Beyond Asana: 8 Limbs of Yoga – Yama

Yoga is not just about asana.

According to the Yoga Sutra, compiled by Patanjali Maharishi, the practices of Ashtanga yoga or Raja yoga can be divided into 8 limbs, which form the foundation that guides yogis to Samadhi, the super conscious state.

Yama is the first limb of the eight. It describes five practices that yogis or yoga practitioners do as a form of management of life: ahimsa, satya, asteya, bramhacharya, and aparigraha.


Himsa in Sanskrit means to injure or harm. And hence, ahimsa literally translates into non harming or non violence. An individual who practices ahimsa will not have any hostility or harmful behaviours towards others and in turn, others will do the same to him or her as well. 


Satya in Sanskrit loosely translates into truthfulness or not telling lies. Patanjali mentioned that all humans, by nature, walk, talk and act with and under lies. So we need to align our core intentions behind our words and actions with truth and ultimately when we become grounded firmly in truth, truth presents itself in us even without words. As yoga practitioners or instructors, in teaching, if there are things we do not know, we should be honest about it and only share or impart the truth or what we know or have experienced before.


Translating into non stealing. Humans crave for things that they do not possess, including things such as time, attention and people, and they may try to act in ways that draw these things towards them, away from others if these things have belonged to others in the first place, that is “stealing”. If one is able to release the tension that comes forth due to such craving, he/she will be to gain enlightenment gradually. In teaching, we do not “steal” students or their attention from other instructors. And by starting and ending classes on time, it is also a way of practising asteya  (not “stealing” their time).


The path of divinity, living like a God (Bramha). It is practising celibacy. However as that may be difficult for non yogis, yoga practitioners may see it as a form of commitment and devotion in what they do or follow.


Parigraha refers to taking more than one needs, in other words, possessiveness and greed. Thus, aparigraha translates to non possessiveness. To be aware that nothing can be possessed, including your own mind and body, helps you to see a bigger picture.