Yama Niyama Mama

I’ve been smiling to myself a bunch over the past couple of days.  I was at the salon getting my hair done when the stylist started asking me about my life.  Of course I started talking about yoga – teaching it, taking it, why everyone should do it.  She was very interested and asked some great questions about the practice.  But one has tickled me a bit.  She asked, “Do you live that life?”

As soon as she asked it I knew what she was implying.  She wanted to know if I sat in endless hours of meditation, only ate organic foods, abstained from alcohol and sex, and renounced all material things.  This was not the first, or the last time, I will be asked this.

Every time I bump into a student outside of the hot room, they not only don’t recognize me – it’s amazing how different you look when your hair is actually dry and you have a bit of makeup on, a well as, normal clothing – they have a reaction similar to one that an elementary school student has when they see their grade school teacher in the grocery store.  That moment of, “ Oh, right you must be a normal person who needs food.”  I even had one student say to me, “How nice, they let you out of there.”  Does she think they lock me up in the hot room when class isn’t going on?

But, when discussing this with my hair stylist this week it was hard not to admit that the yoga had not affected every facet of my life.  I actually do meditate, eat organic foods, juice everyday, and generally take care of myself.  Not to say that I don’t enjoy a glass of wine, shopping, sex, and a plate of french fries every once in awhile – life was meant to be enjoyed.

There is a way though.  A way to live that is defined in Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga.  The yamas and  niyamas.  As asanas (postures) are only one of the 8 limbs of yoga (steps of yogic of life), the yamas and niyamas make up the first two limbs.  Yamas are defined as universal morality.  Niyamas consist of personal observances.  When we start to practice yoga we usually start with the asanas.  But as we are affected by the practice we may start to observe some of the yamas and niyamas naturally.   These are defined as:


Ahimsa: Non-violence, non-harming (do no harm, the avoidance of violence). You can apply this first to yourself in your physical yoga practice, then to your thoughts and actions, and continue to broaden it many other ways, to include all living beings.

Satya: Truthfulness or honesty.

Asteya: Non-stealing, abstension from theft.

Brahmacharya: Walking in awareness of the highest reality, remembering the divine.

Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness, non-holding through senses, non-greed, non-grasping, non-indulgence.


Saucha or shaucha: Purity or cleanliness. This is both internal and external. It’s how we treat our bodies and our energies (internal) and how we treat our environment (external).

Santosha: Contentment. Be content with what you attain. Accept where you are. The quality of contentment leads to inner peace. We find that what we need is right here in the moment, no matter if this moment is easy or difficult.

Tapas: Disclipline, training the senses. Centering in the awareness of your practice with both disclipine and enthusiasm.

Svadhyaya: The study of one’s self; careful self-observation; turning inward.  Build self-awareness. The focus is internal, self-knowledge. Allows you to avoid competing with others in the room and to prevent injuries.

Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender to life. Celebrate your aliveness and surrender to it.

How many of the yamas and niyamas are you following today?  Which ones do you think you need to work on?  We all have work to do in this lifetime, sometimes it’s just realizing where we are now to understand where we want to go.  Everyone – including your yoga teacher – is doing the best they can….

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy reading:

Be the Bean

This is How Yoga Works

Breaking Bad…Habits That Is

17 thoughts on “Yama Niyama Mama

      • Ironically, I was talking to my instructor last night about some Chi Running mechanics that I see replicated in Bikram (mostly hard flex of the toes and bending at the ankle – this makes us faster runners and skaters!) and what I loved about this and T’ai Chi is that it works with the mechanics of our body – it’s not a belief system that I have to ‘believe’ – but it’s how the body works – when you move it this way and do X – this happens and you get these benefits. I love that. I love the pragmatism – not disavowing the spiritual aspect – but the appeal to me is calm the body, calm the mind… in T’ai Chi it’s similar – less is better – exert less energy – go slower and be more methodical in your movements with mindfulness and your body will respond with health & the mind with well being. I can get behind that any day of the week.

  1. do they let you out of there? That just cracks me up! One thing about the yamas is if you practice only one then make it ahimsa, kindness to yourself and others then all the rest will follow naturally

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