Yama and Niyama: Yoga’s Ethical Principles

Yama and Niyama, sometimes referred to as the Yamas and Niyamas, are the foundations of yoga. They are sets of ethical principles that comprise the first and second of the eight limbs of yoga:

Yoga master Srii Srii Anandamurti went so far as to say that “without Yama and Niyama, sadhana [spiritual practice] is an impossibility.” 

In ancient times, when yoga was passed down as an oral tradition directly from master to student, some masters would not teach postures (asanas), breathwork (pranayama), or meditation techniques (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana) until the student practiced Yama and Niyama dutifully for several years. 

It has been said that yogic practices can strengthen the mind and its tendencies. If we have tendencies to lie, to be hurtful, to deprive others of their fair share, these may be magnified. So, we practice Yama and Niyama to observe and identify these tendencies in ourselves, to tame them each time they appear until they are reduced to a seed, to remain kindly vigilant so that seed doesn’t sprout. 

If you look at the eight limbs of yoga as a continuum, you can see how they are a framework leading us gracefully from the external world to the internal world. Yama’s principles relate to how we engage with society – those outside of us. Niyama’s principles relate to how we engage with ourselves. Asana relates to our physical body. Pranayama relates to the breath. Pratyahara relates to removing the indriyas, or senses, from the outside world and bringing our awareness inwards. Dharana and Dhyana are concentration techniques that lead to sustained concentration and transcendence (Samadhi). 

Some schools of yoga call Yama and Niyama observances and restraints, respectively. I’ve also learned throughout the years that different yogic lineages may spell and interpret the principles in different ways.

Yama and Niyama are powerful limbs that have the potential to be revolutionary if enough of us practiced them at a global level. Here is a summary of each:


Ahim’sa‘. To refrain from harming others and ourselves in thought, words, and actions.

Satya. Truthful words with the wellness of others in mind.

Asteya. To refrain from stealing or depriving others of their due.

Brahmacarya. To see all beings and things as an embodiment of Brahma (of the creator, of the divine).

Aparigr’aha. Simple living; to refrain from over accumulation of resources. To walk lightly on Earth, using only what you need.


Shaoca. Cleanliness of body and mind. 

Santos’a. Sense of contentment, to cultivate joy and mental ease.

Tapah. Unselfish sacrifice. Serving others in a manner that requires effort, discipline, in a way that transforms us and improves our character. 

Sva’dhya’ya. Study and understand spiritual subjects from different traditions. 

Iishvara’ Pran’idha’na. To surrender our egos and take refuge in the Divine.

You can read more about Yama and Niyama here:

I wrote this post to inform the #2017yamaniyamachallenge I am hosting on Instagram starting July 20, 2017. 

To join the Challenge, you must (1) follow @tradicionessanas, (2) post one picture a day following the schedule above reflecting on your practice of Yama and Niyama on or off the mat with the hashtag #2017yamaniyamachallenge, (3) follow at least one of the Challenge mentors who will be providing guidance throughout the Challenge, and (4) follow at least one of the Challenge sponsors. 
Special thanks to the #2017yamaniyamachallenge mentors: Morgan Mazza (@moryogi), Robert Leal (@livitwell), and Abraham Heisler (@abeheisler). 
Participants based in the U.S. who complete the ten day Challenge will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win a basket of yoga related goods and services from our sponsors: Surya Yoga Studio (@suryayogastudio), Eiehuia (@eiehuia), Ganja Pockets (@ganjapockets), Robert Leal (@livitwell), and Abraham Heisler (@abeheisler).
May you have a steady and fulfilling practice!

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