The Yoga Foundations (The Ten Pillars)

The Yoga Foundations is a complex read and possibly not for everybody. It’s not that i disagree with the foundations. The foundations of yoga would be hard for most people to adhere to in its entirety. It is for one who aspires to be a Holy Man.

This is real yoga philosophy not what we see in western civilization such as the Instagram yoga persona.

Jnana Is Knowledge:

“Knowledge does not come about from practice of yoga methods alone.

Perfection in knowledge is in fact only for those who begin by practice of virtue (dharma). Yet, without yoga as a means, knowledge does not come about.

The practice of yogic methods is not the means by itself, It is only out of that practice of yoga that the perfection in knowledge comes about.

Praying man


‘Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth.’”

Thus wrote Shankara. All things rest upon something else that is, all things are supported by another.

This is because a foundation is needed for anything to exist.

No Attachments:

“This is yoga presented for the man of the world, who must first clear, and then steady, his mind against the fury of illusory passions, and free his life from entanglements.”

Patanjali very carefully and fully outlines the elements of the support needed by the aspirant, giving invaluable information on how to guarantee success in yoga.

The First Yoga Sutra:

Now the exposition of yoga,”

Implying that there must be something leading up to yoga in the form of necessary developments of consciousness and personality.

These prerequisites may be thought of as the Pillars of Yoga, and are known as Yama and Niyama.

Yama and Niyama:

Yama and Niyama are often called “the Ten Commandments of Yoga.”

Each one of these Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supporting, liberating Pillar of Yoga.

Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and consists of five elements.

Niyama means observances, of which there are also five.

Here is the complete list of these ten Pillars as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
  • Satya: truthfulness, honesty
  • Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
  • Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
  • Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  • Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  • Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  • Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

All of these deal with the innate powers of the human being or rather with the abstinence and observance that will develop and release those powers to be used toward our spiritual perfection.

To our self-realization and liberation. These ten restraints (yama) and observances (niyama) are not optional for the aspiring yogi or for the most advanced yogi, either.

Shankara states quite forcefully that “following yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.” Mere desire and aspiration for the goal of yoga is not enough, so he continues:

“The qualification is not simply that one wants to practice yoga, for the sacred text says: ‘But he who has not first turned away from his wickedness, who is not tranquil and subdued, or whose mind is not at rest, he can never obtain the Self by knowledge.’ (Katha Upanishad 1.2.24) in the Atharva text:

‘It is in those who have tapas [strong discipline] and brahmacharya [chastity] that truth is established.’

Prashna Upanishad 1:15) and in the Gita:

‘Firm in their vow of brahmacharya.’

(Bhagavad Gita 6:14) So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and are not mere adjuncts or aids that can be optional.

But at the same time, the practice of yoga helps the aspiring yogi to follow the necessary ways of yama and niyama, so he should not be discouraged from taking up yoga right now.

Thinking that he should wait till he is “ready” or has “cleaned up his act” to practice yoga.

No. He should determinedly embark on yama, niyama, and yoga simultaneously. Success will be his.

Stacked pebbles


In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Vyasa [Vyasa was one of the greatest sages of India, author of the Mahabharata (which includes the Bhagavad Gita), the Brahma Sutras, and the codifier of the Vedas.]

Begins his exposition of ahimsa:

“Ahimsa means in no way and at no time to do injury to any living being.” Shankara expands on this, saying that ahimsa is “in no capacity and in no fashion to give injury to any being.”

This would include injury by word or thought as well as the obvious injury perpetrated by deed, for Shankara further says:

“Ahimsa is to be practiced in every capacity-body, speech, and mind.”

Even a simple understanding of the law of karma, the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7), enables us to realize the terrible consequences of murder for the murderer.

As Vyasa Explains:

“The killer deprives the victim of spirit, hurts him with a blow of a weapon, and then tears him away from life.

Because he has deprived another of spirit, the supports of his own life, animate or inanimate, become weakened.

He has caused pain, he experiences pain himself.

He has torn another from life, he goes to live in a life in which every moment he wishes to die,.

The retribution as pain has to work itself right out, while he is panting for death.”

Ahimsa is interpreted in many ways-which is to be expected since Sanskrit is a language that abounds in many possible meanings for a single word.

Fundamentally ahimsa is not causing any harm whatsoever to any being whatsoever, including subhuman species.

Ahimsa is not usually considered in relation to plant and mineral life.

Certainly wanton destruction of such life would be an infringement of ahimsa, partly because it would eventually have a detrimental effect on animal life as well.)

