The 5 Yamas are the first limb of the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ originating from the ancient philosophical text, ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. By practicing the 5 Yamas you gain self-awareness, transform negative energy into positive, and cultivate a deep sense of inner peace. In this article, I will introduce you to the 5 Yamas and give you some practical tips on how you can integrate them into your life!
8 Limbs of Yoga
There are 8 limbs of yoga, and Yama is the first limb.
The first limb: YAMA
Yama is a set of ethical norms that teaches us to communicate with others in the right way. To be brief, it means one thing: treat people the way you want them to treat you. By practicing the 5 Yamas you gain self-awareness, transform negative energy into positive, and cultivate a deep sense of inner peace.
The second limb: NIYAMA
The step of forming the self-discipline and uplifting spirituality. This step involves regular visits to temples, meditative practices, a study of nature, thinking and walks.
The third limb: ASANA
Asana means ‘posture’ or ‘pose’. So by saying ‘asanas’ we mean body poses. Yoga practitioners know that our physical bodies are temples for our souls. Body care is one of the most important stages on the path to spiritual growth and enlightenment. Performing certain asanas, a person learns concentration and self-discipline.
The fourth limb: PRANAYAMA
Pranayama is the ability to control your breath. It is a set and a system of special techniques that make it possible to establish a relationship between breath, mind, and emotions. Literally, pranayama translates as ‘extension of the prana’ or ‘breath control”. Pranayama practice allows you to rejuvenate the entire body and prolong your lifespan. We can practice pranayama as a separate type of yoga technique, or use it as a component of the complex of yoga practice.
The fifth limb: PRATYAHARA
‘Pratyahara’ means ‘gaining mastery over external influences’.
The purpose of this limb is to achieve a state of the distraction of the senses from the surrounding reality and the circulation of the gaze and consciousness inside of you. In other words, pratyahara is the ability to concentrate and not be distracted by various external stimuli. This step gives you the vision of the internal systems, understanding what can stop your personal and inner growth.
The sixth limb: DHARANA
Dharana means ‘concentration’ or ‘single focus’. By concentrating and abstracting, we get distracted from external ‘noise’. This is how we can calm down our minds, which distracts us from knowing more than we are able to understand. It helps us to see the limitless of our possibilities. At this stage, there is a skill to slow down the thought process by focusing on sound, image, energy or body.
The seventh limb: DHYANA
Dhyana means ‘contemplation, reflection’ and ‘profound, abstract meditation’. This is the stage of the full development of the properties of meditation and concentration. Conscious inhibition of thought processes allows one to calm the mind, to feel serenity, not to give rise to new thoughts. To reach this stage, you need endurance and strength. For achieving this, you have to put in a lot of effort and time.
The eighth limb: SAMADHI
Samadhi is a state of intense concentration that can be achieved through meditation. This is a state of bliss and understanding. On this stage, you extend the boundaries of your Self. You start feeling the connection between the divine origin and all living things, unity with nature and the world.
Samadhi is the highest stage of meditation, in which a person experiences oneness with the universe. In samadhi, the mind becomes still. You become totally aware of the present moment.
What Is Yama?
As you can see, Yama is the second limb of yoga.
Yamas represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules. It means “reining in” or “control”. These are restraints for Proper Conduct as given in the Holy Veda. The 5 Yamas are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals.
The 5 Yamas are:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint.
Mastering these 5 Yamas is necessary in order to practice niyamas, asanas, pranayama and all other stages of the “eight-step path of yoga”.
Now let’s take a deeper look at each of the 5 Yamas!
The 5 Yamas
Yama #1: Ahiṃsā
As I already said, Ahimsa focuses on nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
Ahimsa is similar to the biblical principle “Thou shalt not kill.” In yoga, however, this principle is more extensive. Ahimsa is the renunciation of violence against anyone or anything, including oneself and the natural order of the world.
Why is it so important to renounce violence? If we look at this principle more globally, the main problems on this planet are caused by violence. This applies to the Planet, animals, people and many other living beings, i.e. to nature as a whole. After all, our planet is the same living organism as all the others, only in a slightly different form. That is why it is necessary to have the right attitude to the world.
