Finding inner peace starts with the first two limbs of Pantajali's eight-limb pathways - the Yamas and Niyamas.
YAMAS - Ethical restraints
The first limb is made up of the ‘Yamas’; in their own sense, moral values or abstinences – the guide to how we can best act towards ourselves, and the world around us. It’s no coincidence that the Yamas come first; after all, if you want to change the world, you have to start with yourself!
1. AHIMSA = NON-VIOLENCE, NON-HARMING
Non-violence in all aspects of life, from the physical to the mental to the emotional. It is the conscious integration of compassion into every aspect of daily life.
This means not physically harming others, ourselves, or nature; not thinking negative thoughts about others or ourselves, and making sure that what we do and how we do it is done in harmony rather than causing harm.
Practices for Ahimsa:
- Practice positive and loving thoughts about others and ourselves
- Practice forgiveness and letting go, move forward
- Cultivate and spread kindness and compassion to the world, others, and yourself
- Find awareness and observe your inner world when you do find yourself slipping into moments of ahimsa
- Work towards creating balance in all aspects of your life
- Practice meditation and self-care daily
- Face your fears with non-judgment
- Care for our beautiful planet and mother earth
- Where possible, eliminate further harm to animals by eating a healthy plant-based diet
- Find ways in which you can give back - get involved with non-violent initiatives or charities
Journal Prompts for Ahimsa:
- What are 10 things I love about myself?
- How can I introduce more self-care into my daily rituals?
- If I’m honest with myself, where in my life do I feel out of balance?
What steps can I take to bring myself back into balance in this area?
- What drives my negative self-talk or judgment of others?
- What areas in my life can I act with more compassion to others, and to myself?
2. SATYA = TRUTH or TRUTHFULNESS
Being honest with yourself and others. Practicing Satya means living in a way that aligns with your highest truth and refraining from lying, with an additional emphasis on being more authentic and real.
It is also refraining from judgment and making sure that you speak and act with thought and intention, not just saying whatever is on your mind.
Practices for Satya
- Speak with kindness and intention
- Live in alignment with your truth, your authentic self, not someone else’s.
- Avoid burying feelings and emotions to appease others. Use your voice when required - remember to come from a place of kindness and intention when you do.
- Always consider what you’re about to say by questioning:
- Is it true?
- Is it necessary?
- Is it kind?
Journal prompts for Satya:
- What is my true purpose?
- What is preventing me from being my most authentic self?
- What steps can I take to move towards being my most authentic self?
- Who do I hide or bury my feelings from? How can I practice expressing my feelings to this person and myself with more compassion?
3. ASTEYA = NON-STEALING
Non Stealing is refraining from taking what isn’t yours or taking more than you need. At a deeper level, Asteya means abandoning the desire to possess or steal anything - whether it is material, a relationship, a gift, a talent, achievement, success, time, or natural resources that do not belong to you, through force, deceit or exploitation, through deeds, words or even thoughts.
Live with, rejoice and have gratitude for what you already have, as well as others, instead of holding feelings of envy, jealousy and greed.
Practices for Asteya:
- Refrain from stealing from the earth, from others, from yourself, and the future.
- Become excited about what you already have in the form of material goods, relationships, the gift of life, and your own unique talents.
- Invest your happiness in experiences and friendships over material possessions.
- Be mindful of how you spend your time with others. Unnecessary meetings, showing up late to things, or canceling plans last minute is stealing your time and someone else's.
- Compliment someone every day and give credit where it is due.
- Eat enough to nourish your body and listen to it when it is full, there is no need to consume more than required.
Journal prompts for Asteya:
- What am I struggling with? What is the underlying root cause or fear?
- In which areas of my life can I practice less greed, envy and jealousy?
- Where do I struggle with consistency?
- How often do I start things and not complete them? Why?
- Where am I stealing someone's time?
- How often do I purchase things I don’t really need or absolutely love?
- Where am I downplaying my own talents?
4. BRAHMACHARYA = NON-EXCESS / INTEGRITY IN RELATIONSHIPS
Non-excess is refraining from overindulgence with food, sleep, pleasure, and work. It is cultivating a sense of sacredness in all that you do.
Brahmacharya is the name traditionally given to the practice of celibacy. Historically, yogis renounced the life of a householder, choosing to forsake marriage and family, to live the life of a renunciate in the forest communities. Rather than repress their sexual energy, they would consciously transmute this energy for high spiritual pursuits. This has since shifted in the last 100 plus years, and now, in modern times, this yama refers to maintaining control of sensual pleasures or integrity in relationships by exercising self control while respecting oneself and others.
