Yamas and Niyamas: top 10 tips for living a spiritual life

Yamas and NIyamas

The yamas and niyamas are spiritual guidelines to follow on the path to enlightenment. The ancient sage, Patanjali, first wrote about them in his Yoga Sutras and in his system of ashtanga (or 8-limbed) yoga. 

The yamas and niyamas show us how to deepen our spirituality, how to behave, and how to think in order to increase our happiness, peace, and wellbeing. Practice these in your daily life and you’ll find yourself growing more peaceful as time goes by.

These principles also help to deepen your meditation practice. The more we can live in keeping with Universal truth throughout the day, the more we can access deep inner peace in meditation.

Yama means control; these are the don’ts of the spiritual path. Niyama means non-control; these are the dos.

The yamas and niyamas are not “fire and brimstone” commandments, but tips on how to live a peaceful, joyful life. They are not laws, but moral values that point us in the direction of liberation from suffering.

The yamas are non-violence, non-lying, non-stealing, non-sensuality, and non-greed. The niyamas are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study, and devotion.

As you meditate and deepen your spirituality, these traits will develop naturally. However, it’s helpful to keep the yamas and niyamas in mind so we can consciously practice them on a daily basis. 

Don’t expect perfection though. Take these one at a time and work on that particular area of your life. It takes a long time to perfect all these areas.

You can also download the 30 practices below. They give you specific techniques for implementing these teachings in your daily life. I highly recommend you download these as they will help you make the yamas and niyamas a reality.

30 Practices: Yamas and Niyamas 

Download these 30 practices now to turn theory into reality in your life. Includes 30 practical processes for deepening your peace, joy and spirituality. That is 3 processes for each of the yamas and niyamas.   

Yama #1: Non-violence/Ahimsa

Lesson: Avoid being violent to other creatures and avoid thinking harmful, negative, or unkind thoughts.

Non-violence is the first of the yamas.

To practice this, we should avoid harming all living creatures. We shouldn’t tear leaves from trees, kill bugs, harm animals, or act violently towards other people.

Why is this important? Because one of the deepest truths that we can discover is that all life is one. By harming another, you are only harming yourself. That’s why when you take part in cruel or selfish acts, you don’t feel right afterwards. It creates suffering and prevents you from achieving inner peace.

We should also avoid or limit eating meat, which is, in a sense, participating in a very powerful act of violence.

Of course, we should also use our common sense. If we see a poisonous snake or something that poses a threat, we shouldn’t put our own lives at risk. A human life is precious and shouldn’t be wasted.

Not being violent is easy for most people, but how many people can say they are never violent in their thoughts? This is the deeper teaching and if we can be non-violent in our thinking, we can master this practice of Ahimsa.

Try to avoid wishing harm to others, mentally criticizing, or thinking negative thoughts. Of course, this is easier said than done. Just be watchful of your thoughts and avoid getting lost in the mind-set of judgment.

In essence, whenever we have violent thoughts towards others, we diminish our own inner peace. 

Yama #2: Non-lying/Satya

Lesson: Always try to speak higher truths and avoid lying, gossiping, criticizing, or speaking in an unkind way to others or about them.

Next is non-lying. Again, this teaching seems straightforward – just don’t lie to people! But there is more at work here than meets the eye.

We shouldn’t lie, but we also shouldn’t use language that deceives, misguides, or cheats other people. Avoid gossiping or speaking in an unhelpful or critical way. We want to uplift and support others, not bring them down.

Unless what you have to say is helpful, uplifting, or kind, it is often best to keep your mouth shut. We talk way too much in the West: everyone has an opinion. We gain a sense of personal power by becoming a judge. That’s why these talent shows are so popular. We can all become Simon Cowell for an hour, and that makes our ego soar.

But the truth isn’t always what it seems. If you sit there and laugh and say that this person is terrible at singing, you’re participating in an act of lying.

