Social Studies: The Yamas Of Ashtanga Yoga

Ashtanga means yoga following the 8-limb path, as elucidated by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra.  The 8 limbs begin with guidelines for interacting with others and finish with ultimate bliss and self-realization, moving from the most external towards the most internal as the practitioner moves along the path.  The limbs show us a method for gaining control of the mind, escaping constant mental clutter and emotional ups and downs. The 8 limbs are yama (social discipline), niyama (individual discipline), asana (the physical practice we all think of as yoga), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense control), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (self-realization).  Of the yamas, Patanjali tells us, ““The Great Vows are universal, not limited by class, time or circumstance” – Yoga Sutra II:31.

The Yamas are the first limb of Ashtanga yoga and are meant as guidelines for how we interact with society.  They are social, moral codes thought of as great, universal vows.  The yamas are:

  • Ahimsa: Non-harming.  Do not cause pain to others through thought, word or action.  Be kind toward others, always.
  • Satya: Truthfulness.  Be true to yourself and to others, always and without exception.  Use your speech to uplift others.
  • Asteya: Non-stealing.  Do not take what isn’t yours, including other people’s time.  Give back whenever you can.
  • Brahmacharya: Moderation/Continence.  Practice moderation sexually and materially.  Use sex as a unifying and uplifting experience.
  • Aparigraha: Greedlessness.  Do not desire that which isn’t yours and don’t hoard.  Share what you do have.

The purpose of the yamas is to begin to focus your intention and purify the mind and body.  Undertaking these moral restraints is the first step in trying to live yoga in a practical and everyday way. Think about your efforts as creating positivity and fairness in your own life and the world.  Don’t be discouraged when you are interacting with others who don’t seem to be following these moral guidelines.  Uplift others and inspire them through your actions.  Live the yamas and notice the difference in how others are effected by your presence.

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