Practices for Brahmacharya:
- Listen to your body - live in balance.
- Pay attention to how you use your energy in everyday life, providing your mind and body with what it needs and enjoy, without going to a place of excess.
- Set limits (ie, work-life balance, social media, excessive behaviours, and desires.
- Be intentional and patient. Allow things to unfold naturally, rather than forcing an outcome (trust in the universe)
- Live your passion in an authentic and balanced manner.
- Honor all things as sacred, as well as yourself.
Journal Prompts for Brahmacharya:
- In which areas in my life do I need more balance?
- Where in my life can I pull back on excess attention? (ie - exercise, worrying, social media, over eating, over partying etc)
- Am I currently honoring myself and my partner (or friend) in our relationship?
- In which areas of my life do I procrastinate?
5. APARIGRAHA = NON-POSSESSIVENESS / NON-ATTACHMENT
Non-possessiveness is refraining from possessing, grasping, or clinging to any person, event or thing.
Non-attachment is probably one of the most challenging things to practice because, in our world, we’re conditioned to be possessive.
It is the nature of things to change and by failing to let them change or to move with life's ebb and flow we begin to feel discontent and disappointment.
Practices for Aparigraha:
- Let it go! Practice non-attachment in areas of your life where there is too much attachment or reliance.
- Fully enjoy each thing without needing it to repeat itself.
- Live with curiosity and intention, not expectations.
- What expectations have you placed on friendships, relationships, or other people?
- Let go of control and be willing to be surprised.
- Practice generosity and trust.
Journal Prompts for Aparigraha:
- What expectations do I have for my friendships? Partner? Family?
- What possessions or material things could I start detaching from?
- What kind of purchases are enriching my inner world and life?
- If I’m honest with myself, do I really need more things? If yes, what do I actually need?
NIYAMAS - Self observances
The Niyamas are the second limb of Pantajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga and refer to duties directed towards ourselves - our inner observances.
1. SAUCHA = PURITY / CLEANLINESS
Purity is the active pursuit of letting go. It invites us to purify or clean our bodies, our thoughts, and our words. It invites us to be purely available to each moment as it happens. This relates to our lives both on and off the mat.
Off the mat, this incorporates not only pure thoughts, but also cleansing energy stuck in the body, excess weight that adds strain to the body, toxicity within the body, inflammation, unhealthy or toxic food and drink, and most importantly, negative thought patterns that cloud or judge our true self and inner bliss. This isn’t to say that you can’t indulge in certain things sometimes, but just to become more mindful when you do so.
There are also more traditional cleansing techniques to help ‘cleanse’ the body (Neti, Dhauti, Nauli, Bhasti, Kappalabhati, Trataka).
Practices for Saucha:
- Lighten your loads (physical weight, mental clutter, emotional rigidity, messy living space).
- Introduce clean, organic, wholefoods, vegetables, fruits, and drinks into your diet - eliminate processed foods, meat, and sugar.
- Allow things to be as they are, not as you wish they were.
- Let go of judgments, expectations, opinions, disappointment.
- Keep from attempting to change yourself or hide from yourself.
- Slow down and rest as much as you need - this is super important for your body to be able to heal and rejuvenate.
- Do one thing at a time - avoid at a time with full focus.
Journal Prompts for Saucha:
- What kind of impure thoughts do I have in my life?
- Where in my life could I benefit from cleansing more?
- What are some things I can start cleansing from my life?
- How often do I practice self-care?
- If I were honest with myself, am I eating and living my life in a ‘clean’ way? If not, why and how can I start to implement this?
- Do I or would I start introducing the traditional cleansing techniques into my practice?
2. SANTOSHA = CONTENTMENT
Contentment is the active practice of gratitude and appreciation for what is. Of letting go, of striving for what you don’t have and accepting with joy what you do have now.
We cannot buy happiness or find it through ‘the next job’ or the next ‘better relationship’. Those things can be additional bonuses, but happiness is about finding contentment in the now and includes a gratitude practice daily.
Practices for Santosha:
- Practice gratitude daily and remain in this state.
- Develop a daily and strong meditation practice.
- Look “inside” the fence, not over it. Find what you appreciate in the now and accept where in your journey you are.
- Avoid seeking what you “like” and avoiding what you “dislike”.