Why? Because the truth­­ –not the observable truth, but the higher truth– is always loving and kind. If we tell someone they are terrible at singing, this is hurtful and unkind. Better to keep quiet or put a positive spin on it. If in doubt, silence never lies. Criticism can be very helpful of course, depending on the energy. If you are giving helpful criticism, great. If you are casting judgment in negative ways, this does not help anyone. 

After all, that person may not be as good a singer as you, but far better than another person. Everything is relative in this world. Higher truths are not relative, but absolute.

Yama #3: Non-stealing/Asteya

Lesson: Avoid taking what is not yours and avoid mentally taking from others in the form of envy or jealousy.

Don’t shoplift, burgle, or mug people. Easy right!

But are there times when you take more for yourself than you give to others, times when you don’t have a sharing spirit? Perhaps you take a larger portion of the dinner, or take the fullest drink. These are wonderful opportunities to practice Asteya, the practice of self-giving.

But non-stealing also refers to not having the attitude of envy. Envy equates to mentally stealing other people’s property or success. When you envy something that is not yours, you are, in a way, stealing from someone else. You take away their own success and your praise for them because you are jealous.

If someone has done well in a particular area of their life, we should congratulate and be happy for them, not envy them.

Let’s use money as an example.

Your friend has a nice house, an expensive car, and takes holidays three times a year. You think, “He doesn’t deserve that. I should have more money like him. It’s so unfair.” 

When we envy in this way, we create suffering in our life and other people pick up on the negative vibe.

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having desires, but if the desire is negative, jealous, or ego-driven, then it will cause suffering.

You could think instead: “Wow, that’s so great for him. I am delighted that my friend has done so well and I hope that one day, I will have such financial abundance.”

Do you see the difference? You aren’t taking anything from that person, but are mentally congratulating them and happy for them.

These thoughts may be quiet and subtle in the back of your mind, so pay attention. Meditation is the key to awareness of thoughts.

Try to realize that you’ll get what is yours in good time. Coveting other people’s property or situations will only pull you further away from your heart’s desires. That person with all the wealth may be struggling in an area in which you excel – you just never know.

When we realize that we are complete as we are, we become so much more fulfilled. Then everything comes together and we get what we desire.

Download the 30 practices below for 3 processes on non-stealing.

30 Practices: Yamas and Niyamas 

Download these 30 practices now to turn theory into reality in your life. Includes 30 practical processes for deepening your peace, joy and spirituality. That is 3 processes for each of the yamas and niyamas.   

Yama #4: Non-sensuality/ Brahmacharya

Lesson: Avoid over-indulgence in sensory pleasures and instead practice self-control and moderation.

We won’t ever find peace or happiness in external pleasures or sensory indulgences. Few people truly understand this point. We live in a world that encourages hedonism and consumerism, but this way of life always leads to suffering.

It’s difficult to grasp, because we do seem to feel good when satisfying our desires. However, that feeling is not happiness; it is pleasure, and it exists in the world of duality. The flip side is always pain. As we all know, “every rose has its thorns.” We cannot find sensory pleasure without pain.

Meditation helps us to see the pain that we create in endless consumption and indulgence. Wine gives you a hangover, chocolate gives you a sugar crash, coffee gives you an anxious low after the initial high, and sex results in a huge loss of energy.

It’s only self-control that will bring lasting inner peace.

That does not mean you have to give up all sensory pleasures or never have an ice cream again! That would be ridiculous. But you can shift your attitude toward these things and begin to practice moderation and self-control. Take small steps to cut out bad habits.

When we practice self-control, we become filled with energy. Sensory indulgence lowers our energy, which can make us depressed or moody. When we learn self-control, we become uplifted and joyful.

Make small permanent changes as opposed to big, temporary ones.

Yama #5: Non-greed/Aparigraha

Lesson: Avoid attachment to your possessions, beliefs or ideas. Learn to let go.

Non-greed is similar to non-stealing. The difference is that non-greed is about not being attached to your own possessions while non-stealing is about not being attached to what belongs to someone else.

We can become possessive, even to the point of mental illness. I am sure you’ve heard about people who hoard everything they have ever owned. This is the extreme conclusion of something we all do – covet our property.

