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A Design for Living: The Yamas & Niyamas

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Most people know yoga as a bunch of bendy poses that only flexible people can do. What they don’t know is that not only does yoga build strength and endurance, but it offers us a way to address the mental and emotional twinges that surface on and off of the mat.

Before you jump into an asana practice (asana is the yoga word for pose) you’ll need insight to how your operate in the world, your temperament, and the unique qualities you bring to your mat. For instance, if you’re the competitive type you might push your body beyond its limits into injury. If you have a habit of comparing yourself to others you may want to give up on your practice because it’s not as good as so-and-so’s. If you struggle with time management you might always arrive late to class and disrupt others.

The first two limbs of yoga- the Yamas and Niyamas- are ethical standards that act as a guidepost for relating to oneself and others.

The Yamas

The first limb, yama, focuses on how you conduct yourself in relationship to others.  The yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

The Five Yamas

Non-violence (ahimsa)

Non-stealing (asteya)

Non-grasping (aparigraha)

Truthfulness (satya)

Moderation (bramacharya)

Practice at home:

Take a spider outside instead of smashing it (non-violence)

Don’t speak ill about others; don’t gossip  (non-violence).

Practice in recovery:

Set boundaries with friends and family; don't people please (truthfulness).

Don't eat the whole bag of chips (moderation).

Practice on the mat:

Don’t compare yourself to others or a past version of yourself (non-grasping/attachment).

Enter the classroom quietly and as to not disrupt others peace (non-stealing).

The Niyamas

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with the way you interact with yourself. Practicing these behaviors leads to a more positive relationship with yourself. It also has to do with feeding your spiritual life, whatever that means for you.

The Five Niyamas:

Self-nurturing discipline (tapas)

Self-study (svadyaya)

Self-forgiveness & self-acceptance (isvari pranidhana)

Cleanliness (saucha)

Contentment (santosha)

Practice at home:

Bathe regularly (cleanliness).

Clean out your fridge (cleanliness).

Practice in your recovery:

Do something you don’t want to do because it helps you grow (self-nurturing discipline).

Recognize habits that don’t lead to success; this is much like a 4th step (self-study).

Practice on the mat:

Don’t compare yourself to others or a past version of yourself; accept what is (contentment).

Don’t push your body beyond it’s limitations; be where you’re at (all).

More on the remaining 8 limbs to be continued.

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