From the point of view of the law of karma, causing harm or violence to other living beings, we earn negative karma. Accordingly, the more people, for example, kill animals, the more negative karma they accumulate. And each individual karma eventually forms the collective karma of society, as a result of which everyone will suffer in one way or another. If we help others to understand the consequences of their actions, then the overall situation on the Planet will improve.
How to practice Ahimsa?
Practice being more kind, accepting, and forgiving of yourself and others. Stop eating animals, fish, eggs, and other products of murder. Buy only cruelty-free products that were not tested on animals. Recycle your trash so it won’t harm our planet. Stop buying and wearing leather, fur, silk, and other materials that were created as a result of killing. Start being more mindful of what you are investing your money in. Don’t sponsor violence, cruelty, murder, and harm.
Yama #2: Satya
Satya focuses on truthfulness and non-falsehood.
“Truthfulness” means seeing and reporting things as they are rather than the way we would like them to be.
The importance of this prescription is obvious. When we are truthful to ourselves we can see the internal problems that exist, and, therefore, to make efforts to solve them. When we see a problem, it is easier for us to understand and choose the tool that will help solve it. Only when we are truthful with ourselves can we be truthful with others.
Perhaps some of you would ask: “Can we lie for good or saying a half-truth?” To begin with, in many Vedic Scriptures, the Buddha and many other sages of the past sometimes told only half-truths to the disciples. It is important to understand why they could do this. The fact is that their level of development allowed them to see all the karmic consequences of their words for the disciple. Therefore they could do it without hurting anyone. There are not too many people who can do the same nowadays. Most people still struggle to control their egos. And ego can blind anyone! That’s why it’s better not to experiment with karma and stay committed to truthfulness.
There is also the energy aspect of lies. Guided by false thoughts, deeds, and sayings, a person forms a reality that contradicts the objective reality. So with the help of the lies he/she says, he/she creates around him/her such an energy that after a while will make him/her see the world around him/her is not what it really is. Because of this, a person will constantly be making mistakes and experience confusion in life. His life eventually will turn into an illusion.
Moreover, according to karmic law, we always attract what we radiate. If you allow yourself to lie, you also give other people permission to lie to you.
However, by telling the truth you should always remember to follow the first Yama – Ahimsa (non-violence, non-harming). Don’t harm anyone by telling the truth.
For example, if a person is a thief and you know it, you can not hide this fact or lie about it! Otherwise, your lie or silence about it will harm others who will be robbed. Everything is pretty clear with this example.
Now let me give you another example. Many decades ago there was a Brahman who devoted his existence to the study of the Scriptures. Once, during his meditation, a cow ran by. Sometime later, the butcher who wanted to kill the cow came. He asked the Brahman which way the cow had run. Because the Brahman has been speaking only the truth all his life, as the Scriptures say, he showed the direction.
When the butcher overtook and killed the animal, the Brahman went to the hellish planets to be judged by Yamaraj. The Brahman did not understand why he was there. Yamaraj charged him that he was responsible for the death of the cow.
Living without lies is hard enough, especially if the truth hurts others. Lying is a distortion of reality, which entails certain consequences. It is important to learn how to present information so that it does not harm anyone. However, only a few who have reached certain heights in spiritual development can do so.
How to practice Satya?
In order for us to start practicing Satya, we need to learn to recognize the cascade of negative emotions that prompt us to twist reality. Once we have understood and processed those emotions, our thoughts, speech, and actions can be realigned with the truth, even as we look more deeply into our needs and desires. Outwardly, refrain from telling lies and speak with kindness, compassion, and clarity.
Yama #3: Asteya
Asteya focuses on non-stealing. In other words, it is the renunciation of the desire to possess what does not belong to us.
Speaking of energy, it should be said that everything that a person has, in one way or another, is impregnated with his/her energy. A good example is clothing that carries the energy of the person who wore it. If a person stole something from someone, he undeservedly appropriated part of the vital energy of its owner. According to the law of conservation of energy, that loss must be replenished. And then the one who stole will suffer to compensate for the energy balance.
It is important to understand that suffering can manifest itself, both in this life and the next. The law of karma is absolute.
Usually, people associate stealing with tangible objects. However, intangibles, such as information and emotional favors, are more likely to be the objects stolen in our world.
How to practice Asteya?
