In the Yoga Sutra by the sage Patanjali, there is a path laid forth which leads the seeker to union with the divine. This union is to Patanjali the true goal of yoga. This path is called the 8-limbed path and it begins with the limb called the Yamas. These are the basic ethical tenets of the philosophy of yoga. The sage saw the Yamas as a vow made by the yogi toward the world and its inhabitants and towards oneself.
The first Yama is the practice of Ahimsa which is acting, thinking, and being in a state of non-violence toward the world and oneself. Our natural state is to react to the world and ourselves with violence in physical ways but also in our mental ways through irritation, judgment, and anger. In the practice of non-violence, we seek to control and separate from these urges. It requires discipline and perseverance to not only keep yourself from violence but to then become active and pursue compassion and love. This practice must extend not only to those around us, but also to ourselves which is where the journey begins.
By practicing compassion toward ourselves, we acknowledge our faults but then give ourselves grace and acceptance. We are then able to offer compassion and even forgiveness to those who have offended us in small and large ways.
The second Yama is Satya which is the practice of truthfulness. This means being truthful with and to yourself, embracing what is true to you and living in integrity rather than trying to please others by pretending to be something that you are not. It means being truthful about your weaknesses and struggles. It is about acting with honesty toward yourself and toward others.
The third Yama is Brahmacharya which is restrain of our physical impulses or base instincts. By controlling these urges, which include our sex drive, we enable ourselves to become more focused mentally. It is the practice of moderation that allows us to break away from addictive behaviors and the physical impulses which if indulged in too often, allow them to rule over us.
The fourth Yama is Asteya or to not covet. In order to live a peaceful life, we must train our minds and hearts to be content with what we have rather than always seeking to satisfy our unending need for more. By seeking more and more, we actually create an unhappiness within ourselves which no amount of acquisition will satisfy. It is only by letting go of our desire for what others have that will we be able to truly be happy and at peace.
The fifth Yama is Aparigraha which is interpreted by some as not stealing or as not grasping. It is being able to let go of what we tend to cling to. This can be possessions or the way our lives are. When we lose what we possess, or our lives change, we often resist and this creates unhappiness. We must learn to let go in order to be peaceful and accept what we do have or what we have been given, even if that means accepting what has been taken away as well. By letting go, we are better able to see what is truly important, which is our true self.
The practice of the Yamas of yoga opens a doorway to living a more balanced and healthy life. It allows us to see what is holding us captive, whether that is our urges and desires or what we have been clinging to which may be in the form of lies, possessions, relationships or the status quo. It also opens our hearts to give freely to others without expecting anything in return because we know that we already have what we need.