The Meaning of Yama

(This article refers to yama as outlined in Patanjali yoga sutras, not Yama the Hindu god of death.)

Yama definition states the first of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in the yoga sutras. Yama is also sometimes called “the five restraints” because it describes what one should avoid to advance on the spiritual path.

Here is the full list with explanations about the 5 rules of Yama:

  • Ahimsa: Non-violence or harmlessness. This cannot always be practiced literally since it is not always possible in the normal course of living. Even washing one’s hands kills bacteria. To perfect ahimsa, one must not wish harm on any creature.
  • Satya: Non-lying or truthfulness. This doesn’t mean to be tactless, but to always tell the highest truth. It is in the “restraints” category because if one restrains oneself from wishing things were other than they are, one will always tell the truth.
  • Asteya: Non-covetousness. Not wishing for more than one has, or for what another has.
  • Brahmacharya: Sexual self-restraint. Literally means “flowing with Bramha.” This is often translated as celibacy, but can also just be taken as sexual self-control, or overcoming sexual desire. According to the yoga sutras, this practice will give one great mental and physical stamina because it prevents one’s energy from being expended in sexuality. Self control in all things is the direction of true growth.
  • Aparigraha: Non-possessiveness. Letting go of all attachment to one’s possessions, including one’s body, and being willing to relinquish them all at a moment’s notice. (1)

These 5 rules are meant as guidelines for everyone, especially spiritual seekers. They are meant most significantly to help yogis direct their energies in the best and highest manner to achieve the ultimate goal of Self-realization.

Further Studies That Includes the Yamas

Learn The Path of Kriya Yoga
Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras Video Series
Demystifying Patanjali: The Yoga Sutras book

  1. Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography, Swami Kriyananda. Chapter 25, “The Eightfold Path of Patanjali.”