Since the urge to steal arises from a sense of unhappiness, incompleteness, and envy, the solution is to practice giving any chance you get. Get involved in charity, get a volunteering job. Give food; give money; give time. Since abundance is ultimately a state of mind, you will feel increasingly abundant; and through selfless giving and serving, your sense of inner abundance may bring you outer wealth.
Yama #4: Aparigraha
Aparigraha focuses on non-avarice and non-possessiveness.
This yoga principle teaches not to be attached to things. It is similar to the previous Yama, however, when practicing aparigraha you should not get attached to anything. In other words, you should follow the principle: “all the things of the world are yours to use, but not to own”.
For every single thing you own you need to invest a certain amount of energy. Everything you have needs to be fed by energy. And you are the one who unconsciously gives your energy to every single thing you own.
We should be very careful about what we buy, how often and for what purpose. It is necessary to ensure that each purchase was as rational as possible. In addition, the principle of non-violence should always be kept in mind. Before you buy a thing, think about what it is made of.
We need to learn how to make good use of the possessions that come to us and enjoy them without becoming emotionally dependent on them. Then they neither control us nor lead to false identities and expectations.
How to practice Aparigraha?
In order for us to start practicing Aparigraha, we need to examine our own tendencies toward possessiveness. To learn more read my article “Quiz: Are You Attached To Material Possessions?”.
The practice of non-possessiveness helps us to examine our assumptions and guides us back to healthy relationships with others.
To learn more about Aparigraha, read my article “Aparigraha: An Essential Step In Your Spiritual Evolution!“.
Yama #5: Brahmacharya
The literal translation of brahmacharya is “walking in God-consciousness.” Brahmacharya turns the mind inward, balancing and supervising the senses, and leads to freedom from dependencies and cravings. When the mind is freed from domination by the senses, sensual pleasures are replaced by inner joy.
Brahmacharya focuses on chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint.
This requirement has a very broad basis. Starting from excessive sexual pleasures, ending with attachment to taste sensations.
Now let us consider in more detail why the sages of the past tried to avoid sexual relations almost completely. This was done in order to accumulate and raise energy as much as possible, to serve as much as possible for the benefit of society, using the seed only for procreation. It is worth making an important reservation that orgasm and ejaculation are completely different things.
Of course, in modern society, all the media and the so-called mass culture, constantly propagandize and install in the people’s consciousness of the maximum possible satisfaction of sexual desires. Because of this, it is very difficult to change what has been laid in the mind for decades. But nothing is impossible.
The need to control sexual energy is connected with the fact that, satisfying sexual passions, a person loses a huge amount of vital energy in the process of obtaining such a short-term pleasure. And when there is no energy, it becomes impossible to think about self-improvement and engage in spiritual practices on a higher level.
Of course, you may say: “Though I have sex 3-4 times a week, I still have the energy for my spiritual development”. And then I would answer: “You have no idea what you are capable of! You’re using just a very small percent of your potential! If you had more energy you would be able to master so much more in this life! You would discover hidden talents, passion for science, psychic abilities, immediate manifesting abilities, healing gifts, etc.”
The same applies to attachments to taste sensations. It is believed that the more you are attached to taste, the more vital energy you spend on the enjoyment of food. In this way, you need to strive to ensure that the food is simple and healthy and doesn’t stimulate your taste in the way that you get addicted to it. This will save more energy for a more efficient life and development.
Usually, attachments to taste and sexual desires testify to the energy blockage of the Svadhisthana chakra. In this case, an effective method, in addition to the practice of the asanas, is a cleansing technique Shank Prakshalana. It allows you not only to physically cleanse the body of toxins but also it can cleanse your energy.
How to practice Brahmacharya?
Be honest with yourself about what dependencies and cravings you have. Start making wise choices about the books and magazines you read, the food you eat, the movies you see, and the company you keep. It will help you conserve energy and keep your mind focused and dynamic.
Learn to be moderate in all sensual activities so that you don’t dwell on them. Staying committed and faithful to one partner in a relationship. This is a good way to start practicing Brahmacharya.
The Bottom Line
It is through your personal practice that you can learn the basics of yoga, which will help to achieve spiritual enlightenment in the future. Attentively study and find your own ways to practice the 5 Yamas in your everyday life. Then you’ll be able to build your own path to spiritual enlightenment. Even if you are just a beginner in yoga and meditation, practicing the 5 Yamas above will help to make a great start on your spiritual path!