The meaning of Yama and Niyama


The meaning of Yama and Niyama:

Yama is the rules of morality which transcend creed, country, age and race.

Niyama is the rules of conduct that apply to the individual. It is self- discipline. 


Each has five principles:


(i) Non-violence (ahimsa) – Respect for others. Anger, cruelty or harassment of others contradicts the principles of ahimsa.

(ii) Truthfulness (satya) – Not hurting others by what we say. Lying, cheating, dishonesty and deception break the principles of satya.

(iii) Non-stealing and non-covertness (asteya) – not to be greedy, steal from others or to want other’s possessions.

(iv) Moderation in sex (brahmacarya) – Chastity. This does not mean total abstinence but a disciplined sexual life promoting contentment and moral strength from within.

(v) Non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha) – Freedom from desire; out of personal greed. It refers also to freedom from emotional and intellectual possessiveness.



(i) Cleanliness (sauca) – refers to cleanliness in body, thought and word.

Personal hygiene: bathing to purify the body externally, asana and pranayama cleanse it internally.

Cleansing the mind of disturbing emotions like hatred, greed, anger, lust, pride and delusion Cleansing the intellect so that one can see the good in others and not just their faults.

Pure food to promote health, strength, energy and life. Avoid foods, which are sour, bitter, salty, pungent, burning, stale, tasteless, heavy.

(ii) Contentment (santosa) – Contentment and tranquility are a state of mind. A mind that is not content cannot concentrate. Contentment helps to curb desire, anger, ambition and greed.

(iii) Austerity (tapas) – science of character building. The burning effort to achieve a definite goal and to control the senses. To not harbor ill thoughts or feelings leads to mastery of the senses.

(iv) Self study (svadhyana) – study of the scriptures and study of the self.

(v) Devotion (isvarapranidhana) – perform all actions as an offering to a higher consciousness or god. Dedication to the lord.



Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhayna samadhayah – II.29 –



Yama is moral conduct or social discipline

Niyama is fixed observances or self discipline

Asana is practice of postures for physical discipline

Pranayama is regulation of breath for mental discipline

Pratyahara is internalization of the senses

Dharana is concentration

Dhyana is meditation

Samadhi is self realization

The first five steps are known as the disciplines of yoga. They still the mind and senses in preparation for the last 3 aspects.  The last 3 are classed as attainments of yoga, which result in spiritual wisdom. These may also bring supernormal attainments such as clairvoyance, the conquest of hunger or the ability to become light or heavy.  It is the detachment towards these attainments that lead to the freedom of the soul.

 Yama is rules of morality for society which transcend creed, country, age and race. They are non-violence (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya) and non-coveting (aparigraha).  The emotions of greed, desire and attachment are why social morality falls, bringing with it chaos, untruth, stealing, dissipation and covetousness.

 Niyama is the rules of conduct that apply to the individual. It is self- discipline.  They are purity (saucha), contentment (santosa), ardour and austerity (tapas), study of the self (svadhyaya) and dedication to lord (isvara pranidhana).

Asana has three components – body, intelligence and mind. Asana is a state where one arranges and assumes a particular position or form and reforms it with study for  right configuration.  It works on a physical level and also affects psychology aspects which affect our mood, confidence and focus.  

Pranayama is practiced once the body is under control, the spine firm and nerves calm. It comprises of  three movements – inhalation, exhalation and retention. Awareness is the most important factor.  When in a supine position the serenity of the brain and mind is maintained and dynamic action of body is achieved, then sitting pranayama can be started.

Pratyahara is withdrawing the senses and consciousness from contact with external objects and then drawing them inwards towards the seer. It is a cross over from perception of senses towards the conception of the mind.

Dharana is established when the mind learns to remain steady on its own. It has three components – mind, intelligence and the I-ness. It is to tone and tune the mental faculty.

Dhyana is a steady continuous flow of attention directed towards the same point or region. It brings the complexity of the mind to a state of serenity, humility and simplicity.

Samadhi is when the object of meditation engulfs the meditator, appearing as the subject and self -awareness is lost.