Yamas and Niyamas Part 2

Yamas explained by English Yoga Berlin

In our last blog introducing Yamas and Niyamas, we started to explore a few of the non-physical aspects of yoga. Many people find our English yoga classes in Berlin during their search for fitness or physical rehabilitation. However, because yoga has such mentally and emotionally restorative effects, many people find that over time they are able to not only make peace with their own bodies but with the world around them.

With a total of 10 ethical guideposts (Yamas and Niyamas have 5 each), Asteya is the third Yama, and it means ´not stealing´. This is a more complex concept than the translation conveys. Was Patanjali  talking about stealing a loaf of bread to feed yourself or your family? We believe Asteya is not about stifling need, it is about restraining greed. Asteya guides students to ask themselves: do I really need this? Am I hoarding materials goods out of fear, or taking out of honest need? Can this body, ecosystem or relationship sustain my demands upon it? Asteya challenges us to believe that there is enough in the world to feed us all, if only we can learn to share.

Where do you take, or give, more than your share? What is the effect of this behavior on yourself and your community?


Brahmacharya is the fourth Yama, and one of the most widely misunderstood. It  is translated into English as ´celibacy´, but can also be looked at as a ´conscious use of energy, especially sexual´.

The sexual energy can be seen as a sacred force that should only be used responsibly and wisely. Because pleasure, desire and attraction are such powerful feelings that can bring great pleasure, they can be used to manipulate, violate and hurt people very, very deeply. Instead, it challenges students to make their sexual decisions consciously, in a way that feels good for everyone involved.

How could you live your sexual life with more honesty, integrity and pleasure?

Aparigraha is the last Yama, and it means ´non-comparing´. This Yama is about jealousy, and acceptance. Patanjali recognized that the human mind has a tendency to compare, in order to understand. In our Kreuzberg yoga classes we often tell students to observe without analyzing. Unfortunately, this tendency easily slides into envy and jealousy, because, as we all know, ´the grass is always greener on the other side´. Aparigraha guides our focus back to where it should be: our own sphere. Envying other people is distracting and depressing. In asana practice, this means that, even if your neighbor can do the poses perfectly and you feel like a penguin with two left feet, you practice keeping your focus on your own body and your own experience. You let jealousy arise if it needs to, and you also let it dissipate when it has run its´ course. You measure yourself by the only real standard that you have- your own.

How have envy and jealousy affected your life?


Yamas and Niyamas, Part 1

In Patanjali´s classical texts about yoga, he outlines eight parts of a yogic practice. These parts can also be referred to as “limbs”. The most widely known limb of yoga is Asana practice– the practice of physical postures. In our Berlin Yoga Classes, we understand the value of going beyond the physical. This series is therefore dedicated to 2 other limbs of Patanjali´s eight-fold path: Yamas and Niyamas.

knowledge growing out of the yoga sutraYamas and Niyamas are the first two steps of yoga that Patanjali discusses in the Yoga Sutra. They are ethical, behavioral and spiritual guidelines for living. There is a lot of room for interpretation with the Yamas and Niyamas–because of basic translation issues (some concepts are very tricky to twist into English!). Because these guidelines are designed for yogis to personally interrogate, observe and experience in the context of their own lives, they aren´t considered ´rules´. These concepts are given to students of yoga to contemplate and potentially incorporate into their everyday lives.

Ahimsa is the first Yama, and it is most commonly translated as ´non-violence´. This is what Gandhi used to drive the British out of India. It´s also what we use in yoga, when we decide not to push beyond our limits. Ahimsa is about kindness, compassion and strength. It recognizes an ancient spiritual law that is echoed in many traditions- that violence leads to more violence- and proposes that we, as yogis, begin to halt that cycle by stopping it within ourselves.

What does non-violence mean to you? Where do you already practice it in your life? Where could you be a little kinder to yourself?

Personal Yoga Practice

Personal Yoga Practice

Satya is the second Yama, and it means ´truth´. Satya urges us to be honest with  ourselves, and with others. In asana, we practice Satya when we listen to our body and, again, respect its limits. Maybe that backbend looks terrific, but if it doesn´t feel good, Satya guides us to come out of it and rest with awareness in child´s pose. Less glamorous, maybe, but more honest and, in the end, better for you! It also means being honest in our relationships with others- saying ´yes´ only when we really mean it, and saying ´no´, with kindness, when that is the truth. Satya is challenging, because the truth is sometimes hard to hear and even harder to say.

What do you think about honesty? Are you ever dishonest with yourself, and do you understand why?