universe or in the indifference of the cosmos, this Niyama remains meaningful and useful to us all. It means to surrender or devote to our Highest Self (God, Brahman, Inner Advisor, True Self, Ultimate Reality, Universe, Supreme Being, whatever!). Transcend the ego – let go of the ego (control, judgements, criticisms, shame, greed, etc) and be present to the true interconnectedness of all beings - “Oneness.” Do whatever you do as a service to humanity or something beyond yourself (for example, when you forward fold in yoga, you are bowing to humanity). Connection to and deep sense of trust within our deepest intuition and unashamed expression of ourselves as we are, perfect imperfection. Remaining healthy in order to help others. Surrendering – to rest or to discomfort. Doing our work not for the fruits of the labor but for the labor itself. Acknowledging you can only do your best in any given situation and no more – being fully present in every situation and not worrying about what comes next.


“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin


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