The Yamas are the first limb of Patanjali’s eightfold path of yoga. They consist of five moral commandments. The eightfold path serves as a framework to live peacefully and ultimately achieve bliss or enlightenment.
The five Yamas are external behaviors that can be practiced and integrated throughout our daily lives. They are flexible to each person’s lifestyle and can be slowly woven into your daily routine. It’s perfectly okay to bend one here and maybe forget one there, so long as we come back to them at some point. The practice of yoga is non-judgmental, forgiving, nurturing and above all – peaceful. Below are the five Yamas that begin the eightfold path to enlightenment, so get comfortable to start the journey!
Ahisma · Non-violence · Non-harming
Ahisma is the act of non-violence or non-harming in society and towards all living beings. We can practice this by watching our daily speech, thoughts and actions. Begin by moving away from negative attributes and guide yourself towards positivity and encouragement. Examples of practicing ahimsa are:
- Not consuming animal products
- Removing negative self-talk from thoughts
- Not engaging in gossip
- Finding balance in order to enjoy life
- Being kind to the environment – recycling, picking up litter, using less electricity
- Learning our edge in the yoga practice to avoid injury or recognizing when it’s okay to move deeper
As you can see from the examples, Ahisma can be a gross idea or a very subtle act of living. Everything and everyone can be treated with respect and a non-harming attitude. Once this is practiced, we can live with a quality of inner peace and self-control versus reaction and harm.
Satya · Truthfulness· Not-withholding
Satya is truthfulness or not withholding. This Yama can be difficult to digest at first as some people take it very literally. Should we withhold thoughts that can be harmful to loved ones? For instance, should we give our true opinion about someone’s new haircut or their new outfit, even if it’s hurtful and useless? This is where people get caught up and miss the greatness of this Yama.
Satya translates to living a life of truth, not living in fear, to shed false beliefs about ourselves and others and to move out of the darkness and into the light. We can achieve this by again watching our thoughts, speech and actions. Begin to take notice of your conversations; do you stretch the truth by exaggerating? Or bring attention to your yoga practice; do you move into advanced postures to show off for those around you? On a grander level, is your job filled with passion and interest or is it under stimulating and a requirement for life?
Many of us are probably answering yes to all of these questions. This is totally okay! At first glance, Satya can be harsh and even intimidating but with the proper intentions, we can move forward living a life full of truth and love. Baby steps are required for this one!
Asteya · Non-stealing
Asteya is the act of non-stealing. We all know and live by this concept in regards to not stealing “things” from others but let’s examine this on a deeper level. Asteya brings attention to what we take from others and ourselves, such as energy. Do we steal energy from a family member or friend? Do we ask too much time of someone? Or do we allow people to steal from us, constantly giving and never devoting time to ourselves?
Begin to examine where in life Asteya can be practiced and then set the intention to change. Change can create fear and uncertainty so remember to be present in the moment and patient. As Shri K. Pattahbi Jois says,
Practice and all is coming.
Brahmacharya · Moderation· Balance
This Yama is a tricky one because of the literal meaning. In ancient texts, Brahmacharya is translated as chastity or refraining from sexual relations. While this can still be practiced, it’s not relatable to modern day living. A more reasonable translation is moderation or finding balance.
This is a wonderful Yama to evaluate our relationships and if they are out of balance. Ask yourself, what do I do too much of or too little of? The answer could surface a multitude of imbalances such as food, shopping, self-care, sexual relations, social media, time spent alone or being social.
Like all the Yamas, recognizing where change can occur is the first step, setting the intention and moving forward is the second. When Brahmacharya is practiced, it offers the ability to not over indulge, to be satisfied with what we own, our relationships, and mostly importantly provides an overall feeling of contentment.
Aparigraha · Non-clinging · Non-grasping · Non-attachment
Aparigraha is the final Yama and a great lesson for all Western civilizations. It means non-clinging, non-grasping, or non-attachment. In its simplest form, we are not defined by what we own. Western society places a large emphasis on owning things, achieving a status, portraying a body image, or attaining a specific outcome. All too often, we forget to enjoy the journey to our destination.
Aparigraha is an amazing lesson that teaches us to be content with where we are in life. This Yama preaches to let go of the old to make room for the new, to travel light while on our paths, and to live a life of simplicity. We can practice this by doing the below:
- Donating clothing or household items that we no longer need
- Letting go of false beliefs like body image or limiting ideas
- Evaluating our relationships and shedding ones that no longer serve us
Now that you’ve learned each Yama and what they encompass, choose one or two that resonates and improve upon them. Try writing down why you chose that specific Yama and the steps that can be taken to create change. Don’t forget, the eight limbed path of yoga is a roadmap to help end suffering and achieve bliss. Be patient, practice kindness, and above all – enjoy the journey!