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The Yamas

Simple ways the modern day yogi can apply these principles to live a happy life.

The eight limbs of yoga

Almost 2,000 years ago an Indian sage, Patanjali, created the Yoga Sutras, a collection of ancient yogic texts. One of the main teachings is the Eight Limbs of Yoga (Ashtanga) which can be described as the foundation of yoga and is commonly practised today by yogis all around the world. The Eight Limbs comprises of eight steps that lead us to enlightenment. If practised regularly they can help us to live a happy and meaningful life.

Patanjali’s Eight limbs are:

1. The Yamas (restraints)

2. The Niyamas (self-disciplines)

3. Asana (yoga poses)

4. Pranayama (breathing techniques)

5. Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)

6. Dharana (concentration)

7. Dhyana (meditation)

8. Samadhi (absorption)

The Yamas

For most of us, our first experience with yoga involves asana (physical yoga poses). However, according to ancient texts, the first steps to contentment and meditation involve guidelines about the way we behave towards ourselves and others. The Yamas are considered to be restraints that if practised, can reduce conflict in our lives and unnecessary suffering. Whilst these ancient rules were developed thousands of years ago, they are still relevant today and can be applied to our everyday life.

1. Ahimsa (non-violence)

Ahimsa prohibits violence towards the self and others. On the surface this involves being kind to all living creatures including yourself. Many yogis interpret Ahimsa in different ways and may practise this Yama by becoming vegan or vegetarian, trying to reduce their impact on the environment or generally being kind to others.

A less obvious interpretation of Ahimsa is being mindful of our inner dialogue that can be directed at ourselves or other people. Negative thoughts can cause us to feel stressed or anxious which in turn, guide our behaviour. These thoughts or emotions can overwhelm us which can lead to irrational behaviour and speaking to others or treating them in a hurtful way. Therefore, by practising Ahimsa within ourselves we can maintain good relationships with those around us.