Breaking Down the Yamas & Niyamas

June 18, 2018 4:50 am Published by

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that there is a lot more to yoga than just asana, or physical postures.


In classical yoga philosophy, we use something called the Patanjali’s eight-fold path for guidance. These eight limbs, or steps, help us reach the state of ecstasy and deep connection with the divine known as samadhi.

Patanjali’s eight-fold path for guidance are:

  • Yamas
  • Niyamas
  • Asana
  • Pranayama
  • Pratyahara
  • Dharana
  • Dhyana
  • Samadhi

In this blog, I’ll be breaking down the first two limbs: the yamas and the niyamas.



The first limb, the yamas, are about personal practices that relate to our interactions with others and to the outer world. They are:


  • Ahimsa, nonviolence
  • Satya, truthfulness
  • Asteya, non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya, moderation
  • Aparigraha, non-attachment


This is probably the most well-known of the yamas (you probably know a yoga studio, clothing line, or juice bar named after this one, even if you didn’t know what it meant until now), with good reason.

Ahimsa isn’t just about a lack of violence, it’s about active compassion. To connect with this principle, ask yourself how you can bring more compassion into your relationship with yourself and each interaction with others.


Satya, truthfulness, speaks to not just honesty but to speaking your personal truth. To me, this principle is super connected to the throat chakra.

What does it feel like when your throat chakra is balanced? When you aren’t afraid to speak your truth, even when it’s uncomfortable? This is satya.


Asteya, non-stealing, is about not taking what isn’t ours. This practice isn’t just about stealing physical items. Most of us wouldn’t steal a bracelet or a snack from a store. But what about stealing someone’s ideas? What about when you get extra change at the store or when a teacher you love accidentally registers you for an online course you never paid for? What then?

Coming back to this principle of non-stealing is a guiding light.


Brahmacharya is all about moderation, or as I like to think of it, balance. It’s an invitation to develop a self-care practice and most importantly, to remember to feed all parts of yourself.

It’s a reminder to come back to your center. To make space in your life for dancing and meditating, for green juice and French fries, for deep conscious connection and memes—or whatever else looks like balance for you.


It’s really hard to practice aparigraha. The idea of non-attachment is that it’s none of your business how your work is received. Whatever it is that you put into the world, do it for the joy of creating, for the joy of connecting, for the joy of doing the thing, not for some end result.

We can do this in all areas of our lives: our interactions with our friends, families, and partners, our careers, our passion projects, everything.

Can you experience pleasure and be present in each moment, rather than being attached to what may happen in the future?

Aparigraha also refers to not being possessive or hoarding. It’s an invitation to allow yourself, your possessions, and your relationships to be in a constant state of flow.


The second limb, the niyamas, are about personal practices that relate to our inner world. They are:


  • Saucha, purity
  • Santosha, contentment
  • Tapas, self-discipline
  • Svadhyaya, self-study and inner exploration
  • Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to God/Goddess


Saucha can refer to the purity of the body, but more importantly, it’s about the purity of mind. This is an invitation to explore your thought patterns and limiting beliefs: What’s holding you back here? What thoughts take up the real estate of your mind, and are they serving you? Do judgment, fear, and lack consume your thoughts?

Saucha asks you to look at what’s really going on in your mind, and heal your thoughts.


Santosha is about you—what you have and how you feel about it. It’s an invitation to be happy and content with everything that you have (which is a huge feat in a world that is always encouraging you to be unsatisfied and strive for more).

Think of santosha as embodying more lunar, yin energy: the energy of presence, of being, of contentment.


Tapas is self-discipline. What is it that you want in life and are you willing to do what it takes to get there? It’s about showing up for yourself and really doing the work: sending those emails, grinding out that report, finishing your work instead of going to that happy hour.

It’s also about doing the work on yourself, by staying on your healing journey and doing the more physical work like eating healthy, practicing yoga every day, and meditating every day.

When you think of tapas, think of the Chariot in the tarot. This is about pushing forward in service of your greater vision.


Svadhyaya is key to your spiritual practice.

Who are you, really? What do you value? What are your deepest desires? What are your greatest fears? What brings you joy and purpose?

This niyama is all about learning about yourself and exploring your inner ocean.

Practices like meditating, journaling, shadow work, astrology, past life regression, and divination can all be part of svadhyaya.

Ishvara Pranidhana

Surrender to the energy of a higher power, whatever that means to you: whether it’s Source, Goddess, the Universe, God, or something else.

Practicing all of the other niyamas will help you get into a state where you are able to surrender to the Universe. Where you trust the constant flow of the Universe and know that it is an abundant and loving place where more magic than you could ever imagine is unfolding all the time.

Purify your mind. Practice gratitude. Do what you can with tapas. Explore your inner oceans. And then, it’s time to lay it all at the feet of the Universe and let magic take over.

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About Eryn Johnson

Eryn Johnson is a breathwork facilitator, tarot reader, and Reiki Master based in Fishtown, Philadelphia. She is also the host of the Living Open podcast for mystics and seekers, a storytelling tool here to help facilitate soul evolution. The foundation of her work is energetic and based on the belief that there's nothing wrong with you- we are simply programmed from a young age to forget the truth of who we are. She uses energy work, storytelling, and breathwork to guide you back to you - your heart, your power, your magic. Find her work at and @erynj_ on Instagram.