Step 4

Yamas, Niyamas, and the 12 Steps

For yoga teacher training we had to write a research paper. I really wanted my paper to be a reflection of what myself and where I want to take yoga. I want to take yoga in the theraupetic route, helping those with ED’s, mental illness, and other addictions overcome their mountain. As we studied two of the eight limbs of yoga: yamas and niyamas, I realized how similar they are to the 12 Steps. I use the 12 Steps as much as I can and I was starting to incorporate the yamas and niyamas in my life, I realized that they can be a great tool for those in recovery. This is how I got the idea for my research paper. My paper is a brief overview of a bigger topic and hopefully one day I can dive deeper and expand on this topic.


“To the pure of heart comes also a quiet spirit, one-pointed thought, the victory over sensuality, and fitness to behold the soul.” Yoga Sutras II.41


Patanjali encompassed the essence of self-realization, self discovery, and the journey of a recovered life in this sutra. That particular sutra can be about embarking on the yoga journey or a journey of a recovered life from codependency, eating disorders, addictions, or unhealthy behaviors. Yoga can be used in combination with the 12 Steps to help a person who is recovery to become the best version of themselves. Though some people may think that the 12 Steps are unrelated to yoga, they would think otherwise after reviewing the two limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali: the Yamas (moral disciplines) and Niyamas (moral guidelines). Even after review, the similarities between the yamas and niyamas and the 12 steps are apparent. The two limbs and the 12 Steps can help complement each other and together help an individual on their recovery journey.

The 12 Steps were written by Bill Wilson, a prominent businessman and alcoholic, who also founded Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s. In 1938, his teachings and the 12 Steps were published in what is known as the Big Book ( The steps are faith based, meaning that they use spiritual concepts and the surrender of the participant to a power. Each step is a continuation of the next, they must be completed in order to be effective. When one begins they start with the first step, admitting they are powerless over their addiction or affliction. From there they go on through the following:

2)a power great than us can restore us, 3)we made a decision to turn our will and lives over to God as we understand him, 4) we made a fearless moral inventory, 5)we admitted to God and another our wrongdoings, 6)we’re entirely ready to have God remove these defects, 7)we asked God to remove them, 8)we made a list of all persons harmed, 9)we made direct amends with those we hurt, unless it would cause direct harm, 10) we continue to take personal inventory, and when we are wrong we admit it, 11)through prayer and meditation we come closer to God, 12)having been enlightened by these steps we are to carry this out to others. (Anonymous)

The yamas and niyamas are two parts of the eight limbs of yoga outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. When one is on the yogic path these are observances and guidelines that yogi’s or yogini’s abide by. The yamas are known as moral disciplines. They are: ahimsa-non harming, satya-truth, asteya-non-stealing, brahmacharya-purity, and aparigraha-non covetedness/non hoarding/detachment. After that there are the niyamas, moral guidelines. They are: saucha-cleanliness, santosa-contentment, tapas-zeal/passion, svadhyaya-self study, and Isvara Pranidhana-dedication to the Lord through actions (Gates, 2002) (Iyengar, 1976).

As a person delves deeper into the meanings of both the 12 Steps and the first two limbs of yoga begin to notice the similarities. According to Kyczy Hwk, the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas provide ways to help with recovery from a variety of addictions with the 12 Steps being a more spiritual practice while the yamas and niyamas and yoga are more of a physical practice (Hawk).When a person on a recovery journey practice the yamas and niyamas they can better understand the Steps because they all have “a spiritual union with ones higher power” (Hawk). Some of the 12 Steps have more than one yama or niyama to go with it while some only have one. There are also some aspects of the first two limbs of yoga that are overarching concepts in the 12 Steps.

The first step has multiple niyamas that are related. Rolf Gates in his book, Meditations from the Mat, says it best, “We can count on the new and the unfamiliar to be awkward. But the awkwardness of that first step is no reason for us to deny ourselves the opportunity to have balance in a given area of our lives. We will have the degree of grace in our lives that we permit ourselves to have”   (Gates, 59). With that grace and the help of their higher power, the participant can then work on certain aspects of aparigraha and saucha. Aparigraha is “about the end of all attachment: letting go of our fears, letting go of our desires, becoming free” (Gates,67), which is an essence of Step 1. Saucha has similarities to Step 1 because of the crazy talk, insanity that is in his or her lives before that first step. Step 2 and 3 could also have some similarities with aparigraha and saucha as well because he or she is letting go of what doesn’t serve them, their addiction of dysfunction, to become free.

Step Four, making a fearless moral inventory, has similarities to asteya and the whole aspect of yoga. When the person on the recovery journey sits down to take their inventory they cover all wrongdoings and “defects of character” (Anonymous). This is something that is constantly done time and time again in the recovered life. Without taking regular inventory the recovered cannot stay recovered and progress in their life and spiritual walk with their higher power. When a yogi or yogini practices asteya they are paying “closer attention to what [they] do, and to put [their] faith in [their] ability to heal” (Gates,46) which is their version of making their own personal inventory.

Step 5 is all about admitting. He or she admits to God, themselves, and someone else (usually in AA it is a sponsor) all their wrongdoings and insight collected from their Step 4 inventory. Satya is the yama that has similarities to Step 5. As Rolf Gates puts clearly in Meditations from the Mat satya is “letting go of pretense and telling the truth about ourselves to another human being” (pg 31); Step 5 and satya is all about speaking truthfully and living that truth.

The next steps that are similar with one or two of the first limbs of yoga are Step 8 and 9. They are about making contact with people the individual has harmed and make direct amends with them. Here is another aspect of aparigraha at work because the individual is making a list of resentments and letting them go. Satya also makes another appearance here because satya is all about truth and the individual is speaking truth to those they have hurt.

