The Yamas

A guide for what not to do.

Collectively, the yamas mean “do not harm.” The yama practice is restraint and avoidance of harmful actions and thoughts.

Truthfulness gives the yogi power to attain for himself and for others the fruits of work

Yoga Sutra 2.36

The yamas are the first of the eight-step path and consist of: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, abstinence and non-greed.


Ahimsa is an approach to daily interactions that foster peace, love and compassionate action. Although the vocabulary sounds like a diatribe only seen in swirling script on candles and doormats, in fact, peace, love and compassion are as timeless as life itself. This first part of the yamas is the challenge to be acutely aware of one’s own actions and contributions.

To live a life of ahimsa takes diligence, restraint and awareness. Furthermore, practicing ahimsa is to avoid violent thoughts; ward off contempt and ill will by practicing kindness. Finally, ahimsa includes practicing compassion towards the self and avoiding negative self-talk and destructive criticism.

In the company of non-violent individuals, all hostilities will cease.

Yoga Sutra 2.35
Satya: truthfulness

Literally means to speak the universal truth. Practicing satya equates to speaking the truth as well as possible.

Satya is the separation between judgement and observation. A judgement is an unfiltered observation and, while maybe true, it is not always within the realm of satya to express it.

If you think of a family member and say “that person is untrustworthy and always late,” you are expressing unkind judgement. Instead, if you say, “this person frustrates me because I like to be on time,” you are expressing your desires in relation to the person rather than judgement according to an arbitrary self-imposed standard. Both statements are true, but by removing the judgement, you are speaking in a greater truth about your relationship to the person.

Practice satya by speaking the truth about yourself and others but understand that judgements, while true, are not always necessary. There is no need to tell your friend that her new haircut is ugly, even if it’s true! Speak with honesty, but be kind and compassionate with your words.

Truthfulness gives the yogi power to attain for himself and for others the fruits of work.

Yoga Sutra 2.36
Asteya: nonstealing

Theft is to take or covet that which does not belong to you. Practice asteya by refraining from taking that which does not belong to you and also avoid desiring something that is not yours. In the yoga sutras, there is no distinction between thoughts and actions when it comes to theft. Furthermore, stealing also includes violating someone’s trust. Practice asteya by being content with what you have, living in the present moment and respecting the people with whom you come in contact. The practice of yoga is all about removing unnecessary desires. If you truly need something, it will find its way to you. It is not necessary to steal.

By the establishment of non-stealing, all wealth comes to the yogi.

Yoga Sutra 2.37
Aparigraha: Non-greed

Aparigraha is to practice being rather than becoming or having. The intention is to remain focused on the present moment.

According to the yoga sutras, attachment to material possessions creates suffering. The problem lies in the wanting of what one cannot have and suffering due to the absence of a thing. Practice aparigraha by gracefully living in the present moment, embracing what exists now and letting go of what does not or cannot exist.

In the end, only three things matter:
how gently you lived
how much you loved
how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. 

When he is fixed in non-receiving, he gets the memory of past life.

Yoga Sutra 2.39
Bramacharya: abstinence

Historically, bramacharya meant celibacy. Yogis gave up sexual relations in the quest for pure and devotional energy. The self-restraint that it took to give up sex delivered a clear mind and enhanced commitment to use that energy in a compassionate way.

Giving up sex altogether may or may not be realistic. However, it’s worth examining what type of sexual relations you are engaging in. Are they mutual and loving? Are they bringing joy and ease? Intimate relationships can be extremely distracting. Bramacharya is a suggestion to avoid sexual relations that are distracting from one’s intention, which is compassionate and honest living.

Furthermore, since sexual relations include another person, it’s worth asking whether you are being compassionate to your partner. Practice bramacharya as a technique to avoid stealing someone else’s joy, pride or happiness.

By the establishment of continence, energy is gained.

Yoga Sutra 2.38

Exercise: Five Real Ways to Practice the Yamas
Ahimsa: Take a criticism break. Every time you feel compelled to criticize yourself or anyone, write it down instead. At the end of the day, discard the critical notes in a small ceremony
Satya: Ask yourself if you are living truthfully. Are your relationships honest and kind? If you find yourself ruminating frequently about a professional or personal relationship, before sending any text or email, ask yourself: is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?   
Asteya: Examine if you’re stealing your own happiness by obsessing over the past or worrying about the future. Train yourself to be mindful by starting a gratitude journal.
Aparigraha: Share and give away everything you can. You can share food and give away clothes. You can also share benevolent kindness. That is, every time you sense someone is being mean to you, practice kindness without expectation of return.
Bramacharya: Use your energy well. Pay attention to how your romantic relationships feel.

By taigapaws

Land and Heart Yoga is an online yoga studio. Book retreats, yoga teacher trainings, meditation and asana classes with Kate. Wild yoga. For wherever you are.