Understanding The Yamas Of Yoga

In simple words, the Yamas are more or less a “not to-do” list to restrain and control yourself.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yamas are mentioned as the first limb of yoga. It’s a series in which the rules and restraints described are considered necessary for a yogi to live a principled and decent life. In simple words, more or less a “not to-do” list to restrain and control yourself.

Yamas are measured as the universal code of conduct that should be practiced by a yogi (or literally anyone) at all levels, in their actions, thought processes, and words — in short, in every aspect of their life. According to Patanjali, Yamas are not restricted to any class, creed, place, time, or anyone with any job or profession; these are universal and hence applied to everyone.

But what actually are Yamas? What kind of rules or vows are in there which are universal?

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The list of Yamas

Most of the time, Yamas are generally associated with the sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra but in reality, the Yamas are mentioned in the Hindu scripture, the Rigveda, which was written way before the Yoga Sutras. According to famous author and yoga and meditation teacher Stephen Sturgess, “Yama is the Sanskrit word for ‘restraint’, particularly from actions, words or thoughts that may cause harm.”

List of Yamas as in Upanishads-

  • Ahimsa means non-violence
  • Satya means truthfulness
  • Asteya means not stealing
  • Brahmacharya means chastity
  • Aparigraha means non-possessiveness
  • Kṣamā means forgiveness
  • Dhṛti means fortitude
  • Dayāmeans compassion
  • Ārjava means non-hypocrisy
  • Mitāhāra means measured diet

There are many ancient texts that discuss the Yamas, but since Patanjali has talked about only the first five Yamas in his writing, we shall discuss them in the following section. Here are the five Yamas of yoga described by Patanjali.

Ahimsa

It is considered a very crucial virtue in a human being and a very important rule in Yamas. In simple words, ahimsa means not to hurt anyone in any way. It is the practice of non-violence in every way i.e. physically, emotionally, and mentally. It is believed that there is divine energy inside every living creature on earth, therefore when you hurt someone, you hurt yourself and restrains your spiritual growth.

Satya

Satya means being truthful in every action, thought, speech or in general, in anything an individual does in life. It’s about walking through the path that leads to truthfulness, reliability, and honesty. In a way, it balances the first and second Yama.

Asteya

In a literal sense, asteya means not to steal anything from anyone whether it is action, speech, thoughts, or any materialistic thing. Unless it’s given freely, one must not take anything at all whether it is as huge as knowledge or as trivial as wealth. It is about being munificent, moderate and non-greedy.

Brahmacharya

Mostly this Yama is translated as chastity in English, which is not entirely wrong but it does not mean that it suggests celibacy for everyone on the earth. In fact, brahmacharya intends to focus on controlling heart and mind through which the emotive, sensitive and impulsive part of an individual, physically and mentally, can be controlled by him\her. It takes valor and willpower to follow brahmacharya and to overcome the impulses and urges to emotions and addictions.

Aparigraha

In simple terms, aparigraha intends to restrain our desires for materialistic or worldly things which are not necessary to live, especially those that do not belong to us. According to it, there is only one possession a human being should care about i.e. the soul, the true self, everything else will get destroyed eventually but not our soul. Aparigraha, in a sense, teaches us to appreciate what we have rather than to yearn for what we don’t.

Final words

Yamas are meant to trim down or eradicate the growth of bad karma so that we do not waste our time and energy into something appalling and immoral. Are the abovementioned Yamas easy to follow? Of course not. Is it possible to do them? Definitely yes. There is nothing impossible in it; all you need is determination and self-belief. Should you do it? No one can answer this question better than you.

If you don’t agree with it or do not approve of it; it’s completely fine but if you want to follow it, you can definitely give it a try. Above all, it’s something worth knowing or worth mentioning if you are into yoga or anything related to it — and remember, Everything is Yoga!

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