Yama and Niyama



Moral code of conduct


Patanjali says there are five Yams. moral code of conduct. These Yam direct about how a common man should behave in the society. However, Hathapradeepika has described ten Yam.  That means the points to be observed while being in society are given first and then the points about the personal behaviour. This also indicates that the Yoga has considered the society first and then the individual. The following are the five Yam:


Tatrahimsasatyasteyabrahmacharyaparigraha yamh || P Y S 2.30


  1. Ahimsa – A principle of non-violence
  2. Satya – A principle of Truthfulness
  3. Asteya – A principle of non stealing
  4. Brahmacharya – Continence / celibacy
  5. Aparigah – A principle of non-hoarding or non possessiveness


Ahimsa (Non Violence):

Ahimsa means not to kill anyone. Killing generates pain; hence ahimsa can mean not to cause pain to anyone. Yoga demands ahimsa in totality. That means, himsa does not mean only killing or hitting anyone. That is a limited meaning of the word or only physical aspect. To hurt someone mentally is also a himsa.

Yoga also states further that even thinking ill of someone is also a himsa, which is a mental himsa. Hence, ahimsa covers all aspects such as physical, oral, mental. This indicates the greatness of the depth of the science of yoga. Patanjali Yoga aphorism states the results of following such ahimsa:

Ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidhou vairatyagah || P Y S 2-35

One, who observes ahimsa, succeeds in eliminating feelings of enmity. If ahimsa is followed for a long time, not only the sadhak, but even his surroundings are affected and enmity is eliminated in the minds of all who come in contact with him. Thus, ahimsa is not only elimination of physical, mental, oral hurt, but also wiping out the feelings of enmity.

Thus, for Yoga studies such high degree ahimsa is prescribed. However, not all Yoga Sadhak aspire for Samadhi. Their expectations from the yoga studies are limited. From their point of view such great ahimsa may not be able to be observed continuously. Hence, in day-to-day life it should be considered how far such ahimsa is to be observed.

Those who desire to progress further in Yoga should shun all himsa. Initially, one may not be able to observe total ahimsa. However, one should constantly keep the definition of ahimsa in mind and try to follow it. Mind and the body can be trained to avoid such activity. Such training is the first step towards following ahimsa entirely.


Satya (Truthfulness):

Satya should also be considered in depth. It does not only cover speaking the truth. Proper understanding of the talk and the mind is the truth. Here, proper means exactly what is seen, understood or heard, the same thing should be followed by our tendency to talk and also by the mind. When we try to explain something to others, the conversation if it generates doubts or if it is not understood correctly by others, or if it is of no use to others, then that is not truth, even if it is true. Also, God has created our tongue for the benefit of all and not for destruction. So the truth, which results in the destruction of someone or something, is also not the truth.

Mahabharata has analysed and classified the truth as under:

“Silence is greater than the speech, true speech is greater than the silence, speech as per one’s dharma is greater than it and the true speech according to dharma and which is pleasurable and useful to others is the greatest.”

Patanjali Rishi has stated the results of the truth as under:

Satyapratishthayam kriyaphalashrayatvam || P Y S 2-36

With constant following of the truth and the commensurate behaviour, one gets vacha siddhi. That means without performing any religious rites, the results of the karma accrue to him and to others due to his speech and blessings.


Asteya (Honesty):

Steya means theft. Asteya means not stealing anything. However, asteya has a comprehensive meaning and is not limited to not stealing something from the other and keeping it in possession. It means not keeping anything with self, which does not belong to the self. If one finds something lying on the street and picks it up thinking that no one has seen him and since that was lying on the street, some one is bound to pick it up, then why not me, and then that is also a theft. Picking up or possessing something, which does not have any owner, is also a theft. When one sees some money lying on the deserted street, there is a desire to pick it up.  The other mind says that why not pick it up, if not me, someone else is bound to pick it up. The battle of the two minds starts increasing the heartbeats. If the bad conscience wins, then the intelligence propels the body to pick it up. But yet the good conscience keeps on advising against it. The money is picked up, but only after losing the calmness of the mind and after increasing the heart beats. There is an increasing pressure on the mind even after the money is picked up. The mind is disturbed; there is no concentration in work. When this becomes unbearable, one decides to donate the money somewhere, which will reduce the disturbance to some extent. Again while depositing the money in a temple or at some religious place, the heartbeats increase imagining the questions that may be raised by someone else. When ultimately it is deposited and one is free, the mind becomes calm and quiet and the pressure disappears. This process can be viewed in start of theft. The pressure generated in the process does have bad effects on the body and the internal glands. If asteya is observed, the body and the mind do not have to undergo such strain. This is the meaning and conclusion of asteya.

