the yamas

What is a "Yama," anyway? To some people, a Yama is a mountain mammal whose wool is woven into warm sweaters. We prefer clothes made from luon® (less itchy, thanks) so when we refer to a "Yama" we're talking about the first "limb" of Patanjali's 8 Limbs of Yoga. The 5 Yamas are universal practices that help us move forward in our personal and spiritual development. Practicing Yoga's "golden rules" ('Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.') helps us attain a healthy mind and body, and it's important to follow them without the desire for an end goal.

1. Ahimsa (non-violence): Ahimsa means practicing kindness to others, to animals and to ourselves in every thought and action. (Even if you never speak them, negative thoughts can be just as damaging as actions.) When we are compassionate and accepting of all ways of life (even if they seem "out there"), we can handle any situation with grace.


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2. Asteya (non-stealing): Asteya teaches that everything we need in life is already within us. By choosing Asteya, we rise above our "base cravings" and become self-sufficient because we no longer desire something outside of ourselves. Feeling gratitude for what we have and only taking what's freely given (this includes other people's time and ideas) makes it easy to swap out feelings of envy or entitlement for authentic generosity.


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3. Brahmacharya (moderation, non-excess): Brahmacharya teaches us to recognize that moment of "just enough" so we don't move past it into uncomfortable excess. Maybe it's by pushing away the plate of french fries or using our pent-up energy for a run. By focusing inward, we keep our bodies healthy and energetic. (And hey, there are some things we're better off avoiding altogether.) Where in your life could you practice moderation?


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4. Aparigraha (non-possessiveness, absence of greed): You know that adage about "Keeping up with the Joneses?" Aparigraha is the opposite of that. Aparigraha teaches contentment with what we have, instead of grasping after what we don't have. Letting go of attachment to "things" (like possessions, or grudges) is really freeing. The philosopher Epicetus nailed it when he wrote, "Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants."
5. Satya (truth in word and thought, absence of falsehood): At first glance, Satya seems like the easiest yamato explain: be truthful. But truth is more than the absence of lie-telling. Satya teaches a practice of truthfulness in our words, our thoughts and our actions, including to ourselves. Facing uncomfortable truths (and knowing when it's the right time to speak them) does not usually feel awesome, which is why it's important to practice Ahimsa (nonviolence) together with Satya.

hear our "Yama Talk" podcast

Want to read more on Yoga philosophy? Try these books:

  • The Yamas & Niyamas by Deborah Adele
  • The Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga
  • Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope
  • The Yoga Sutra by Patanjali (there are many translations of this work,
    we referenced Sri Swami Satchidananda's book)
  • How Yoga Works by Gershe Michael Roach