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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Klemmetson

8 Limbs of Yoga: Yamas on the Mat

Updated: May 17, 2022

In Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, asana is the third limb. Asana is what many people think of when they hear the word “yoga.” But if asana is the third limb, what are the first two? Yamas and Niyamas are the first two limbs of yoga. Yamas are external practices, while Niyamas are internal ones. In this post, I’ll cover the Yamas and I’ll come back to discuss the Niyamas in a separate post.

At the end of this blog, you can find a link to my YouTube videos that cover the Yamas and Niyamas and how they can be applied in your yoga practice.

Ahimsa (nonviolence)

Ahimsa means that you honor and respect your body and where it’s at today. We are not going to push ourselves too hard to the point of pain or harm. You do what you can with this pose – and all poses – and respect the limits of your body every time you step to the mat. Some days, that might mean you can do more or less than other days. There is no right or wrong here, but with ahimsa we are actively working to do no harm to ourselves.

Ahimsa on the mat is a sincere effort to honor your body and calm your mind.

Satya (truth)

Now, let’s consider satya, truth, on the mat. There is truth that everything is constantly changing. There is truth that you change every single day. What is true and right for you right now may differ from what is true and right for you tomorrow. If you allow yourself to get lost in the changes and be swayed by your thoughts, feelings, opinions and changes in your body, then you will never be steady or comfortable with yourself. However, if you accept that change is constantly happening to and around you, you will be able to bring more truth to your yoga practice.

Your ability to do these yoga poses will change over time, but you can always return to a modified variation of a pose. Your body’s ability may change due to illness, injury or age. However, having an understanding of a steady and comfortable pose and being confident in your body will improve as you practice yoga and honor your truth every day.

Satya on the mat is allowing your practice to change with time and circumstances.

Asteya (nonstealing)

If you were practicing a seated forward fold in a yoga class full of other people, you may be tempted to look around and see how the person next to you can fold so much further than you. I know I’ve been guilty of this! It’s so easy to compare ourselves to others. But this is where asteya comes in. You are stealing joy from yourself. You are stealing the opportunity to see your own personal growth from yourself. You are stealing the chance to fold just a little bit deeper with every breath from yourself. When you compare yourself to others and judge your progress against an outside force, you are stealing from yourself.

Brahmacharya (celibacy or vitality)

Historically and at its roots, brahmacharya means celibacy. However, today most people use it to mean vitality. It means that we are consciously not depleting our energy. We are working toward consistency in our lives. We are aiming to breathe and move effortlessly, so our vitality and our spirit can shine through in our lives.

By giving our bodies the opportunity to rest, by consciously breathing, and by being aware of our body and our breath, we are able to conserve energy and vitality, so we can move through our practice and our lives with brahmacharya.

Aparigraha (nonattatchment)

When you practice aparigraha, or nonattachment, you are holding on to the confidence you have in yourself to know that you have exactly what you need right now. Keep only what you need. Get rid of the things that no longer serve us. Aparigraha can give us freedom to do what we love, to be around who we love, to have what we love… and to acknowledge the things that are no long for us and to let those things go.

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