Tag Archives: The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Yama – The First Limb

The first limb in the eight limbed path of yoga described by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is called Yama (or Yamas). The Yama are five characteristics or attitudes pertaining to how we interact with others. Not only in the ways that we physically effect the beings around us, but in the ways we interact with them in our energy and in our thoughts. Donna Farhi explains them as being “…concerned with the way we use our energy in relationship to others and , in a subtler sense, our relationship to ourselves.” In short, what is going on between you and the outside world? The words yama and niyama (teaser!) can be interpreted many ways. Some view them as restrictions or restraints, and I think if restricting and restraining turn you on then you should go ahead and pursue them in that fashion. Personally, I like to see them as behaviors and characteristics that show us what our true nature is when we reside in the center of ourselves. T.K.V. Desikachar says, “We can understand the whole practice of yoga as a process of examining our habitual attitudes and behaviors and their consequences.” We practice listening in to our own emotional states, our own motivations, and viewing our own thoughts with consideration as opposed to blind belief. We do this so that we can recognize when we have swayed outside of center and reroute ourselves. The yamas and niyamas show us that when all systems are go we get to be full of compassion, we have an attitude of consideration, we are peaceful, truthful, and gracious.

Yama #1: Ahimsa

Oh my God, ahimsa is my favorite part of the eight limbs and it is right here at the very beginning! Ahimsa can be interpreted as non-harm, non-violence, non-aggression, compassion for all living things, and on and on. Okay, don’t kill anybody.. don’t even punch them…fine. That much is pretty obvious. An action or thought that prohibits any being from living freely is considered harmful, but ahimsa asks much more of us than that. Ahimsa asks us not to do harm even with our thoughts, what’s more: not even to harm ourselves with our thoughts. If we can cultivate an attitude of inward compassion we can then begin to gift that compassion outward. Self acceptance is a bitch. I struggle with ahimsa every time I look into a mirror, or try to determine the worth of my life based on my achievements and job titles. We violate ahimsa when we condemn our own efforts instead of congratulating ourselves for them; when we dwell on mistakes and embarrassments; when we stifle our creative ideas at conception; and when we endlessly worry. If you are curious about the quality of your inwardly directed thoughts, try keeping a running tally of the negative thoughts you have about yourself, include the times you scold yourself, remind yourself of past mistakes, or stop yourself from trying something that you’d like to. Even one day of this practice is illuminating. Now imagine what treating another person in that way would feel like, and what it would do to them to receive such abuse. We are not required to be neutral. We can protect ourselves when we need to, we can take direct action, and build firm boundaries. Honoring ahimsa means that we track our intentions and that we act with clarity.

Ahimsa requires vigilance and the ability to self observe. Vigilance and the ability to self observe require bravery. Who am I really? How do I choose to be in the world? What is my impact and what do I want my impact to be? Endeavoring to live in the attitude of compassion doesn’t mean that we won’t have big, strong emotional states. When we get royally pissed, full of fear, and destructively jealous (and we will), we apply ahimsa even there, especially there. We self-observe in compassion, seeing ourselves as whole human beings taking our best shot at life, we congratulate our efforts and move on.


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The 8 Limbs Of Yoga

There are eight limbs to the body of yoga or, eight aspects that address different parts of ourselves and our experience. As always in yoga, the limbs feed and effect each other. My darling departed friend Will would always say, “get in where you fit in.” While he was an eccentrically crass and hilarious pain in the ass, he was teaching yoga in that saying. The “get in where you fit in” philosophy applies all over yoga. You want a hot and vigorous asana experience; it is there for you. You prefer a more precise and contemplative physical practice; it is there for you. You want to meditate and study; that path is there for you too. Which ever face of yoga excites you, follow it. The reason this works is because one path will naturally open you up to other paths. Meditation will naturally get you ready for and curious about asana. Asana will prepare you for philosophy. It isn’t important to head into a yoga practice intending to devote your life to learning every aspect of yoga. There are no prerequisites for employing this system of yoga in your life. You don’t need to believe in a certain deity, or in the existence of any God at all. The 8 limbs of yoga can work in concert with any faith. Meaningful change originates from inside of us, it is not imposed from the outside. So, show up where you are curious, get in where you fit in, and trust that each aspect of yoga feeds and effects the other aspects. As T. K. V. Desikachar says, “We begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens.”

The eight limbs of yoga are thorough! They cover everything from how to be with ourselves and others to how to meditate. Some are super relatable and practical they come right into present day with no trip ups whatsoever. Others are more lofty and can feel daunting at first. Luckily we get to dive into the ones that excite us and know that we are growing our relationship with the others simultaneously. The eight limbs are a recipe for a life.

I’d like to go through each of the eight limbs here. I’ll do my best to make them accessible and relatable. I’ll likely go on and on about the aspects of each limb that speak most clearly to me right now, and I’ll trust that this process will grow my ability to hear their others aspects too.

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