This is an effect of the actual physical process of theft. But even if a thought of the theft peeps into the mind, it can affect the mental and thereby the physical health. If the electronic impulses generated through the brain are measured with the help of a machine, it is observed that there are wide changes while being in such a state.


4. Brahamchrya:   /Continence                                                                                              


Always maintaining chastity in thoughts, speech and acts(Brahamcharya).


5. Aparigah – A principle of non-hoarding or non possessiveness

Never taking undue advantage, in poverty or richness, from others because it carries obligation and thereby loss of independence.




There are five Niyam. Patanjali Yoga has described. Hathapradeepika has described ten Niyam. Niyam guide regarding the individual behavior. That means the points to be observed while being in society are given first and then the points about the personal behaviour. The rules to be followed by a sadhak in case of self are given by way of Niyam. The following are the five Niyam:

Shouchasantoshtapah swadhyaeshwarpranidhanani niyamh || P Y S 2.32

  1. 1.      Shoucha (Purity)
  2. 2.      Santosh (Contentment)
  3. 3.      Tapa (Endurance)
  4. 4.      Swadhyaya (Self Study)
  5. 5.      Ishwar pranidhan (Worship with complete faith)

Shoucha (Purity):

First of all an individual’s body has to be detoxified by various yogic cleansing procedures. These are known as ‘shatkarma’. As the name suggests ‘shat’ means six and ‘karma’ means procedures meant to cleanse one’s body of the toxins, which may have accumulated due to wrong type of diet and lifestyle. The procedures are listed below.

  1. Dhauti cleaning the stomach.
  2. Basti cleaning the colon.
  3. Neti cleaning the nasal passage.
  4. Nauli cleaning the abdominal organs.
  5. Kapalabati cleaning the respiratory organs.
  6. Trataka clearing the mind through gazing.

Shoucha means the purity. Like ahimsa, this purity is also physical, oral and mental. Physical purity is again divided into two parts, outer and inner. Yoga has considered all types of purity and given directions as to how to achieve it. However, Patanjali Yoga does not give detailed description of this. But it is stated in detail in Hatha yoga.

While considering outer purity, Hathayoga describes many processes right from brushing the teeth. The specific powder (churna) that should be used for cleaning the teeth is also mentioned under Shuddhikriya in Hatha yoga.

For external purity, yoga has given the message that one should not talk too much. Unnecessary use of the tongue is to be avoided and following the yam should purify the tongue.

Yoga has accepted the inseparable relation of the body and the mind. Hence, each and every yogic process affects the body as well as the mind.

For purifying the mind, there is a process known as Trataka

The following aphorism states the result of the shoucha:

Shouchatswangjugupsa parairsansargh | P Y S 2.40

After purity is achieved by this process, sadhak loses the feeling of the importance of the body and does not wish to interact with the other bodies.

When the sadhak starts purifying the body, he feels that the body is full of impurities and he feels disgusted about it. When such feelings arise, he tries to avoid even the touch of the other and engages himself in his own mental bliss. Patanjali has stated in another aphorism that:

Satvashuddhisoumansyekagredriyajayatmadarshan yogyatwani cha | P Y S 2.41 From the purification process, satvashuddhi, mental happiness, calm mind, victory over the organs, and the plan to view the self (atma) are achieved.


Santosh (Contentment):

Contentment is also an important virtue. When we observe the never-ending efforts of all creatures in their day-to-day lives, and think of the purpose behind it, we realise that all these efforts are to gain mental contentment and peace. We try to derive the contentment from outside matters. However, none is aware of the fact that the contentment does not depend upon these outside matters. It is a state of mind. It is not a reaction of the mind on any incident.

Hence, it can be controlled irrespective of the incidents. Yoga with the use of this word intends the hidden meaning that one should learn to be happy in what one gets. This attitude will reduce pain and suffering in life. However, there should be mental preparation for this. When this tendency to feel contented is adopted by the mind, the perpetual happiness is not far behind. In fact the root of happiness lies in this tendency of the mind. And the root cause of suffering is in Trishna (thirst). This trishna has been defined in one Sanskrit shloka as under:

Asha nam manushyanamkachitdashwaryashrunkhala |

Yaya baddha pradhavanti muktastishathatipanguvat ||

Hope is such a chain that when tied with it, the creature starts running and when released from it, the creature stands peacefully.

