The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: The Yamas and Niyamas

Meditative hand mudra

In a very simplistic sense, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient teaching offering practical steps to attain a state of yoga. That is, the state of body, mind and soul, being in union with all existence. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two steps towards achieving that.

The Yoga Sutras contain 196 verses, separated into 4 sections and compiled by the Indian sage Patanjali. Within these verses, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are presented as a model of practice for experiencing this state of union.

The concepts of Yamas and Niyamas highlighted in the Eight Limbs of Yoga, are essential aspects for achieving this state of being. The cultivation of them brings clarity to our minds, as well as a range of benefits to our lives and relationships.


Yamas can be interpreted as social restraints. The Yoga Sutras outline the Yamas as a set of guidelines, in consideration of ourselves, the environment and others.

These are separated into the following five ideas.



Everyone knows the phrase “treat others as you would like to be treated”. Ahimsa relates to this concept, interpreted as non-violence, consideration or kindness for all living things, including ourselves.



Sometimes it can be easier to lie to protect ourselves or others, but Satya suggests we always speak and live the truth, considering the benefit to others before ourselves.



Do you sometimes find it hard to say no to people? Next time you do, maybe consider Asteya and how saying yes can redirect you from spending time or “stealing” your time from doing other things. Asteya looks at us having a balance of being generous but also abstaining from stealing, by setting and respecting boundaries for ourselves and others.


Sexual Integrity

Brahmacharya relates to us living without excess, by moderating our actions and energy. It is also interpreted as the awareness of a higher power. 



When was the last time you heard your yoga teacher asking you to let go of your worries or judgement in class? Aparigraha relates to that, as the non-attachment to ideas, possessions or people.

How we behave towards others and our environment reveals our state of mind and our personalities.

The knock at the door tells the character of the visitor!

T.K.V Desikachar


The Niyamas relate to the relationship and consideration of oneself.

Niyamas include five concepts to consider when reflecting on your own behaviour.



Ever noticed how certain foods, activities or thoughts can make you feel more nourished? Sauca relates to purity of both our body and mind, which can be achieved through certain tools and practices.



When did you last take some time to practice gratitude? Santosha is the idea of having peace & contentment for what has been and is currently, happening, in your life.



Healthy habits seem to be all the buzz, you might even have an app on your phone to help you track them. These aren’t a new concept though and Tapas is evidence of that. The Yoga Sutras have long understood and advocated for the benefit of positive habits and self discipline when it comes to sleep, exercise, nutrition and thought. 



Before you can change something, it helps to first observe and reflect, to determine what you should do next. Svadhyaya relates to this self-awareness and self-study to evaluate and understand your own mind, emotions and behaviours.

Isvara Pranidhana

Surrender to higher power

It can be difficult at times to accept some things are outside of our control, but in doing so can be great freedom. This concept relates to acknowledging our own limitations and surrendering to the notion of a higher power or something bigger than ourselves.

The Takeaway

The awareness of the Yamas and Niyamas are complementary, and foundational on the path to yoga. Often this may be surprising to those new to the Yoga Sutras, where they may have thought Asana or postures were the only component of yoga. Perhaps not realising, Asana is only one of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and within it, the model of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, illustrate there is more to yoga than just postures, and how the wisdom of yoga can be applied to life beyond the mat. 

Curious about delving further into the wisdom of yoga?

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