What are the Yamas?

Lately, I have had a lot of new students attending my yoga classes, and many of them are completely brand new to yoga. I love it! I love that so many people are curious about yoga! I’ve asked many of them what their reason is for wanting to give yoga a try, and what astounded me is that the majority are coming to yoga because they’ve heard about the benefits yoga can provide for not only their physical health but their mental health. Many have shared with me their stories of how stress and anxiety have overtaken their lives, and they want to feel better and to gain clarity.

I get it…I know firsthand how transformative yoga can be to your entire life!

I also know how scary it can seem when you’re brand new to yoga and you start hearing terminology that makes no sense to you…and that you don’t even know how to pronounce! 😉Things like the “eight limbs”, asana, ayurveda…sound familiar?

In this post, I wanted to break down what the Yamas are, as they are the first limb of the Eight Limbs of yoga. I actually recorded a podcast episode that provides an introduction to the Eight Limbs, so feel free to check that out wherever you listen to your podcasts. You can click on the Podcast link in the navigation above to find the episode (S2, E2) as well.

The Yamas are the first part of a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Yoga philosophy. The Yamas refer to the things that affect ourselves and others that we should restrain from doing, and they are considered to be external restraints. They are referred to in a variety spiritual texts, but the way I will be referring to them here is based on how they are talked about in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.


When it comes to the Yamas and the things we should cease doing, there are five that are referred to in the Yoga Sutras:

  • Ahimsa: This is all about nonviolence or non-harming. It’s the basic act of being kind, not only to others, but to ourselves. Back in June 2022, I wrote a post all about ahimsa, which you can read here.
  • Satya: This is all about truth. It means being honest and true to ourselves and others with our thoughts, words and actions. You can read my post that explores satya in detail here.
  • Asteya: This translates to non-stealing, but it’s more than just the surface definition of stealing we all know. This refers to the deeper meanings, where we work to make sure we are not stealing time, objects or words. I delved deeper into asteya in this post.
  • Brahmacharya: This one is all about using your energy wisely, including your sexual energy. Historically, brahmacharya meant celibacy, but today, it’s often interpreted as moderation or the “middle way”. Read more about brahmacharya in this post from August 2022.
  • Aparigraha: This one is about not taking more than you need, and not clinging to things like possessions, thoughts, relationships, jobs or ways of being. In other words, it’s the art of letting go. Read more about aparigraha in my October 2022 post here.

It’s hard sometimes to think about “giving up” things. But know this: Patanjali described the Yamas as restraints that we willingly and joyfully place on ourselves so that we can focus our efforts on the direction we want our lives to move in, similar to the way a rider reins in their horse to guide it in the direction they need to go.

When you think about the Yamas the way Patanjali intendeded, it is seen as a positive force in our lives, something that helps us live in harmony with others and move toward fulfilling our life’s purpose. Each of my blog posts linked to above includes various ways you can work on each of the five Yamas in your own life, including how your physical yoga practice can be used.

For me, once I got to a place in my yoga practice where I wanted to explore the more philosophical and spritual sides, that is when I really started to see a shift in myself. By no means am I perfect…I am a work in progress and always will be. It takes concentrated focus on a regular basis for me to be able to practice the yamas and bring them into my life because the world as it exists today makes it hard to live ethically. At least, that is the case for me.

What about you? Do you work already on weaving the Yamas into your life? If so, is it challenging for you like it is for me? I would love to know what works for you, what doesn’t, what questions you have…reach out to me or comment below. It can be isolating when we tackle these deeper aspects of all that is yoga, so let’s work together on the things that are difficult or confusing.

Namaste and Have a Sparkling Day!

— Melanie

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