Principles of Wholeness: Ethical Practice

Lotus by the Seawhatif copy.jpg
When a yogin becomes qualified by practicing Yama and Niyama, then the yogin can proceed to asana and the other means.
— Yoga Bhashya Vivarana (II.29)

The beginning of all yoga is virtue. Like all wise people world-wide, the yogis of ancient India realized that certain behaviors are more conducive to healthy development than others, so they described and prescribed a code of conduct as a prerequisite foundation for Yoga: Yama, five abstinences that guide our relationships with others, and Niyama, five observances that guide our relationship with ourselves. Together, Yama and Niyama are an essential set of ten underlying principles (intentions, values, choices) that guide one’s yoga practice on and off the mat. These are the “ethical ground” from which all else grows.  

Yama: Interpersonal Action

Kindness (non-violence) / Ahimsa

  • “Do no harm”—refrain from harming self, each other, and our world
  • Be kind and compassionate in your relationships with all sentient beings, including yourself
  • Choose sustainability over destruction in your personal lifestyle and professional practices

Truthfulness (non-lying) / Satya

  • Seek and speak the truth within and without
  • Promote and uphold truthfulness, even when unpopular and inconvenient 
  • Refrain from deception, exaggeration, and gossip

Non-stealing / Asteya

  • Refrain from taking advantage of people or situations for personal gain
  • Refrain from taking or demanding anything—stuff, time, credit, money—that is not freely given or more than your fair share
  • Notice and rest in abundance

Sexual restraint and responsibility / Bramacharya

  • Embody your sexuality with respect for yourself and others
  • Develop conscious, reverent relationships
  • Be faithful to your relational commitments
  • Devote your energy to that which is sacred

Non-possessiveness / Aparigraha

  • Refrain from unnecessary acquisitiveness
  • Give generously of yourself, your time, and whatever else you have to offer
  • Remain unattached to possessions and results
  • Remember that you are not what you have
  • Recognize impermanence

Niyama: Personal Action

Purity / Saucha

  • Exercise good hygiene and nutrition
  • Purify body, heart,  mind , and world of toxic patterns—negative thoughts, speech, and behaviors
  • Perform good deeds with good intentions

Contentment / Santosha

  • Accept the truth of what is
  • Embrace oneself as one is and others as they are
  • Practice gratitude

Self-discipline / Tapas

  • Burn through all obstacles to practice
  • Commit to your practice with a good attitude
  • Follow through on your highest intentions
  • Persevere, whatever happens

Introspection / Svadhyaya

  • Cultivate Self-awareness through conscious self-inquiry and self-study
  • Engage in regular spiritual/ethical reflection, contemplation and practice
  • Attune to your inner teacher 

Devotion / Ishvara Pranidhana

  • Devote yourself to Oneness (Spirit, God, Divinity, what-have-you) within and without
  • Choose to serve something greater than self
  • Participate consciously in the interconnectedness of all living creatures
  • Cultivate humility
Remember, it doesn’t matter how deep into a posture you go. What does matter is who you are when you get there.
— Max Strom