Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice
by Deborah Adele, ERYT-500

The ‘Yamas and Niyamas’ (pronounced Yah-Mahs and Nee-Yah-Mahs) and are yoga’s ethical guidelines. They make up the first two limbs of Patanjali’s eightfold path for living a meaningful and purposeful Life. The ‘Yamas and Niyamas’ serve to guide you on your Life’s journey.

Simply put, the Yamas are things not to do, or restraints, while the Niyamas are things to do, such as duties or observances. Together, they form a moral code of conduct.


The Yamas are the 5 restraints:


Pronounced Ah-him-sah.

Non-violence, which is a state of right relationship with others and with the self that is neither self-sacrifice or self-aggrandizement.


Pronounced Sot-yah.

Truthfulness, which is partnered with non-violence. When there is disharmony or confusion between the two, then truthfulness bows to non-violence. First and foremost, do no harm.


Pronounced Ah-sty-yah.

Non-stealing, which guides our attempts and tendencies to look outward for satisfaction, which comes from our dissatisfaction. This Yama reminds us not to steal from others, the earth or even rob from ourselves to gain satisfaction. Do not take that is not rightfully ours.


Pronounced Brah-mah-char-ee-ah

Non-excess, which literally means, ‘Walking with God.’ Brahman connotes the highest Universal Principle, the Ultimate Reality in the Universe. This is a space of sacredness, which is a boundary to leave excess behind and live within the limits of enough.


Pronounced Ah-par-ee-grah-ha

Non-possessiveness, liberates us from greed. This Yama reminds us not to cling to people or objects because that would make us heavy and hold us down or hold us back from our own growth and experiences. When we practice letting go, which we also do through the postures, we move ourselves toward freedom and joy, which are expansive in and of themselves.

The Niyamas are the 5 duties or observances:


Pronounced Shou-cha.

Purity, which invites us to cleanse our body, mind (attitude) and actions. Basically, clean-up our act so we can lead more seeking and wonderfully intentional lives.


Pronounced San-toe-shah.

Contentment, which is something that is not sought, that is only found through acceptance and appreciation from ‘the moment’. This is where we learn to live with what ‘is’ and leave ‘is’ well enough alone.


Pronounced Top-us.

Self-discipline is cultivated through heat (tapas), which is where we experience the catharsis or release that creates a change in us. It is through change that makes us a “spiritual heavyweight” in the game of Life. This is how we prepare for our own greatness through standing in the fire (heat) or standing in the pose. Can you take the heat?


Pronounced Svad-yah-yah.

Self-study, which comes from the pursuit of knowing ourselves and studying what makes us tick. What makes you do the things you do? What drives you? Often times we study others before ourselves. Svadhyaya guides us to study ourselves and look at our own story before attempting to figure out others. This is where you will look at your ego and the Divine within.

Ishvara Pranidhana

Pronounced Ish-war-ah / Pran-id-hah-nah.

Surrender, reminds us that Life ultimately knows better than we do. Life always rights us through experience. It is through devotion, trust and our active engagement in Life where we live in the moment and receive openly. As the book states, rather than paddling upstream, we learn to go with the flow. Yoga teaches us through the postures (the flow) to roll with it.