The Yamas Defined

The first limb of Patañjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga is the yamas, the ethical principles that clarify one’s relationship to the world and everything in it. The yamas emphasize our connection to others as an integral part of yoga—everything is interconnected. They can also be a great resource to help us learn about our own habits, values, and beliefs. From learning about ourselves we can learn how to create more personal integrity by changing the parts of us that don’t serve ourselves or others.

The yamas break down to 5 practices:

  • Ahimsā – not harming
  • Satya – honesty
  • Asteya – not stealing
  • Bramacharya – the wise use of energy
  • Aparigrahā – non-possessiveness

5 Easy Ways to Practice Yamas

Each of the yamas is meant to be practiced with both the mind and body, on a literal and also on a compassionate level. Here are a few ways you can practice the yamas on a daily basis. As a challenge, pick one to focus on for a week, then notice what shifts in your behavior and your internal experience from this practice. Try a new method to practice the following week and so on.

Ahimsā - Not Harming

Start with you—be kind in the ways you talk to yourself, staying away from the negative self-talk trap. Do things that make your body feel healthy and vibrant, like adding a morning walk to your daily routine. After you start treating yourself with loving kindness, it’s easier to treat others that way, too. Go out of your way to say kind things to loved ones… and maybe even a stranger you pass on the street.

Satya - Honesty

You can start by being mindful of your speech and truthful with your words. Avoid gossip. This practice builds upon the first yama, āhimsa, and asks that we always be honest in a way that does no harm. A good rule of thumb: if it’s not truthful and beneficial, don’t say it. Your thoughts and words help shape your environment. Speak in ways that create a compassionate, loving habitat for yourself and those around you.

Asteya - Not stealing

Moving beyond the literal level of stealing, we are encouraged to consider how we might steal on more subtle levels, like wasting time or sapping someone’s energy. A good practice is to be respectful of other people’s time and energy as well as our own. Stealing is based on a fear of scarcity. The opposite of stealing is giving. Challenge yourself to give your time and presence to others by showing up on time, listening intently, and not expecting anything in return.

Brahmacharya - Wise use of energy

This refers to all of the creative ways we use energy, including sexual. Treat ourselves—and others—with dignity and respect. A good practice for this yama is to notice what feelings arise when you experience sexual energy. If appropriate, share these feelings with your partner. Always act from a place of integrity with your energy, sexual and otherwise.

Aparigrahā - Non-possessiveness

This yama does not forbid us from owning things. After all, life is meant to be enjoyed. But when our thoughts and actions are based on greed, it brings a negative cloud over our souls. Whether we are greedy in ways overt (addiction, material cravings) or subtle (like with time), it is destructive. This yama guides us to shift our greed to generosity: do something generous for someone else instead.

Share your thoughts with the hashtag #8limbsofyoga.

Enjoy practicing!
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