Eight Limbs: Yama

In an effort to put my recently acquired knowledge to real-world use, and to improve upon my own personal existence, I decided this morning to take on the challenge of immersing myself into the eight limbs of yoga. I, fortunately, know a great coach.

As Yājñavalkya advised Gārgi Vachaknavi on the limbs, I will supplement my own application of these practices with the advisements of my wife. Since the Yoga Yājñavalkya predates Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras I will primarily be using the former as a guide, but will also reference the latter as I take on the challenge of the limbs.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Name Sanskrit Definition
Yama यम ethical rules of living
Niyama नियम positive duties or observances; recommended activities and habits for healthy living, spiritual enlightenment and liberated state of existence
Āsana आसन comfortable (seated) posture
Prāṇāyāma प्राणायाम control of breath/life force (prana)
Pratyāhāra प्रत्याहार withdrawal of the senses
Dhāraṇā धारणा concentration/focus
Dhyāna ध्यान profound meditation
Samādhi समाधि spiritual state of consciousness

I’m starting this journey with yamas, the ethical rules of living. Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra (2.30) cites five, but I will also be exploring the ten of Raja Yoga and as found in the Yoga Yājñavalkya (1.50-70), the Śāṇḍilya Upaniṣad, and Svātmārāma’s Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā. Some will be easier than others and, clearly, some will be more difficult. It is important to acknowledge, according to Swami Muktibodhananda, that, “in hatha yoga the whole system [of yamas and niyamas] has been designed for the people of kali yuga.”1 He adds that originally it was most important to first control the mind and then to purify the body, but since we are in a different age (many believe we are no longer in Kali Yuga) a person can too easily experience a multitude of problems by confronting his/her mind first. Perhaps the time has come to purify the body first, then confront the mind.

Non-violence, truth, non-stealing, continence (being absorbed in a pure state of consciousness), forgiveness, endurance, compassion, humility, moderate diet and cleanliness are the ten rules of conduct (yama). – Haṭhayōgapradīpikā 1.16.2


Yama, the son of Sūrya (some say the son of Brahmā), is the god of death in the Vedas and is believed to be the first mortal to die. Is there a connection? What’s interesting is that he had five sons… is there a connection between these sons and the (first) five yamas?

Yes… sort of. “Yama” literally means, “death,” and the yamas are rules/codes of conduct for living which help bring a compassionate death to the ego (seen as the “lower self”).2 Yama is regarded as the King if Dharma. He is also the presiding deva over the Naksatra Bharani, which is implicative of revolutions which are idealistic or moralistic in nature. A strong influence of this Naksatra in a birth chart may be indicative of a person’s opportunity to completely straighten out his/her yamas if Bharani’s gifts are realized and an attempt is made to initiate such a change.

Yama-Friendly Devas

If, ultimately, these principles revolve around the idea of bringing a death to the ego, there are few devas who could be of great use during one’s following of the yamas.

  1. Kali. The goddess of transformative crisis uses her trident to sever the head of the ego. She can be of great help during periods of transformation.
  2. Ketu. This very embodiment of the loss of ego shows a need to renounce the lower ego and materialistic attachments, to change previous “samskaras,” the mental impressions and tendencies that follow us from past lives. Ketu feels guilt about personal ego and past mistakes and corrects through spiritualization.
  3. Hanuman. Recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa also helps facilitate the death of ego. “Om Ham Hanumate Rudratmakaya Hum Phat Svaha” (We bow to the highest principle, to Hanuman, the manifestation of the reliever of sufferings, cut the ego, purify.)

In fact, focusing on the yamas would, then, be a great way to spend one’s time during a Ketu mahadasha. It would also be a good idea if one has pre-existing issues with ego inflation during a Surya mahadasha.

The Yamas

Name Sanskrit Definition
Ahiṃsā अहिंसा Nonviolence
Satya सत्य truthfulness
Asteya अस्तेय not stealing
Brahmacharya ब्रह्मचर्य continence
Kṣamā क्षमा forgiveness
Dhṛti धृति fortitude
Dayā दया compassion
Ārjava आर्जव non-hypocrisy, sincerity
Mitāhāra मितहार measured diet
Śauca शौच purity, cleanliness

Classical Sources

  • Haṭhayōgapradīpikā 1.16.2
  • Yoga Yājñavalkya 1.53
  • Pātañjalayogaśāstra 2.30, 2.36

  1. Haṭhayōgapradīpikā 1.16.2. Commentary by Swami Muktibodhananda, 1998 

  2. “Yoga’s Five Yamas”. http://www.about-yoga.com/five-yamas.html 

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