After that comes Step 11 where the individual seeks conscious contact with God/higher power to help with their daily life and to better understand God through prayer and meditation. This has similarities to brahmacharya and self study. On the yogic path one practices brahmacharya or purity as a way to keep themselves close to God. In the 12 Steps the individual practices the same and keeps themselves pure by repentance, praying, and working to get their disease under control. As it is stated in Meditations from the Mat, “prayer enables us to tap into the healing power of the universe” (Gates, pg 52).

Lastly is Step 12, where he or she takes what she learns and shares it. In some 12 Step groups they will use the term spiritual awakening to showcase the life changing they undergo. Tapas and santosha are the two niyamas that work with Step 12. Tapas, or burning passion, relates to Step 12 because it is an “enthusiasm for health” (Gates) and it is all about inquiry. Being passionate to inquire about themselves which is the overarching idea of the 12 Steps; to be constantly evaluating your life, what the individual is doing in order to be the best person they can be in keeping the addiction or disease under control. As Gates states,

“Tapas is the spirit of inquiry; it is about having the heart of an explorer. It is the willingness to work hard in practice, the desire to know oneself, the will to be honest. But all of these virtues are predicted on a genuine desire for spiritual health. This desire will give us consistency. We will have good days and bad days, days when the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, and days when the opposite is the case. Years of consistent practice are not built on rigid self-discipline; they are built on the desire to know more.” (Gates, 103)

Santosa is similar to Step 12 because santosa is an alternate way of approaching life, it is a different way to view life. The 12 Steps, just like the yamas and niyamas are about ways to approach different aspects of life, be it a recovered life or not.

In conclusion, there are many similarities between the 12 Steps and the yamas and niyamas of yoga. All three help individuals live a better life and give each individual a moral guidebook and road map to navigate life. With an understanding of the 12 Steps, yamas, and niyamas can help the individual on the road to recovery to better stay on that road and have a greater success rate and a lower chance of relapse.



Light on Yoga, Iyengar

Meditations from the Mat, Rolf Gates

EDA 12 Steps

Yoga and the 12 Step Path, Hawk

A Meditation for You

This has been on my heart to share for quite some time. I love my Meditations for the Twelve Steps: A Spiritual Journey book. There are such great small devotionals packed on each page. Every Step has it coinciding Bible Verse and then a variety of people who have gone through 12 Step Programs have written a devotional with another Scripture and story. The following meditation is from Step 4: made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. Even if you are not in a 12 Step program, I believe everyone, addicts/non addicts, Christians/Non Christians, can get a lot inner peace and things to think about.

You don’t have to meditate on the following, but read mindfully and think about it. Can it impact your life or someone else that you know?


“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

I’m blessed to have a number of fine of brothers-in-law. One in particular has persevered under great trial. He faithfully attended to the needs of his infirm parents until their deaths. He currently oversees care for his older sister, who entered a convalescent hospital after she lost her husband and her mental health. He provides support and counsel for his emontionally unstable younger sister who lives in an adult day care facility. And finally, he is a dedicated husband and father, providing for my sister and her three children.

Just as my brother-in-law has persevered under trial, even so must we who are in recovery. We may not have family to care for, but we have ourselves. In a very real sense we are two people in one body. We have an infirm half and a responsible half. Our infirm side has to admit our powerlessness to care for ourselves; and our responsible half has to exercise faith our in God to restore us to sanity. Our infirm part has to make the decision to turn our lives and wills over to God’s care; and our responsible side must continue to  of our persevere by taking an inventory of our defects and sins. 

Caring for the infirm is not easy, but the rewards are great: serenity and peace with God, ourselves, and others.

God, I know that the way is not easy and the road is long. Give me strength to endure and succeed.

*my favorite part is what I put in bold print. I can read it over and over again and it just blows my mind….

I am…

Who am I? I am many things. I am a Child of God, a sinner. I am saved by grace. I am a Yogi and love to spend time on my mat. I am a dancer; I express myself through body movement when there are no words. I am a wife. I love and adore my husband; I wake up each morning happy to be his helper. I pursue an active and healthy lifestyle. While I had an unhealthy lifestyle for many years, I am on the path to wellness. I am trying to improve my wellness across many dimensions: spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional.  I am a tiny woman with a big personality; my laugh can be heard through walls and from a distance. I am a lover. I want to help others, show them Christ’s love and give love. So many people don’t receive love or even a warm smile, so why not be the one who could possibly brighten their day? I am a friend to others. I am peaceful, violence is never the answer. I am interested in science, specifically kinesiology, mental health, art, and poetry.  I am a teacher. I love to share my knowledge of fitness, Pilates, wellness, and dance with others. When I can be a positive influence on someone’s lifestyle or perspective, it is the most rewarding gift. I am woman, a feminist. Reaching out to my fellow women to build them up and stand up for our gender.

I am also in recovery. I am battling anxiety, dysrhythmia, exercise addiction, and an eating disorder every day. I didn’t choose the ebb and flow, the never-ending cycle of these diseases, but I did choose recovery. I am choosing to not let my diseases define me. For years I defined myself by my disease(s) and faults. I only saw my negatives, the purges, the starving, and the depression.

One day I came to the conclusion that: I am not my anxiety. I am not my exercise addiction. I am not my eating disorder. I am everything in the first paragraph.  While it is not easy to write or accept the first paragraph; it is necessary that I remind myself of my good qualities. I swim in a sea of negative thoughts, but the positive thoughts are the little life rafts I need. I need them to carry me back to the shores of life so I can live a sane life (as the 12 Steps call it). In that sane life I can be me.

“I am a lake, my poem is an empty boat,

and my life is the breeze that blows

through the whole scene

stirring everything I touches—

the surface of the water, the limp sail,

even the heavy, leafy trees along the shore. “My Life”, Billy Collins