Exploring Yamas and Niyamas to Discover Life Balance, part 1

Exploring Yamas and Niyamas to Discover Life Balance, part 1

There is more to yoga than just doing poses on a mat, there are 8 “limbs” to a balanced yoga practice (read more about that here). This post is a discussion about the first limb of yoga: Yamas. Yamas and Niyamas usually go together, but there is a lot to say, so I am splitting the discussion by individual limbs.

“Why does this matter?” you may ask. Yamas and Niyamas are guidelines on how to live a balanced, peaceful life, both with regard to how we interact with others, and how we interact with ourselves. Theses are principles to follow to live a more full, embodied, and integrated life and are thousands of years old. Patanjali discusses them in his Yoga Sutras, a text written somewhere between 200 BCE- 200 CE.


Yamas make up 5 principles that guide us with how we interact toward others, although we can apply all of these principles to ourselves as well.

5 Yamas

1. Ahmisa/Non-Harming

Ahimsa is the first principle and is about acting in a way that is not harmful toward others. This includes your behavior, as well as your thoughts. Ahimsa encompasses non-harming where you are not physically hurting another person, but it also applies to not thinking bad things about another person. While you can’t physically harm someone else with your thoughts, it can cause harm, energetically, both to them and to you. When you gossip or talk behind someone’s back, for example, you are eroding trust with the people you are speaking to, and eroding your own self-worth. When you speak negatively about someone else, it feeds your own insecurity, plus brings your mood down.

This also applies to how you speak and act toward yourself. When you are constantly critical and judgmental toward yourself, that doesn’t feel good. Shame keeps you small and alone. Treating yourself and others with kindness and compassion will open your heart, helping you to feel more spacious and light. You wouldn’t let another person speak to you in an abusive way, so why do you tolerate that abuse from yourself? The next time you are shaming or blaming yourself, see if you can flip the script to something kinder and more loving. Notice how that feels.

“Remember, you’ve been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” ~Louise Hay

2. Satya/Truth

There are many reasons to tell the truth. It takes less energy to tell the truth because you don’t have to keep track of your lies. Also, there is freedom and unburdening that comes from telling the truth. However, you must always combine telling the truth with Ahimsa, because the truth can also harm someone. Knowing when to tell the truth out loud and when to hold your tongue is an art. And the truth can also be an act of kindness.

Staying in a relationship longer than you should because you don’t want to hurt the other person is actually hurting the other person. Ending the relationship will free them up to be with someone more suited to them, and you.

Do you tell yourself the truth? How many times do you make excuses for why things happen a certain way in order to feel better? What would happen if you actually told yourself the truth? I didn’t actually spend as much time on that project as I should have so it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be. I actually do have time to exercise, I just don’t want to. I’m too tired to go out tonight, I’m going to stay home because that is good self care. What would it feel like if you started telling yourself the truth and owning it?

“In the long run, the most unpleasant truth is a safer companion than a pleasant falsehood” ~Theodore Roosevelt

3. Asteya/Non-Stealing

This principle, like others, applies to both behaviors and words/thoughts. “Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you” can apply to something physical, like a ring, or something more ethereal, like an idea. Plagarism is a form of stealing. Quoting someone without acknowledging who said it first is stealing. While Asteya may seem obvious, there are also subtler forms of stealing, like time. Are you taking up more of someone’s time than you should? Are you giving more of your time than feels comfortable, yet you are not speaking up about it?

Setting boundaries for yourself can be a way to prevent stealing from yourself, or allowing others to steal your energy. Empaths sometimes accidentally “steal” other people’s emotions and take them on as their own. It’s hard enough to feel your own feelings without also feeling everyone else’s. Having good, clear boundaries helps with this.

Do you ever feel like people are asking more of you than you feel okay giving? Burnout often begins this way. When you give more than you receive, you are giving other people power over your energy. Their feelings are more important than your own, in this scenario. Saying no prevents this type of “stealing.”

Rumination is another way that you allow other people to steal from you. When thoughts of anger, frustration, or resentment are constantly running through your head, these thoughts are stealing your peace. They are taking up space in your head that could be used for creativity, problem solving, or simply being present.

“Sometimes people may anger you, but realize that they are stealing your energy. Someone can only steal your energy if YOU allow them to.” ~Steven Aitchison

4. Bramacharya/Non-Greed

Bramacharya is not just about not being greedy or giving in to excess (which is common in a capitalist society), it’s really about being comfortable with “enough.” Letting go of a scarcity mindset and embracing “enough” can affect many areas of your life. Some people who come from large families eat quickly out of fear of not getting enough food. Even when you do have all you need, this habit can remain and affect how you feel after eating. It might also look like taking more food than you need and eating it all, only to feel bloated and uncomfortable later.

While Greed is one of the “7 Deadly Sins,” I’d like to remove the accusatory tone. Greed can lead to people making decisions that harm others for their own gain, but this superficial behavior doesn’t acknowledge the emotion underneath. Fear is often buried under there, driving the behavior. The fear of not enough, or I won’t have enough. Most “greedy” people aren’t bad people, they are fearful people, toward whom we can have compassion. This doesn’t mean we condone the behavior, but we might be able to understand it.

This also applies to ourselves. Have you ever called yourself greedy and then felt shame about it? Reflect back. Was your greed based in fear of “not enough?” I suspect that might be true.

“You alone are enough. You have nothing to prove to anybody.” ~Dr. Maya Angelou

5. Aparigraha/Non-Attachment

Non-Attachment and Detachment are 2 different things. Non-attachment is about not grasping, whether that is a thought, a belief, an emotion, a person, anything. Try to hold things in your life lightly. If they stay, they stay; if they go, they go. Enjoy them while they are here without trying to hold onto anything too tightly.

Detachment is about separating yourself from things, pulling away. I want to detach myself from behaviors that don’t serve me (like eating when I am not hungry), but I am not attached to whether someone stays in my life or goes. My love for them remains the same regardless.

Aparigraha helps you stay in the process without being attached to the outcome. You enjoy your journey as your journey, whatever happens, happens. You control what you can, and let go of the rest. People who worry struggle with non-attachment because grasping helps you feel in control. If you can hold onto something, that’s something you have power over. This is not necessarily helpful, however, because the only thing you can really control is yourself, your actions, and your thoughts (and not always your thoughts).

With attachment comes suffering. If you attach yourself to a person, for example, and they leave or die, you are left with suffering. When you can hold them lightly, and love them regardless of where they are, there is less suffering.

“Practicing Aparigraha doesn’t mean that everything will always flow effortlessly in and out of your life. What it will do is help you identify your attachments and notice where you need to soften your grip. When you learn to soften, you help yourself and the people you love feel freedom.” ~Sara Adams

Join me!

Join me on Tuesday, August 29 at 11am EDT for “Embrace, Express, Empower: Exploring Your Emotions and What is Holding You Back!” The replay of this free webinar will be available on August 30 to anyone who signs up. Click here to register!

Coming in September: 30 Days to Reconnect to Yourself! This 30 day online program helps you feel your feelings and release them through daily guided journaling, yoga, mediation, and breathwork. Join this community for support and guidance to feel more at ease in your body and mind. Click here for more information or to sign up!

Coming in October: Diving Deeper into Your Yoga Practice. This 8 month course covers all 8 Limbs of Yoga in a slow, methodical way to help you integrate the information into your life. You will learn to treat yourself with kindness and gentleness, and live with more peace in your heart. You will learn skills, techniques, and wisdom to live a life grounded in honesty, non-judgment, and compassion toward yourself and others. Click here for more information or to join the waitlist! Waitlist members get $400 off the course price!

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