The Yamas are the first limb of yoga and provide us with social restraints, or a guide on how we should treat each other. The Yoga Sutras, which were compiled by Patanjali, are a complete philosophy on yoga that provides a detailed outline on the 5 yamas, as well as the other 7 limbs of yoga. The Yoga Sutras mention a host of details, not just the asana or physical form of yoga which is immensely popular all over the world. The texts mention the yogic philosophy or the Äshtanga, termed in Sanskrit as eight ‘limbs’ of yoga. Each aspect of the yogic philosophy combines to achieve a fulfilling and healthy life. (It’s interesting to note that in the US, we often think of “power yoga” when we hear the word “Ashtanga” but it actually means “eight limbs” and doesn’t reference the intensity of the asana.)
The eight limbs or extensions are interconnected and build on each other. These 8 limbs or extensions of Yoga are- Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Starting with Yama, it encapsulates the five basic guidelines on moral behavior of an individual towards other people. These are moral directives which form the basis of righteous living.
#1- Ahimsa: One of the fundamental philosophies of non-violence and compassion is the reason for being vegetarian as per traditional Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. But Ahimsa adapted in the realm of yoga is more than non-violence as it encompasses friendliness, kindness and consideration for animals and people. As per Ahimsa, a person needs to have a considerate attitude and empathy in every situation so that you do not do any harm.
#2- Satya: It means ‘Truth’, and is symbolic of considering before speaking. According to it, you need to consider what you are going to say and how you intend speaking it. Though being truthful is important but if it will harm someone, it is best not to say anything. Satya or truth should not be a hindrance in the path of non-violence. The philosophy is based on the understanding that action and communication form the foundation of healthy personal and interpersonal relationships, while mistruths, lies and deception can be harmful.
#3- Asteya: It means not to take anything that doesn’t belong to you or Non-stealing. Thus, it is interpreted that you should not take advantage of someone who has trusted you or confided in you. Asteya includes not using anything that belongs to another individual without seeking permission while it means not using or taking something that has not be given with a free will.
#4- Brahmacharya: Usually translated as celibacy and abstinence in sexual activity, it actually means control over senses. The stage or step suggests forming relationships that help an individual move towards truth and higher consciousness. By practicing Brahmacharya means that an individual is directing the sexual energy into reconnecting with his or her spiritual self. Additionally, it represents not using the energy to harm anyone in any way.
#5- Aparigraha – It means negating materialistic desires and emotional attachments. Additionally, it means not giving in to greed and hoarding but taking only as much as needed. As per this yogic philosophy, hoarding or greed implies lack of trust and faith in yourself and in God to provide for your own future. Aparigraha is not just about giving up on materialistic desires but it means forgoing emotional attachments. This is to ensure that only change is a constant aspect in a person’s life.