It starts in childhood with possessiveness over toys, and often continues into adulthood. When a child eventually learns to share and give, he finds that everything becomes easier and more joyful. Instead of inhabiting a world of arguing and complaining, the sharing child creates an environment of community. There is great joy in that. 

So take time to clear stuff out, give it away, and let it go. Holding on to anything is symptomatic of an inability to let go. 

The truth is that we cannot hold on to anything. There is no person, thing, or idea that will still be yours in a hundred years. And a hundred years is not a long time. In fact, it is a millisecond in the history of the Universe. Let it go, none of it is yours.

We also tend to hold on to our beliefs and ideas. We love being right and having an ideology that supports our notions about the world. I am left-wing, I am right-wing, I’m a liberal, a conservative, a neo-marxist, a socialist, a postmodernist, a feminist. Just let it go. You are none of those things.

You are infinite stillness, peace, and joy. That is your true nature.

Let it go

yamas and niyamas

Niyama #1: Cleanliness/Sauca

Lesson: Keep your body clean inside and out, keep your mind clean, and keep your energy field free from negative influences.

Like other yamas and niyamas, the practice of cleanliness operates on many levels. First of all, keep your body clean by showering daily, washing your hands, and so on.

The body should also be clean on the inside though so that means eating and drinking healthily. Keep it simple and don’t eat too much. Avoid or limit foods that you know are toxic like red meat, sugar, and alcohol.

Also keep your environment clean. Living in an unclean or cluttered environment has a negative effect on consciousness.

We need to have a clean body and mind to make true progress on the spiritual path. This is why most spiritual traditions discourage the use of drugs and alcohol. 

It’s not that we can’t meditate or practice spirituality if we use drugs. However, ultimately we want to move away from anything that lowers our consciousness. We want to uplift our consciousness in meditation and that requires purity and cleanliness.

Finally, keep your energy field clean by associating with spiritual, positive, and kind people. We should be careful about whom we associate with because we tend to become like our associates. Avoid negative people whenever possible.

Also watch positive or funny movies as opposed to dark or scary ones. Listen to chanting or uplifting music. Be mindful of everything you allow into your energy field, because you are so much more sensitive than you realize.


Niyama #2: Contentment/Santosa

Lesson: Try to feel contented, grateful, and joyful in life. Remember that joy is not an end point, but an ongoing daily practice.

Contentment is very powerful and is one of the greatest qualities to practice on the spiritual path. It i known as the “supreme virtue.” We live in a world of duality, of likes and dislikes. We love to form judgments about good and bad, right and wrong. That is why Simon Cowell is so popular. He is a symbol of our own critical and judgmental minds. 

Practicing contentment in all life’s ups and downs is not easy, but it brings real joy, not fleeting pleasure. It helps us see that we are in control of our thoughts and emotions – we choose how we respond to life.

To remain calm and appreciative amidst the storm is an advanced spiritual experience, but it is possible; no doubt, you have already experienced it at some point during your life.

Right now, wherever you are, stop and try to feel content. Feel grateful for your life and everything in it. Smile and feel that you need nothing more, that you are complete, just as you are.

Do it now for a few seconds.

People think that joy is an end point, a result of gaining certain things or having certain experiences. It is not; joy is a practice. Practice being happy every day.

Depression results when we expect things to make us happy. They never do and never will. Happiness comes from within; it is a choice and a practice. It is also only available right now in this moment, not in any future moments, not tomorrow. Joy can only be felt now.

Grab the 30 practices below for 3 practices on contentment.

30 Practices: Yamas and Niyamas 

Download these 30 practices now to turn theory into reality in your life. Includes 30 practical processes for deepening your peace, joy and spirituality. That is 3 processes for each of the yamas and niyamas.   

Niyama #3: Austerity/Tapas

Lesson: Bring some structure and discipline into your life. Be the master of your body and mind.

The idea of austerity (or discipline) is not exactly the most popular in the modern world. People like the idea of freedom and doing what they want, but lack of discipline leads to meaninglessness, depression, and energy loss.