To accomplish this ideal it is self-evident that violence, injury, or killing are unthinkable for the yogi.

Vyasa immediately points out, all the other abstinence and observances-yama and niyama-are really rooted in ahimsa.

They involve preventing harm both to ourselves and to others through either negative action or the neglect of positive action.

“The other niyamas and yamas are rooted in this, and they are practiced only to bring this to its culmination, only for perfecting this [i.e., ahimsa].

They are taught only as means to bring this out in its purity. For so, it is said:

‘Whatever many vows the man of Brahman [God] would undertake, only in so far as he thereby refrains from doing harm impelled by delusion, does he bring out ahimsa in its purity.’”

And Shankara explains that Vyasa is referring to delusion that is “rooted in violence and causing violence.”

Ahimsa includes strict abstinence from any form of injury in act, speech, or thought.

Violence, too, verbal and physical, must be eschewed. And this includes any kind of angry or malicious damage or misuse of physical objects.

Ahimsa is a state of mind from which non-injury will naturally proceed.

“Ahimsa really denotes an attitude and mode of behavior towards all living creatures based on the recognition of the underlying unity of life,” the modern commentator Taimni declares.

Shankara remarks that when ahimsa and the others are observed “the cause of one’s doing harm becomes inoperative.”

Ripples of water

The Ego:

The ego itself becomes “harmless” by being put into a state of non-function. Meditation dissolves it utterly.

However, until that interior state is established, we must work backwards from outward to inner, and abstain from all acts of injury.

In actuality, we cannot live a moment in this world without injuring innumerable beings. Our simple act of breathing kills many tiny organisms, and so does every step we take.

To maintain its health the body perpetually wars against harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses. So in the ultimate sense the state of ahimsa can only be perfectly observed mentally.

Still, we are obligated to do as little injury as possible in our external life.

In his autobiography Paramhansa Yogananda relates that his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, said that ahimsa is absence of the desire to injure.

Although it has many ramifications, the aspiring yogi must realize that the observance of ahimsa must include strict abstinence from the eating of animal flesh in any form or degree.

Though the subject is oddly missing from every commentary on the Yoga Sutras I have read, the practice of non-injury in relation to the yogi himself is vital.

That is, the yogi must do nothing in thought, word, or deed that harms his body, mind, or spirit.

This necessitates a great many abstentions, particularly abstaining from meat (which includes fish and eggs), alcohol, nicotine, and any mind or mood altering substances, including caffeine.

On the other side, it necessitates the taking up of whatever benefits the body, mind, and spirit, for their omission is also a form of self-injury, as is the non-observance of any of the yama or niyamas. It is no simple thing to be a yogi.

The pillars


(A continuation of an explanation of the aspects of Patanjali’s Yama and Niyama)

“Satya is said to be speech and thought in conformity with what has been seen or inferred or heard on authority.

The speech spoken to convey one’s own experience to others should be not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative. It is that uttered for helping all beings.

That uttered to the harm of beings, even if it is what is called truth, when the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth [satya]. It would be a wrong.”

So Says Vyasa:

Shankara says that truthfulness means saying what we have truly come to know is the truth-mostly through our own experience or through contact with sources whose reliability we have experienced for ourselves.

Who but the most intuitive could be sure that they do not speak any inaccurate thing? Yet such is demanded of the yogi, and for that he must strive.

“Untruthfulness in any form puts us out of harmony with the fundamental law of Truth and creates a kind of mental and emotional strain which prevents us from harmonizing and tranquilizing our mind.

Truthfulness has to be practiced by the sadhaka because it is absolutely necessary for the unfoldment of intuition.

There is nothing which clouds the intuition and practically stops its functioning as much as untruthfulness in all its forms,” says Taimni regarding the most personal and practical aspect of satya.

Bending the truth, either in leaving out part of the truth or in “stacking the deck” to create a false impression, cannot be engaged in by the yogi.

Turning Truth Into a Lie:

This is done by either not telling all the truth or by presenting it in such a way that the hearer will come to a wrong conclusion-or adopt a wrong conclusion-about what we are presenting.

Regarding numbers it is said that “figures do not lie-but liars figure.” he same is true here Equally, heinous is the intentional mixing of lies and truth. Some liars tell a lot of truth-but not all the truth.

This is particularly true in the manipulative endeavors of advertising, politics, and religion. There are many non-verbal forms of lying as well, and some people’s entire life is a lie. Therefore we must make sure that our actions reflect the truth.

Honesty in all our speaking and dealings with others is an essential part of truthfulness. This includes paying our debts, including taxes. It is inexpressibly crucial that the yogi make his livelihood only by honest and truthful means.

