Guide to the 8 Limbs of Yoga: Yamas: how to behave in the world

Guide to Understanding the 8 limbs of YogaIn modern Western Yoga, we tend to focus on the physical side of yoga, mostly practicing the yoga poses, or asanas.  But the asanas are actually fairly new to the practice of yoga AND they’re only one of the eight (ashta) limbs (anga).  In other words, there’s a lot more to think about when we talk about yoga, like the yamas.

The first limb of the 8 limbs of yoga is the yamas.  Yamas deal with how we yogis behave in the world; how we treat those around us.  There are 5 yamas to guide behavior.

  1. Ahimsa is translated as non-violence.  This goes beyond physical violence like being vegetarian or not hurting others’ bodies.  This principle extends to emotional pain.  It asks yogis not to harm others if it can be avoided.  Be careful with your words and others’ feelings.  On a positive note: treat others with compassion.
  2. Satya refers to truthfulness.  This means not lying of course, but also not intentionally omitting information.  Tell the whole truth.  Also be truthful in your actions; let your actions reflect your true intentions and feelings.
  3. Asteya means non-stealing.  This means not taking physical things, but also extends to the intangible, and possibly more valuable things, like time and energy.  Be sure others want to give before you take.  This yama also tells us to appreciate what we have inside of ourselves—be content with what we are, rather than trying to take from someone else.
  4. Brahmacharya is often translated as abstinence.  Not everyone can become a renunciate and give up all of their worldly goods.  This yama tells us to exercise restraint, rather than indulging too much.  Use what you need but not more- in terms of physical goods, energy, time, etc: don’t take too much.  On the other hand, don’t sell yourself short, giving yourself too little.
  5. Aparigraha is said to mean “non-grasping.”  This can mean not wanting.  This refers to new things and things you already have– this yama motivates de-cluttering.  Aparigraha is also physical and emotional.  Don’t reach for a connection, vibe, or love that isn’t there.  This yama asks us not to be greedy and reminds us of impermanence.

IDEA: The yamas are all great ideals to strive for.  You could try to focus on each one for a week at a time to try to incorporate it into your life.  Try to see how it could relate to you and affect your modern life.

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