The First Limb of Yoga


Yama has different meanings; to discipline, to restraint. It also used to mean ethics, self control, attitude or social behavior.  It relates to how you should deal and interact with people around you and how you treat others and the environment around you.

The yamas are broken down into five “wise characteristics.”  They tell you that your fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.”

They are as follows:

  • AHIMSA (Nonviolence or Harmlessness) /compassion for all living things. A = not, the absence of, the freedom from. HIMSA = violence, killing, judging, harming. “Mahatma Gandhi defines Ahimsa as “the avoidance of harm to any living creature in thought or deed.”

The word Ahimsa literally mean not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. Violence arises from fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness. Ahimsa is, however, more than just lack of violence as adapted in yoga. It means kindness, consideration, gentleness, love, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other people and things. It also has to do with the commitment to your duties and responsibilities. What is required is freedom from fear.

  • SATYA (Truthfulness and honesty). Satya means “to speak the truth, in thought, word, and deed (actions).” Tell no lies. The fundamental law of truth is that “when you live your truth, you are in basic harmony with the universe and the divine, therefore the universe supports and creates everything you need.”Yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone unnecessarily. You have to consider what you say, how you say it, and in what way it could affect others.
  • ASTEYA (Non-stealing): A = not, the absence of, the freedom from. STEYA = stealing. Steya means “to steal”; Asteya is the opposite, to take nothing that does not belong to you, such as material objects or intangibles.

The practice of asteya implies not taking anything that has not been freely given. Being conscious of how you ask for others’ time for inconsiderate behavior demanding another’s attention when not freely given is, in effect, stealing. Asteya also means that if you are in a situation where someone entrusts something to you or confides in you, you do not take advantage of him or her. This also includes being free from cravings (addicted to) wealth, power, fame, and enjoyment or pleasure. It is not that you don’t have any of these things; it is that you are not consumed by them. The fundamental law of abundance is that “one who is truly free from craving of treasure is the one who the universe deposits all its treasures with.”

  • BRAHMACHARYA (Self-control): Brahmacharya is a movement toward the essential truth. It does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather, it means responsible behavior with respect to your intention of moving toward the truth. Brahmacharya suggests the use of sexual energy to regenerate the connection to the spiritual self. It also means that you should not use this energy in any way that might harm others. Be mindful about human relationships and truly present to what serves you the best. On the path of truth, there are certain ways of controlling the perceptual senses and sexual desires. The fundamental law of enlightment is that “you are the only one who can enlighten you. Self-restraint and self-moderation are being responsible for your own growth”.

“We are spiritual beings having a human experience”.  French philosopher Teilhard de Chardin

  • APARIGRAHA (Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth): A= not, the absence of, the freedom from. PARIGRAHA = greed, possessiveness, hoarding, collecting. Parigraha means “to take”, “to seize”, increasing orientation toward material things.  Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. You should only take what you have earned; if you take more, you are exploiting someone else. In addition, unearned rewards can bring with them obligations that might later cause problems. The less time you spend on your material possessions, the more you have to spend on investigating all that you call yoga. You will learn to enjoy what you have rather than constantly seeking things you don’t have and never getting satisfied in life. It is a scientific fact that the more money and material possessions you have, the more stressful you become.

This limb is also related to the freedom from your own collective thoughts which don’t allow your mind to quiet down. The flip side of Aparigraha is going deep to the source of your fear about scarcity. Again, trust the abundance of the universe by taking/using only what you really need. The more you recognize and search for the meaning of the essential truth, the less will you be distracted by other things. The fundamental law of simplicity is that “complication leads to excess, and simplicity leads to bliss and divine”.

Krishna Das, a famous kirtan musician, was asked if he thought it was a good idea to get rid of one’s possessions in order to live a more spiritual life.   He said, “no… you don’t need to get rid of your possessions, you should try and get rid of you”.   It doesn’t matter whether you have possessions or not, what matters is your attachments to them.