In Patanjjali’s (the father of yoga) yoga sutra there are eight limbs which comprise the eight folded pathway to enlightenment. These limbs are seen as steps or guides on the yogic pathway.
The first limb is Yamas, which are deemed the restraints or codes to live by in society. The yamas are complemented by the niyamas which are our personal codes of practise.
‘The Yamas comprise the “shall not” in our dealings with the external world and the niyamas comprise the “shall do” in our dealings with the inner world,’ Wikipedia.
The purpose of both the yamas and the niyamas is a redirecting of energies, helping us to reduce karma and always move towards clarity. They can all be practised at a psychological level as well as physical. They also provide a solid foundation to move through the rest of the yogic limbs.
The yamas are:
Ahimsa (non harming)
This can translate as harmlessness, removal of harmful intention and absence of enmity. This manifests as the cultivation and practise of non violent thoughts, words, actions or intentions towards the external world, one another, animals (and all living things) and especially towards the self.
‘…may all beings look at me with a friendly eye, may I do likewise, and may we look at each other with the eyes of a friend,’ Yajur Veda.
It is believed that practising ahimsa cultivates love, where the violence or harm is removed, it creates space for only love.
Ahimsa can take the form of practicing loving thoughts, not hurting animals, not judging others and even avoiding pushing yourself to the point of injury in your asana practise.
Satya is the practise of incorporating the continuous truth and honesty at all levels of your life (even towards the self), which helps produce greater self reflection and develops integrity and overcome delusions. It translates as unchangeable or continuous truth.
It is the action of focussing on thoughts and speech that do good as opposed to do harm.
‘In most ways, the practice of satya is about restraint: about slowing down, filtering, carefully considering our words so that when we choose them, they are in harmony with the first yama, ahimsa. Patanjali and his major commentators state that no words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of nonviolence,’ Yoga Journal.
Asteya (non stealing/non coveting)
Asteya focusses on taking something without permission, which isn’t just limited to physical goods. This can also extend into taking someone’s time, ideas or space and even hoarding unnecessary possessions.
Here are some great practical ways of practising asteya.
‘Asteya also includes the concept that you should try to be content with what comes to you by honest means,’ Yoga 108.
This is the practise of managing sexual energy and whilst it may not manifest in the form of abstinence, it can be the practise of mindful relations and adhering to ahimsa towards the self and others. Some yogis choose to embrace this yama as self imposed celibacy.
The belief around this is that celibacy is beneficial in reserving prana, which encourages or is required for enlightenment. Yogis also believe that bramacharya can lead to physical and mental wellness and clarity, good health and inner peace and clarity.
It can also be considered the control of the senses.
‘According to the Yoga Sutras, the end-result or fruit of Brahmacharya practised to perfection is unbounded energy and vitality.’ Wikipedia
Aparigraha (non possessiveness)
This is the practise of greedlesness, non attachment to material and impermanent things which is said to create a pathway for a mindset of flowing abundance by letting go of the desire of things. With the removal of neediness and desire, comes contentment and peace.
Anything that can be lost, we shouldn’t be attached to but rather we should act from and value those things that can never truly be lost, such as love, ‘…the work you put into improving yourself, quieting your mind, learning how to behave in a moral and ethical manner, and learning how to act in accordance with your true inner self is something that can never be lost,’ Instant Good Karma.
‘The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God or himself to provide for his future,’ Light on Yoga, BKS Iyengar, page 35.
Addtionally, there are other yamas which are not as well known or as common. They are Daya (compassion), Arjava (rectitude), Kshama (forebearance/patience), Dhriti (steadiness), Mita-Ahara (moderate eating).
Stay tuned for our post about Niyamas.
Read our What Does Yoga Actually Mean? post.