The First limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: YAMA

Last month, we looked generally at Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  The Eight limbs are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Each month, we will take a close look at each ‘limb’ and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

This month’s focus: YAMA

Patanjali stipulates yama as the universal social discipline, the great commandment that transcends all ages, creeds, country and time. The term yama can have different interpretations; rein, curb, bridle, discipline or restraint.  In today’s context, yama would mean self-control or forbearance which would then describe one’s particular attitudes (disciplines) which then influences their behaviour.  The Yamas are the behaviour patterns or relationships between the individual and the outside world.  Patanjali mentions five different yamas:

  1. ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Let us look at Ahimsa, the first yama in more detail.

Ahimsa is non-violence or non-aggression not only in action but also in speech and thought.  One must observe ahimsa in the way they speak to others and even in their body language, cultivating love for all. One must see themselves as a servant to others, and be willing to put themselves at the service of others (when of course the purposes are good, not evil).  A truly helpful person is described as a public bus; it travels along a fixed route to a destination but available to all who care to use it.

Ahimsa requires more than simply an attitude of patience, control and endurance; it is a true open heart of love and forgiveness towards others.

Ahimsa means kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals.  This is one reason why you would often find many dedicated yogis who are committed to a vegetarian diet.  It is deeply connected to this notion of non-violence towards all living things.  Ahimsa calls us to reduce the suffering of others and helps us recognise the preciousness of all life.  Ahimsa is core to the spiritual and ethical practice of yoga.

Some reflection questions to consider on the role of ahimsa in your life:

  • Love can transform us… how has love in your life (through giving and receiving) transformed you in any way?
  • In what ways have you observed ahimsa in your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you have not observed ahimsa in the best way?
  • What is one thing you can give more attention to in your life that contributes to ahimsa?(Remember ahimsa encompasses thoughts, speech and actions … small acts are truly significant!)

Next month, we’ll look at the second Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path…. Satyam (truthfulness).

 Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (Sanskrit mantra)
May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.


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