Yama and Niyama (“discipline” and “restraint”) are moral and ethical observances and guidelines deemed necessary for a seeker to develop the fortitude to build a practice. To lay the groundwork for a strong marriage, it is essential to form boundaries and foundational ground rules, to build a vessel that is strong enough to cultivate love powerfully. Drawing on Yama and Niyama can be instructive. These are not absolute rules, but may be thought of as descriptive, illustartions. Various scriptures list different sets of Yama’s and Niyama’s, numbering as many as twenty. Here are ten of each to consider.
Ahimsa: Non-violence. No marriage can thrive if there is violence. The arena for marriage must include a guarantee that it is a safe place to be vulnerable, to be open, to be honest. Violence is not limited to the physical, but applies to threats and abuse of all kinds, including verbal and emotional. However, the appearance of violence does not mean that an alive marriage is not possible; it simply means that for other work is done, safety must be established by both of you. Every human possesses the capacity to be violent. The question is: why do we choose to or why are we compelled to express ourselves with violence? If your marriage has suffered violence, the journey of discovery and your healing, in and of itself, will be an agent of transformation and deepening.
Satya: Truthfulness. on one level, Yoga involves becoming pure. But on a deeper level, beyond concepts of pure and impure, Yoga embraces the wholeness of the truth. In marriage you do not grow deep by glossing over your blemishes. It is just the opposite: you have to stand entirely naked before your partner in your totality, with both your greatness and your darkness. By having the courage to not only speak the truth with your spouse, but to allow the truth of yourself to be seen, you create the space of wholeness where the divine can shine.
Brahmacharya: Fidelity. When you have sex you build a lasting energetic bond with your partner. Esoteric traditions report that these bonds endure for many years. While it may be hard to discern while you build them, these energetic bonds are readily experienced when you violate them. If you intend to build a powerful vessel to contain your love, opening energy holes to other people will allow the power to leak out or be stolen. Brahmacharya does not refer to physical sex alone; you can leak out your cultivated power through other physical, mental, and emotional portals as well. Exactly where the boundary lies between safe and unsafe contact depends upon the extent you plan to magnify your power together, therefore, no hard rule can be provided. You may simply practice refraining from sexual contact with others, or you may need to limit hugging, touching, or even eye contact. You may share intimate details of your marriage sadhana with others, or you may restrict sharing to only the most intimate confidante. You might refrain from entertaining sexual thoughts about others. Regardless of how you manage your intimate gateways, it is essential in an awakened marriage that you establish a strong container for your intimate energy and let it flow out only as it serves your sacred purpose.
Kshama: Forgiveness. You make mistakes. Your partner makes mistakes. Acting in hurtful or deceitful ways does not make you wrong; it is human nature. When you make a mistake you may often feel ashamed and blame yourself, or judge yourself to be wrong, to be bad. The same dynamic applies when your partner makes a mistake and you blame them. In marriage, in living closely with another person, you have regular opportunities to hurt your partner or to be hurt, to break agreements, and to violate trust in small ways and not so small ways. To blame them or yourself only reinforces your small self, your ego, as does making excuses or being defensive.
Instead of blaming, practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is not widely taught and practiced in our culture, yet it conveys an extraordinary power of our human greatness. You can say, “I made a mistake. Will you forgive me?” Reach as deeply into yourself as you know how. This is not about merely speaking words; it is about meeting your hurt partner—or your hurt self—and honoring them for who they are. The deeper the mistake, the greater the forgiveness, and the more powerfully you can embrace the wholeness of who you are.
Dhruti: Fortitude. Love, when cultivated, will both warm you and burn you. You must be prepared to embrace both the bright parts of yourself and the dark sides as well, and you must be prepared to accompany your beloved on the same path. Often you will find fault with your partner, grow tired of them, and blame them. But usually, once you have deeply explored the situation, you will find that you are only projecting on to him or her your own shame, fear, hurt, shadow. When you take responsibility for the situation and stand within yourself, fully, the light of love will heal what you vigorously projected, rejected, and blamed them for. This is the work of fortitude, developing the strength to be vulnerable as you are, and to allow your beloved to be their true Self.
Daya: Compassion. Couples have a natural tendency to pull in opposite directions from one another over numerous differences. These different perspectives are really two sides of the same coin. But when you get locked into opposition, it is hard to see that you are simply two parts of a whole, exploring this and that. Compassion is only possible when you climb down from your righteous space and join your partner in a compassionate space, without argument, judgment, blame, or agenda. Compassion is a state of mutual respect and love, even when you strongly disagree. Instead of carving out a mere compromise, you can rise to your greatness and hold a bigger picture that embraces both of your perspectives, and thereby navigate any question with wisdom.
Arjava: Non-hypocrisy, Straightforwardness. Doing what you say you will, asking for what you need, speaking your truth without judging your partner, listening fully: these are some of the powerful components of healthy communication with your partner. Some couples stumble, lacking these basic skills. They may use manipulation, emotional blackmail, or will not speak their truth with one another. Learn skillful communication, and you will have the tools to work through the complexities of marriage.