- Discontinue giving others power over your emotional status.
Journal Prompts Santosha:
- What three to five things I am grateful for today? (Do this daily)
- Am I preparing for the future in areas of my life? What am I waiting to happen or be, rather than living in my current reality?
- How much energy do I use each day to get what I want and avoid what I don’t want? How does this feel emotionally and physically?
- How often do I give others the power and shy away from my own?
3. TAPAS = SELF DISCIPLINE, SPIRITUAL, PASSION, PRACTICE
There are several meanings of Tapas in the context of yoga including self-discipline, meditation, simple or austere living, inner fire, and burning enthusiasm. It is the link between your will and your actions.
In tapas, we use our physical and mental conditioning to push against the natural resistance our body and mind offer. This resistance is said to generate the inner fire.
Practices for Tapas:
- Practicing Tapas doesn’t mean pushing yourself harder; it means practicing with consistency.
- Make choices that support the “you” that you want to become.
- Create disciplines for yourself that might be challenging but still attainable.
- Don’t avoid the resistance or change - embrace it.
- Forsake momentary pleasure for future rewards - exercise, food choices, activities, spiritual practice.
- Choose to build character when times are tough.
- Practice meditation and asana consistently and without expectation.
Journal Prompts for Tapas:
- Where am I investing my energy?
- What is something I can introduce daily that would benefit me, and that I will practice daily (ie - gratitude list, meditation, yoga, 10 minutes for self-care, journaling etc)?
- Am I making daily choices or decisions based on indulgence or that will build my strength?
- When do I run away from things and why? What would happen if
- I choose to stay and move through the fire?
- How would I rate my inner strength and willpower?
- What are my short and long-term goals?
4. SVADHYAYA = MINDFULNESS, SELF-STUDY
Svadhyaya translates to ‘self-study’ and represents our search for meaning. This is found both in independent study of spiritual texts and looking deeply in the mirror at one's own soul.
A deeper self-reflection and self-inquiry as to what it means to be a human being. To understand the nature of the human mind as well as discovering your true source and gaining wisdom and insight.
Practices for Svadhyaya:
- Meditating to cultivate the practice of self-study.
- Noticing your conditioning and projections.
- Journaling is the perfect way to contemplate and reflect upon all that we’re learning in our daily life.
- Understand the role of the ego.
- Inner Child journaling work.
- Spending time alone in nature to get to know who you are.
- Taking time to read and learn spiritual and sacred texts.
Journal Prompts for Svadhyaya:
- What helps me feel grounded?
- What inspires me?
- What do I say to myself when I talk to myself?
- What phase of my life is coming to an end now?
- At the very core, without labels, who am I?
- What new choices does my soul want me to make?
5. ISHVARA PRANIDHANA = SURRENDER
Surrender is actively putting ourselves at the foot of something greater than we are. It means completely surrendering our individual ego identities to our own higher self so that we can be freed from the stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and negative karma that arises from our reliance upon our egos; to determine which actions we take in our lives.
Practices for Ishvara Pranidhana:
- Spend time by yourself in an environment where you can connect with the internal you (ie, in nature, in meditation, in asana) without electronics or other unnecessary distractions.
- Journaling is a great way to be fully present and in touch with your inner world.
- Practice gratitude to self and others and live through a lens of love, compassion, and kindness.
- Participate in selfless service.
- Give up control, manipulate and fight with life.
- Be vulnerable, undefended, and available.
- Care deeply about something other than yourself.
Journal Prompts for Ishvara Pranidhana:
- What elements of my yoga practice have helped me to grow into a higher potential?
- Why do I practice yoga?
- What are my gifts and how do I share them?
- Write down three to five compliments I could give to three to five people in my life today? Find a way to give them these compliments.
- In what areas of my life could I surrender more?
- Am I moving with the ebbs and flows of life, or are there areas I’m fighting against?
Our founder Cat Meffan adds:
“Learning about the yamas and niyamas was the first time that I fully understood how yoga could be practiced off the mat and that learning is constant. I try to align myself to these 10 values and observances every single day but just like you, I am only human. This means I might step out of alignment from time to time and that’s ok.
The most important part is the awareness and mindfulness that grows within us when we start to understand how to incorporate the yamas and niyamas into our life. If you’re ever in doubt about how to cultivate a closer connection with these 10 things, bring your energy back to kindness. Ask yourself how you can be kinder to yourself, your loved ones, the strangers that pass you by and the earth we have been gifted to live on.”