Understanding the first limb of yoga – the Yama

Yoga is said to have eight limbs or eight paths. They act as building blocks toward the final path samadhi, which some consider being “enlightenment.” To get there or reach the later limbs like the practice of meditation, we must start at the bottom with the Yamas.

The Yamas are five restraints that all yogis must observe. There are things that we should strive to do. There are vows a yogi may take to uphold in their journey. You may find that these concepts mirror many significant religions of the world!

1. Ahimsa 

In Sanskrit, ahimsa means violence. Ahimsa is, therefore, the practice of nonviolence. It is the first Yama and arguably the most important. Nonviolence means practicing within every aspect of your life. It means that no pain, no injury, or suffering will take place at your will. People do not consider themselves within ahimsa, which is an error. Nonviolence starts with your relationship with yourself. It translates to your thoughts and actions towards yourself and others. It also translates to the foods you eat as ahimsa applies to all living beings. Yogis should not eat meat and should be aware of how they may contribute to industries that have violent practices. Whether with animals or poor treatment with children and other workers.

2. Satyam

Satyam means truthfulness. This and ahimsa are considered the highest principles of righteousness. It is believed that the greater force of God or source is the truth, and to deny truth is to deny that source. It is important to remember that speaking falsehoods can appear in many forms. If you are feeling a certain way and do not speak your truth, this is breaking Satyam. It can get tricky when we may have thoughts that could create pain if acted upon. In this case, ahimsa should be upheld as a priority.

3. Brahmacharya

This vow means to restrain yourself from temptations and urges explicitly sexual urges. It has been interpreted as to have control over sexual urges. It is believed to look different at different stages. Premaritally it is thought that sexual urges should be controlled and transformed spiritually. During a marriage, it should be moderated. This Yama can be generalized not only to master controlling sexual impulsivity but is also interpreted as practicing it. This vow should be undertaken by someone who wants to follow the path of yoga to transcend into a higher state of meditation.

4. Aparigraha

This vow refers to not coveting anything from another person. It means not desiring anything that belongs to you. It also means simplicity. Living with no more than what is genuinely needed. This vow believes that the more you want, the more these wants just multiply. To be happy with very little is the aim of this Yama.

5. Asteya

The last of the Yamas means restraining from theft. Not stealing from others. It is a fairly self-explanatory one, as we cannot take anything that does not belong to us. It goes well with the previous Yama. If we do not first covet something that is not ours, then the desire to steal it should not arise. 

The building blocks of yoga come way before getting on the mat. It is believed we cannot achieve meditation or proper asana practice without adhering to the first two limbs of yoga – the Yamas and Niyamas.

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