An introduction to the 5 Yamas

Learn about the 5 Yamas - the first limb in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

5 Yamas - the 8 limbs of yoga

The 5 Yamas are the first limb of the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga‘ originating from the ancient Indian philosophical text, ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. Each limb describes a different aspect of a yoga practice, all leading towards freedom and enlightenment. 

The 5 Yamas

The Yamas are primarily concerned with the world around us and our interaction with it.  By considering these aspects in our daily practice on and off the yoga mat, all of our decisions and actions come from a more considered, aware and ‘higher’ place, and this enables us to become more authentic towards ourselves and others. 

1. Ahimsa (non-violence)

Ahimsa can be interpreted as: not physically harming others, ourselves, or nature; not thinking negative thoughts about others or ourselves; and making sure that what we do and how we do it is done in harmony, rather than causing harm. Read more about Ahimsa.

2. Satya (truthfulness)

Satya is truthfulness, but it’s more than just telling the truth. The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘unchangeable’. Our thoughts, emotions and moods are interchangeable, yet these are the things that create our own truth. In yoga we work on creating a little space so that we can realise that we are not just our thoughts. More on Satya

3. Asteya (non-stealing)

Asteya means ‘non-stealing’, but like the other Yamas and Niyamas, it means so much more that that. It arises from the Vritti (thoughts/fluctuations of the mind) – ‘I’m not good enough’ or ‘I don’t have enough’. It arises from the lack of faith in ourselves. The word yoga means ‘to yoke’, ‘unite’, ‘connect’, or essentially to become ‘whole’, so by practicing each aspect of yoga on and off the mat, we can move further towards feeling as though we already have enough, and we already are enough within ourselves. More about Asteya

4. Brahmacharya (moderation of the senses/right use of energy)

Brahmacharya is often translated as ‘celibacy’ – and is often considered irrevelant in our modern culture. The word Brahmacharya actually translates as ‘behaviour which leads to Brahman’. Brahman is thought of as ‘the creator’ in Hinduism and yogic terms. So Brahmacharya can be seen as ‘right use of energy’. It refers to directing our energy away from external desires and instead, towards finding peace and happiness within ourselves. More about Brahmacharya.

5. Aparigraha (non-greed)

Aparigraha – ‘non-greed’, ‘non-possessiveness’, and ‘non-attachment’. This important Yama teaches us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the moment and to let go when the time is right. Read more about Aparigraha.

Watch a talk on The 5 Yamas

Jennilee shares her enthusiasm and passion for the 5 Yamas: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacharya (Moderation of the Senses) and Aparigraha (Non-greed).

Explore Patanjali’s 5 Yamas in our online program

If you’d like to explore the 5 Yamas in practice, you can follow our program, ‘The Eight Limbs of Yoga‘. In this 8 week program our aim is to help you achieve a good grasp of each limb through informative talks, yoga, Pranayama and meditation. Go deeper and truly enrich your yoga practice and hopefully, your life. 

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Emma NewlynEmma is a 500hr registered yoga teacher, writer and holistic therapist based in Sussex, UK. With a passion for yoga philosophy and Ayurveda, she loves bringing these ancient methods to the modern world in an accessible and easy-to-implement way through her writing and courses. Emma leads the Yoga, Ayurveda & Holistic Health course in person the UK and also online Modern Ayurveda & Holistic Health courses, giving students tools and techniques to enhance their health and wellbeing.