Running behind the hope will lead to only pain and suffering.

Patanjali has given the following aphorism while describing the results of the contentment:

Santoshdanuttamsukhlabhah | P Y S 2.42

One who constantly learns to be contented, all his thirst gets weakened and the satva is heightened. He gets the maximum happiness and feels that pleasures from heavens or even the place of the God Indra is also nothing as compared to his own bliss.



Tapa (Endurance):

Tapa means to bear some trouble with a good intention. Even if there is some physical or mental trouble, one should not discontinue his actions, but should continue them. This is known as Tapa. While studying Yoga or practising some yogic process, there may be some physical trouble. One should bear it happily and should pursue his studies. This is tapa.

The seventeenth chapter of BhagwaGita has described Tapa. There are three types of tapa: Satwik, Rajas and Tamas. Tapa done with faith and without hoping for the fruits is Satwik. That which is done for the expectation of status, felicitation etc is known as rajas tapa. And tapa arising out of folly, with some trouble to the body and with the intention of creating trouble for the others is tamas tapa. Patanjali has stated the results of the tapa in the following aphorism:

Kayendriyasiddhirashuddhikshayatapas | P Y S 2.43

Ashuddhi is adharma. It is a tamas guna. It is impurity, which veils the siddhis such as Anima. The daily practice and study of tapa , after its completion, removes all such impurities. When ashuddhi or impurities are removed, then siddhis such as Anima, Mahima, Lachima etc are obtained.


Swadhyaya (Self Study):

Shrawan and manan (listening and contemplation), Japa (recitation- is of two types, oral and mental) are types of Swadhyaya.

Again oral japa is of two types, audible – with loud chanting which can be heard by the others and inaudible – whispers which cannot be heard by others.

Mental japa is also of two types – without dhyana and with dhyana. In all these japas, japa without dhyana is considered as the best.

In daily life of commoners, swadhyaya can be said to mean revision of what is taught. The results of swadhyaya are as under:

Swadhyayadishtadevtasamprayogah | P Y S 2.44

While doing japa of a particular mantra, when an anushtan is completed,

the goddess for whom the japa is made becomes pleased with the sadhak and appears before him. (known as darshan)


Ishwar pranidhan (Worship with complete faith):

It means while believing in the existence of God and having faith in his greatness, completely devoting oneself to Him without any expectations in return.

There is some divine strength at the root of this universe, which is beyond our imagination. To identify the divine strength and to surrender one completely to it is ishwarpranidhan. There are nine types of devotions for God:

Shrawanam Kirtanam Vishnoh smaranat padsevanam |

Archanam Vandanam dasyam sakhyam atmanivedanam ||

At times, even after our persistent efforts, we are unable to succeed. At such a time, if we have compassion of the God, the problem gets solved.

Samadhisiddhirishwarpranidhanat | P Y S 2.45

With Ishwarpranidhan, the siddhi of Samadhi can be obtained.

For the advanced studies in Yoga, sacrifice of sensory perceptions into the sense organs and sacrifice of sense organs into the mind (antakaran) is expected. With swadhyay of yoga this can be achieved.

In Yoga text, descriptions are made thoroughly so as to lead sadhak towards Samadhi. While viewing from a common man’s angle and after starting the study of yoga, it may not be possible to follow the Yam and Niyam to the fullest possible extent. However, for us common people, the aim of the Yoga studies is not Samadhi but to live happily and with contentment in our family life.

Hence, we should try to follow Yam and Niyam accordingly. If we try to follow the principle of ahimsa as meant in the texts, it may not be possible for us, to stay in this world. Hence, Yam and Niyam should be followed remembering the customs of this world and to the extent possible for us. But, to follow them, we should at least have an idea of the ideal state of Yam and Niyam.

It is a general experience that as the study of Yoga proceeds, the tendency to follow the Yam and Niyam increases. In any journey, one must be aware of the destination and should travel in that direction. Then one is bound to reach the destination one day. The period of the journey may be different for everyone, but one who starts travelling will definitely reach there one day or the other.

Hence, to follow Yam and Niyam at least on worldly basis will suffice and be complementary to the study of Yoga.

For further information and details visit – www.paramyoga.org

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