The philosophy of yoga is taken from the teachings of the Vedas, the Sanskrit texts that describe the unity that underlies the practice. Many of the texts focus on Dharma – the conduct or actions that bring harmony to our relationships. This harmony is found in all of our relationships, both internally with ourselves and externally with the world around us.
To help us achieve this, yoga provides specific practices known as the yamas and niyamas. Yamas concentrate on social observances, while niyamas focus on personal observances. Yama and niyama are the first two of the eight limbs of yoga. When combined with asana – the physical postures, and pranayama – the breathing techniques, yama and niyama guide the mind to a state of stable attention. We can then progress onto the final four limbs of yoga, which help us to attain a higher meditative state and unite with the divine. While all 8 limbs are important, following yama and niyama is the foundation of the practice, allowing us to live in harmony with the world around us. They help us to attain mental clarity and free up the energy that would otherwise be wasted when we are out of sync with our mental, emotional, and physical surroundings. As the yamas can be practiced anywhere, you don’t need to put on a yoga top and hit the studio to use them. Instead, they can be practiced at any place, at any time.
Most yogis are familiar with the five yamas and niyamas described in the Yoga Sutras. However, other yoga texts such as the Yoga Yājñavalka and the Hatha Yoga Pradipika of Svātmarām outline additional yamas. Adding these to our practice will bring perfection to the existing yamas, bringing greater peace, clarity, and joy to our relationships. In this article, we explore the yoga yamas: 6 additional yamas to deepen your yoga practice.
From Sanskrit, Kṣamā translates to patience or forgiveness. When we forgive, we let go of the hold that past experience has on our emotions. We are then able to let go and move on with our lives. Kṣamā helps us to understand the experience from a broader perspective and concentrate on the present moment.
Dhṛtiḥ is all about seizing, holding, supporting, resolution, will, or command. The yama can also mean contentment, satisfaction, or joy. To find success in life, we must have a firm conviction in what we do. When we also find satisfaction and contentment in our chosen path, we are more likely to maintain our conviction, even when faced with obstacles. While dhṛtiḥ is not listed in Patanjali’s yamas, he mentions its beliefs in sūtra 1:14 when he states: “practice becomes firmly established when done for a long time, without interruption and with devotion and respect/enthusiasm.”
Dayā means compassion or sympathy. To be truly compassionate, we must look into the hearts of others and try to feel their emotions. We should try to see others within ourselves, and ourselves in others. The perfect example of dayā is yogis who experience unity within all beings and recognize that we are all an expression of the same consciousness. Patanjali’s sūtras give a nod to dayā when he outlines the importance of taking an opposing viewpoint to counteract our negative emotions.
Ārjava is about being honest, straight, sincere, and straightforward. We practice this yama by aligning our thoughts, speech, and actions. The more we practice yoga, the more easily we can achieve Ārjava. The yama is also described as humility or meekness. When doing a good deed, we must not gloat about the results. Instead, we must relinquish ownership of any good results. One of the Vedic texts states: “A virtue is spent by being made known through one’s lips.” Instead of doing good deeds for recognition, we should do them happily for the good of all.
Mitāhāra means we should not overeat. Instead, we should only eat the food necessary to maintain good health and support our practice. The food we eat should be pure, simple, and nourishing but it’s also important not to become obsessed with diet. Food is sacred and should never be wasted, we should receive it with an attribute of thankfulness. Eating small meals regularly is helpful for yoga practice. In the Bhagavata Purana, Śrīdhara Swāmi states: “One should fill two-quarters of one’s belly with food and one quarter with water. The fourth should be kept empty for the free passage of air”.
Śauca means cleanliness. External cleanliness refers not only to the body but also to our surrounding environment. Internal cleanliness focuses on a state of mental purity. Through external cleanliness, we become aware that our body is in a constant state of decay; this helps us to detach from the physical body. The internal cleanliness results in mental clarity, better control of the senses, and a greater connection with the true self. While our physical body is indifferent, we should try to keep it in as pure state as possible to allow full expression of the soul, spirit, or inner self. According to Patanjali, following śauca will result in saumanasya – a state of joy or happiness. While this is a good thing, we must be careful not to become obsessed with the good feelings that come with śauca.
So, there you have it – the yoga yamas: 6 additional yamas to deepen your yoga practice. To deepen your yoga practice and attain a happier body and mind, practice the yamas above. While they can be practiced on the yoga mat, they should also be used outside of the studio. For best results, try to live by the yamas and use them to deepen your practice and the connection with your true self.