Selling useless or silly things, convincing people that they need them (or even selling them without convincing them), is a serious breach of truthfulness.

Trying to compromise the truth, even a little, making the excuse that “everybody does it” is not legitimate.

For “everybody” is bound to the wheel of birth and death because they do it-and that is not what we wish for ourselves.

We can lie to ourselves, to others, and even to God; but we cannot lie to the cosmos. The law of cause and effect, or karma, will react upon us to our own pain. It is interesting that Vyasa considers that truthful speech is informative.

By that he means that truthful speech is worthwhile, relevant, and practical.

To babble mindlessly and grind out verbal trivia is also a form of untruth, even if true in the sense of not being objectively false. Nor is foolish speech to anyone’s gain.

Sometimes also people lie by “snowing” us with a barrage of words intended to deflect us from our inquiries. Nearly all of us who went to college remember the old game of padding out whatever we wrote.

Giving lots of form but little content in hope of fooling our teachers into thinking that we knew the subject and were saying something worthwhile. This is one of today’s most lucrative businesses, especially in the advertising world.

Speaking truth to the hurt of others is not really truth, since satya is an extension of ahimsa. For example, a person may be ugly, but to say: “You are ugly” is not a virtue.

“What is based on injuring others, even though free from the three defects of speech (i.e., not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative), does not amount to truth” (Shankara).

Our intention must never be to hurt in any way, but we must be aware that there are some people who hate the truth in any form and will accuse us of hurting them by our honesty.

Such persons especially like to label any truth (or person) they dislike as “harsh,” “rigid,” “divisive,” “negative” “hateful,” and so on and on and on. We would have to become dishonest or liars to placate them.

So “hurting” or offending them is a consequence of truthfulness that we will have to live with. The bottom line is that truth “is that uttered for helping all beings.”

Non-injury is not a passive quality, but the positive character of restoration and healing. Silence can also be a form of untruth, particularly in dealing with the aforementioned truth-haters.

Truth is only harmful when “the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings.” Some people put themselves in the way of truth, then they must take responsibility for their reactions to it.

Sadly, it is often. So we must be sure that we do not deceive under the guise of diplomacy or tactfulness.

Self-deception, a favorite with nearly all of us to some degree, must be ruthlessly eliminated if we would be genuinely truthful. “Therefore let one take care that his speech is for the welfare of all.” (Shankara)


You made it to the end so good on you. Hope you learn some interesting ideas about yoga.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this post or this site in general.

I will answer all the comments on my website personally so drop me a line below if you have any Yoga questions or comments.

I’m happy to help any way that I can.


Namaste Shane.

Disclaimer: Tips and suggestions mentioned in the article are for general information purpose only and should not be construed as professional medical advice. Always consult your doctor or a dietitian before starting any fitness programme or making any changes to your diet.

8 thoughts on “The Yoga Foundations (The Ten Pillars)”

  1. A few months ago a started to dabble with yoga, and I fell in love. As of lately, I’ve become so invested in it. With all the places I’ve gone and people I’ve talked to no one has ever mentioned the ten pillars. I don’t understand why as this was an amazing find for me. I think I’m going to have to pass this along and spread the word.

    • Hello Leina, 

      Thank you for the positive feedback.

      Please pass my posts to whom ever you feel will benefit.

      Regards Shane.

  2. Thanks for sharing such an amazing aphoristic article It was really beneficial my research online really satisfactory when I the marked with brevity expression on statement and l am setting that this wrrte up will be very help all yoga pratitional  because the expository info and I promise I will introduced this article to my friends 

  3. I am not a yoga practitioner but I think it is one unique way to keep one’s body and mind very fit and in fine form. Interestingly I have read one or two books about yoga. At first it was really boring but as I struggled to turn the pages they became very engaging. I always have back and waist pains. Will practicing yoga make me feel better? 

    I’d like to start Practicing yoga someday as I am certain it will improve my overall well-being. 

    • Hello Samikingss,

      Appreciate your honesty. 

      Hope you take up yoga and look after your back pains. 

      Regards Shane.

  4. Hello there,

    This is an amazing article that you have got here.  This is a good study space appears difficult especially when one is at home. It sure takes determination to clear out the hurdles that come across your study.  The ideas you shared on how to curb those habits. So better to prepare a good study environment are worth putting into practice.
    Thanks for sharing this with me.

    • Hello Awinikistevie,

      Thank you for reading my article. 

      Hope you were able to get some helpful information from it. 

      Regards Shane.


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