Yama, one of the eight branches of yoga, provides rules or guidelines that can help us live a fuller, more mindful life. Learn what each one means and how to apply them to your life today.
The ancient practice of yoga is so much more than the physical practice that we've come to know in modern times. The word "yoga" means union of body, mind, and spirit. If you look closer at the origins of yoga, you'll come to know that it’s an invitation to part the veils that cloak the deepest aspects of your being.
Yoga provides us with an opportunity to get to know ourselves from the inside out—and this knowingness is not based on our positions, possessions, or accomplishments. This is the opposite of what society teaches us. It’s what makes exploring the ancient teachings so profound.
The sage Patanjali was said to have developed the eight limbs of yoga: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These branches aren’t intended to be accessed sequentially. Each of them is said to serve as a different access point to a more expansive facet of our core nature.
The first limb is known as Yama, which translates to mean the rules of social conduct. These rules are really guidelines for how best to show up in life, and mindful ways by which we can interact with others and with society.
Here is what we know: While the knowledge passed down for centuries was originally established in times much different than how we live today, the ethics still ring true and can be easily applied to our modern world. Let's explore the five components that make up the Yama.
Ahimsa or Nonviolence
Every thought, word, and action stems from a place of love and equanimity for all sentient beings, our planet, and all of creation. When we come from a place of love in our thoughts, words, and actions, there can be no act of violence. Practicing nonviolence every day would have a tremendously positive impact on our families, communities, and the world.
Satya or Truthfulness
We practice Satya through speaking and living in ways that are truthful for us. This doesn't mean you should go around saying whatever is on your mind because you’re thinking it. It means that you should speak your truth thoughtfully and with purpose. This Yama also suggests that you make conscious choices to live your life in ways that align with your higher purpose.
Brahmacharya or Appropriate Sexual Control
This Yama is often confused with celibacy. It more accurately invites us to engage in a healthy expression of sexual energy. Brahmacharya means to align with the creative forces of the Universe. We can think of it as harnessing sexual energy for creative purposes, as opposed to mindlessly engaging with no real intention. As you use this creative energy more deliberately, you may also find that your sexuality will exude a deeper, more expanded expression of love.
Asteya or Honesty
In this context, honesty means to practice non-stealing and non-cheating. While this one seems pretty self-explanatory, its reach goes far beyond taking material items that don't belong to you. Asteya encourages us to be honest in our thoughts, speech, and outward behavior. Think about it, dishonesty is almost always rooted in a desire for something we don't have and is driven by the fear of loss of something such as money, love, positions, possessions, and power. Let go and practice content with, and gratitude for, what you already have.
Aparigraha or Generosity
This Yama is focused around cultivating non-possessiveness or non-grasping. This means that we practice letting go of our desire to control and relinquish our attachment to worldly things. In our daily life, we can develop generosity by giving to others, be it in the form of a prayer, a thought, a gesture or smile, or even material things. People often find themselves hoarding possessions because they’re afraid that they don't have enough, or that they will lose what they have. Aparigraha pushes us to spread wealth and abundance to all. In the act of doing so, that which we seek begins to flow more abundantly to us.
Yama doesn't require us to be perfect. These guidelines provide a valuable and worthwhile roadmap that can help us foster more evolutionary ways of thinking, being, and doing. Each of us has an innate knowingness—be it conscious or unconscious—that we exist as a part of something that is greater than ourselves. The Yama propositions us to explore our behaviors at a deeper level and to make choices that unfold greater potential for ourselves as individuals and for others.
We are being summoned to live by example from a higher place. If we heed the call, we have an opportunity to become an example of how one may begin to behave from a place of spontaneous right action.