Yama Explained from The Yoga Sutras

What we have come to know as yoga today originates from a philosophical text scribed back in 200 BCE known as The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. After thousands of years, it is still one of the most frequently studied texts for those in pursuit of a yogic life or those who are taking part in a 200 hour vinyasa and yin yoga certification course in Bali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are ultimately a step-by-step guidebook that lays out the path to spiritual awakening through yoga.

The text introduces us to the concept of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – eight aspects of yoga that serve as steps towards enlightenment. The Eight Limbs are called Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Ashtanga yoga is known as “The Eightfold Path” and is built on this philosophy of the Eight Limbs.

In this blog, we will be diving into exploring the first of the Eight Limbs – Yama. Yama is the first limb of yoga as articulated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The term “yama” serves as an umbrella term that encompasses a series of wider and more specific ethos and practices to navigate the path to enlightenment. Yama are practices of moral discipline or restraint. They consist of Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. Ahimsa refers to non-harming and non-violence through actions, words, and thoughts. Satya entails truthfulness-in mind, words, and actions. Asteya refers to “non-stealing”, while Brahmacharya entails self-restraint. Lastly, Aparigraha references non-possessiveness or non-hoarding.

The meaning and applicability of each Yama extends beyond its immediate translation. For example, the practice of Asteya can quite literally mean not taking something that isn’t yours, however, it can also extend to mean not robbing yourself of the present by being too consumed by “Citta Vritti”, or the chattering mind. While Yama was written to cater to those in pursuit of the spiritual path thousands of years ago, we can still gain ample wisdom from them today and harness their teachings to cultivate a greater sense of freedom in our bodies, minds, and lives.

Through broadening our perspective and diving deeper into the interpretations of Yama, we see that each of them is applicable to one situation or another in our everyday life. For example, Brahmacharya was initially introduced as the practice of abstinence so that those on the yogic path could conserve their energy to further their progress on the path to enlightenment, in today’s day and age, Brahmacharya can be interpreted as, “the correct use of energy.” This could refer to redirecting energy from external desires, such as a want for money or material goods, to finding peace and happiness within ourselves. The word Brahmacharya directly translates to ‘behavior which leads to Brahman’, with Brahman being the creator in Hindu ideology and yogic philosophy. So ultimately, Brahmcharya refers to directing energy toward ‘the creator’ or ‘the divine.’ There are a variety of meanings and interpretations of each Yama that makes each directly applicable to everyday life in some capacity.

This brief introduction to Yama is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wider yogic philosophy. Yoga is a practice that extends far beyond the parameters of 60 minutes of stretching on your yoga mat, in fact Asana, or the postures we have come to know as yoga today, are only included in one of the Eight Limbs, and even then, are only mentioned briefly as a “seat” in reference to meditation.

If you are wanting to go deeper into yoga philosophy then look for a course that offers the Yoga Sutras as part of their curriculum. The best 200 hours yin yoga certification courses offer at least an overview of the Eight Limbs, as education around yoga as simply a physical practice is incomplete. You can dive deeper into The Eight Limbs with Inner Yoga Training’s vinyasa yoga teacher certification in Bali.