So, bring a little bit of discipline into your life. 

You don’t need to hire a drill sergeant just yet. Take it easy on yourself, but begin to bring some habits, routines, and structure into your life. Without it, we become lost. Discipline your spending habits, your eating habits, and your routines. 

Children need routine to thrive. And in my experience, if it’s right for children, it’s right for the rest of us. We thrive when we have set times for meals, for bed and waking up, for meditating, exercising, for work and play.

Try to avoid the many distractions available these days and do what you are doing in a focused, mindful way. This is invaluable to your happiness. The body knows what to expect and when to expect it: it thrives on routine.

Also, be your own master. Be in control of your thoughts, your actions, and words. Be deliberate in your movements and mindful in your interactions. This helps build discipline and prevents us from spilling energy all over the place.

Niyama #4: Self-study/swadhyaya

Lesson: Examine your life and consider what makes it better and what makes it worse. Eliminate negative habits and nourish positive ones.

Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We have to examine our lives so that we can figure out what is working in our life and what is not. 

Life is a journey of self-discovery. Meditation helps us explore our inner world and discover what brings us joy and what brings suffering.

Meditate and watch yourself. Make changes when you discover a negative tendency in your life. Here are a few common negative tendencies that you might want to explore, but there are many more.

  • Angry or emotional reactions
  • Complaining
  • Gossiping
  • Drinking caffeine
  • Alcohol or other drugs
  • Lying
  • Being selfish
  • Overeating

Explore these tendencies when they arise and notice how they make you feel. You will find that they cause you more suffering than pleasure.

Yogananda once said, “Awareness precedes control.” It means that we need to be aware of our tendencies before we can change them – so pay attention.

Also notice your positive qualities and actions: kindness, service, giving, helping, being creative, productive, and energetic. How does it feel when you act in these ways? Explore and notice. Become the observer of your actions. You will find, over time, that you become free from negative tendencies.

Niyama #5: Devotion /Ishwarapranidhana

Lesson: Feel love and devotion for something deeper than yourself. Try to connect with spirit through daily prayer and meditation.

As we meditate, we begin to feel how small we are, and how there is something much more powerful at work than our little ego. This is the essence of spirituality, that the body and mind are not the whole picture.

People have called it many things throughout history, but the most common term is God. If you are not comfortable with that, then call it spirit, higher consciousness, the Divine, source energy, or simply the Universe.

Call it what you like, but there is something deeper than our present consciousness. The more we meditate, the more undeniable this becomes. This Divine consciousness is completely still, joyful, and perfect.

And we can access this state through deep meditation and devotion. Many people believe that devotion is the most important aspect of the spiritual path. 

There is a path called Bhakti yogi, which uses devotion as its primary practice. One great master called Sri Yuktweswar Giri once said, “You cannot put one foot in front of the other on the spiritual path without devotion.” It really is an essential practice. 

Final Word

If we want to truly benefit from our meditation practice, we need to bring meditation and spirituality into our daily life. By practicing the yamas and niyamas, we can live a happier and more fulfilling existence. Then our whole life becomes our spiritual practice, not jut when we sit to meditate.

Keep in mind that many people see these as the “fruit” of spiritual practice. They are qualities that develop as a result of meditation and spiritual living. So don’t expect yourself to be magically able to live perfectly. However it is helpful to keep these in mind so that we can start to practice now instead of waiting until later. 

I know that many of you will have skimmed down here to the bottom. I get it; you don’t have much time, but I do recommend that you bookmark this post so you can read it later. Living a spiritual life will help you feel so much happier and more peaceful.

If you really want to bring these teachings into your life, download the 30 practices below. They contain 3 different processes for how to practice each of the yamas and niyamas in your daily life. Grab them now while they are still free.


30 Practices: Yamas and Niyamas 

Download these 30 practices now to turn theory into reality in your life. Includes 30 practical processes for deepening your peace, joy and spirituality. That is 3 processes for each of the yamas and niyamas.   


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