Mitahara and Shaucha: Good Diet and Health, and Cleanliness. These two observances refer to an ecology of health, of caring for your bodies. To hold the fire of love and to do the work required, you need to take care of your physical health. This also relates to the sense that your marriage is a temple, a sacred ground, and therefore you maintain a kind of purity out of love for its sanctity. Your inner and outer landscapes reflect and support one another.
Tapas: Austerity and Perseverance. Marriage might be seen as a confinement, or an abandonment of freedom, if you were to look at it from the outside. But within the sovereign boundaries that you forge, the freedom to explore love, soul, and spirit is vast. This freedom is not created in one moment of commitment; it is upheld, practiced, and reinforced every day. It takes perseverance to reinforce the commitment. If your effort is rooted in your love and sankalpa, the tapas can be easily experienced as a striving rather than a burden. And while tapas carries a connotation of suffering and hardship, it just as well applies to your enthusiastic commitment to loving the same individual person for the rest of your life, while being mindful that you honor the boundaries that make this possible.
Santosha: Contentment and Acceptance. Marriage is for the long haul; it is not a highlight on a string of thrills. Part of your resolve to form a temple is a settling down into what you have formed, and cherishing it and honoring it. You are guaranteed to see faults and defects in your partner and yourself. Instead of indulging in judgment, embrace the wholeness and truth of who you are and what you are building. Incorporate words of gratitude into your everyday life: it fosters the remembrance and recognition that what you share is precious, unique, and full. Contentment is not a tired resignation to mediocrity, but a loving embrace of wholeness and the truth.
Astika: Belief in the Highest. It can be easy to get distracted by mundane life when you are engaged in day-to-day work as a householder. In the Yoga of Marriage, the remembrance of the highest anchors your outer everyday work in the truth and purpose of your life. It is easy to settle into a narrow perception of your partner as an ordinary person with whom you are living your life. But to simultaneously kindle an inner sense of the highest that dwells within yourselves and your marriage, that is the work of adepts, an accomplishment of Yoga. Cultivating Astika transforms your awareness of marriage into a spiritual path.
Dana: Generosity. To be truly generous you have to stand in a place of abundance, where there is a flow and fullness of energy and grace. In a conscious partnership you don’t each contribute fifty percent; rather, you each give your all. This fosters a space where the fullness of love can find its expression. As with sankalpa, commitment and resolve, the places in marriage where you find yourself holding back are invitations to explore why, and what unconscious needs or patterns may be examined and healed, so that you may express the full generosity that dwells within you. Love begets generosity, and generosity reinforces love.
Ishwarapujana: Worshiping the Divine. Filling the arena of marriage with personal love and adoring your spouse are themselves magnificent. But connecting that personal love with love for the divine elevates the resonance of your marriage to a whole new level. The events and actions of your marriage take on a sacred dimension. If you recognize that the divine is in fact one and the same as the love within your marriage, then you experience that divinity as an expression of your very own being. It is easy to become distracted by the outward, worldly perspective, in which case your marriage becomes ordinary. By kindling an inner focus of your love, the temple of marriage becomes the seat of God, your highest Self.
Siddhanta Vakya Shravana: Listening to Scripture. Just as one’s sadhana can be informed and enlivened by the study of yogic scripture, so, too, can marriage be buoyed and guided by recognizing the alignment that you have with the lineage of your marriage: your parents, your parents’ parents, and back through the generations. By entering into and participating with marriage, you are connecting with the vast network of couples over history who have made similar commitments, and you have the support of that lineage. The challenges, joys, and efforts of marriage have been shared by many before you, and there is a power in recognizing that. You can also gain support from other committed couples on a spiritual path, learning from their own shared love, their personal journeys, and the transformations and epiphanies that they have shared.
Hri: Modesty and Humility, and Mati: Thinking and Reflecting. Your marriage will be filled with differences at every turn. Your partner will express and do many things that conflict with your perspective. His or her words may not be composed clearly, they may be laced with judgment and cynicism, they may be hurtful and they may reflect more about their own condition than yours. That is all possible, and yet it is highly likely that there will be a grain of truth, or even a gem of wisdom in those words, exposing a blind spot in your view of things or opening you to a deeper understanding. Do not miss this or any opportunity to grow. Instead of dismissing your partner’s stance, observe humility and listen for the wisdom. Your marriage is a living cauldron for transformation; modesty and reflection are essential tools for you to transform the stuff of everyday life into spiritual lessons.Japa: Mantra Repetition and Huta: Sacred Ritual. Practice some form of sadhana together, whether it be mantra, puja, meditation, hatha yoga, study, kirtan, or a combination of these. It is important to reinforce and access the sacred dimensions of your marriage, and to have a place where the two of you connect with the sacred. Even a simple recognition that your shared love is an expression of God can be a spiritual practice. But formal practices performed together in a regular disciplined way can be foundational in making your marriage itself a spiritual practice.
Next essay: Ashirvad: Blessings