The 8 Limbs of Yoga: Breaking Down the Basics, Limb #1 – Yama

How many times have you heard your yoga teacher say that the physical practice of yoga is only the tip of the iceberg?!  A million?  Get ready to hear it again – the physical practice of yoga, or the asana, is only the tip of an eight-legged iceberg big enough to sink a zillion Titanics!

There are eight aspects, or limbs, of traditional yoga studies. Throughout this series of posts we will explore each one and spend the week trying to incorporate it into our life – both on and off the mat!

The first limb of yoga is Yama. Yama can be viewed as one’s sense of universal morality. Basically, the attitude we have toward people or things outside ourselves. It is mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and is even further broken down into five characteristics or “laws” by which to live. As you consider each characteristic, explore the ways you can implement these practices into your daily life. Think about how much you follow each guideline and in what areas you may be able to strengthen your mental yoga practice!

The characteristics are as follows:

Ahimsa – Compassion for all living things. Ahimsa literally means “non-violence” but also translates to kindness and thoughtful consideration of all living things around us. It also suggests that we adopt a loving attitude and do no harm in any situation. This is the characteristic that frequently leads yogis into a vegetarian lifestyle – the idea that kindness and consideration should be extended to all living creatures!

Are there situations where you can find more compassion in your life?

Sataya – Commitment to truthfulness. “Speaking the truth”, or better put “speaking your truth”, is the second yogic characteristic under universal morality. It means to be honest and impeccable with your word while also being conscious of others’ feelings. It is better to keep silence than create negative consequences for another. It is honest communication that leads to a better, more cohesive relationship, workplace or community.

When do you “speak your truth”? Can your voice be heard in a positive, constructive way? Have you ever spoken without regard to a friend, family member or colleague’s feelings?

Asteya – Non-stealing. Now this characteristic may go without too much explanation, but begin to consider a situation in which someone entrusts or confides in us. We are told not to take advantage of him or her. Asteya not only means non-stealing of things that belong to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose than intended. Additionally, “stealing” of someone else’s time, their energy and their scheduling falls under this “law”.

Have you ever stolen something intangible without regard to another’s feelings? How can you act differently? Consider confidences you have or are holding for someone else. Contemplate the end times of scheduled activities. Have you left others waiting for you? Try to challenge yourself and stick to a schedule this week!

Brahmacharya – Self-control. While Bramacharya is sometimes used in the sense of sexual abstinence, it also means that we should foster relationships that lead to an understanding of a higher truth. We are told to focus our energy on reconnecting to a spiritual truth, or of self-reflection.

Where can you self-reflect a little more? Are most of your relationships mutually beneficial? Consider examining your interpersonal interactions to see if you are focusing your energy rather than draining it. Let go of those “toxic” people in your life and use this energy to connect within yourself on and off the yoga mat!

Aparigraha – Neutralize the desire to acquire and hoard wealth. This characteristic means to take only what is necessary. We should not take advantage of a situation or act greedy. It also shows us to let go of attachments to things and come to an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.

This may be the most difficult universal morality characteristic to follow in our lives today. As we strive for more and more it may seem counterintuitive to let go of more and more, but sometimes letting go of a material thing allows us to delve deeper spiritually.

How can you implement this “law” into your life?

And there you have the five sub-limbs of the first limb of yoga, Yama! Remember that these are merely guidelines for a yogic life off the mat and a beautiful way to check in every now and then! Just by being aware of these aspects you are opening up spiritually and letting in a little more light!

Share with us your journey! What characteristics are your favorites? The easiest to follow? Hardest? We want to know!

With love and light,


3 thoughts on “The 8 Limbs of Yoga: Breaking Down the Basics, Limb #1 – Yama

  1. I’ve finally found exercise that I can’t wait to get to. Many thanks to all Berkeley Green Yogi folks, especially Naushon & Mary! Three months in, I’ve found great joy & happiness in my practices. I’m experiencing something I’ve never had before. This, coupled with another practice, I am finding serenity & peace of mind, & I’m still so new to yoga, with much beauty on the horizon. Again, many thanks to Mary & Naushon!

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