Yama, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, is based in the practice of relationship and can be translated as ethical principles. The practice of Yama begins with AHIMSA or nonviolence. Another way to view this is that all yoga begins from, and is practiced with, ‘love’ or ‘kindness’. Our lives are made up of relationships; from our close personal relationships to the never-ending relationship we have with our environment (including what we eat), what we do and how we do it impacts other aspects of life. Ahimsa lays the basis of any yoga practice, and indicates that the yogis approach to sadhana (practice) should cultivate a desire not to harm – or in some cases to do least harm to – other beings.

AHIMSA applies to all relationships, but it must first apply to the most important relationship – the one you have with yourself. All other relationships reflect the way we treat our self, making the core essence of Ahimsa (loving kindness) impossible without first directing it inwards through our everyday yoga sadhana (practice). Contrary to some interpretations, Ahimsa does not stipulate that a yogi must only do good deeds and act in a sweet manner. This is quite frankly impossible! Instead we are asked to exercise discriminating awareness in every situation and act appropriately to do least harm. Sometimes life will require action that seems to violate Ahimsa, but if done with love in our heart we will find a balanced resolution.

SATYA (truthfulness) is the second Yama and simply means to speak what is true and honest and then act accordingly. Satya builds upon Ahimsa, therefore speaking truths that violate this first Yama are not in accordance with true Satya.

ASTEYA (not stealing) is the third Yama. This is fairly obvious as practical advice, but also has a deep subtle relevance to our relationships with physical objects and our perceived ‘ownership’ of them.

BRAHMACARYA, the fourth Yama is often translated as celibacy, but in fact pertains to ethical sexual practice, rather than abstinence.

APARIGRAHA (not grasping) is the fifth Yama and underlines the tendency for the mind to snatch at ideas and physical things and quickly claim them for its own as if saying “this I identify with, this I do not” or “this I agree with, this I do not”. The mind’s desire to reduce our experience to ‘this’ and ‘that’ is the inevitable trap all yoga students experience to begin with. Feeling like we understand something or own something gives the mind a false sense of control and fills us with power and certainty. Yet this temporary bubble will soon burst as we delve deeper and we learn more about it. By grasping at life we close our hearts and immediately stop listening and learning to the present moment. 

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