Yamas and Niyamas Yoga Ethics

Written by Cat Woods ・  5 mins

I came to yoga believing it was really a “stretch” class with incense. Perhaps, for some, it is and always will be. After years of practicing and trying classes of different types, I really developed a curiosity for the spiritual and holistic elements of yoga. The yamas and niyamas are a great start.


Yamas and Niyamas

These are the essence of yoga – it’s what makes it not just a workout. Yoga has history, it has culture and tradition and meaning. It is a practice of the mind, body and soul that aims for ultimate wellness and living mindfully, meaningfully and with intense passion for being alive.

Patanjali describes the eightfold path in his Yoga Sutras. While the actual movements and poses, the physical aspect of yoga is what is most commonly practiced and spoken of, these are the third limb. It is the moral code of conduct for yogis that is lesser known, but it can guide, enhance and enlighten your practice and your life more generally. Please note that these are not religious – you can study and practice these codes of conduct whatever your faith.

The five yamas are actions towards yourself. The five niyamas are actions with the world.


Ahimsa: non-violence or non-harm

Satya: Truthfulness

Asteya: Non-stealing

Brahmacharya: Celibacy (or in a modern context, non-excess. Showing respect for your body and directing your desires towards fulfilling and respectful relationships)

Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness or non-envy


Saucha: cleanliness

Santosha: contentment and gratitude

Tapas: self-discipline and focus of intensity

Svadhyaya: self-study

Ishvara Pranidhana: surrender to a higher power (God, or the Universe, or Nature)

Modern Yoga Ethics

Inevitably, since the Yoga Sutras were first compiled in 400 CE, the exact meaning and method around practicing the yamas and niyamas has adapted to modern times.

Rather than expecting celibacy, hours of meditation and self-study with intense focus to elevate ourselves to a higher spiritual plane, there must be some compromise between the historical meaning of the classical yoga philosophy and the demands of modern life.

Living with integrity, questioning our values and intentions, being compassionate to ourselves and those around us, and cultivating gratitude and contentment for who we are and what we already have are all paths to a more joyful and holistically healthy life.

Along with the Bhagavad Gita, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are key texts for yoga teachers in training. For yoga students who have embraced the physical poses and flow of classes at their local gym or studio, I recommend extending your curiosity to the yoga philosophy. If the books are a little daunting (I totally understand!) then try some more modern, abridged books on the sutras. I really like The Eight Limbs Of Yoga by Stuart Ray Sarbacker and Kevin Kimple.


Are you interested in delving into yoga philosophy? Power Living’s Yoga Teacher Training is a transformational journey that will challenge you and change your life! Find out more and check out upcoming courses near you.


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