Demystifying... Popular WTF

WTF are the Yamas?

YAMASSSSS! WTF are Yamas? Is this a new-age cheer? Is it the ‘Queer Eye’ yoga slogan? 

That would be hilarious if it were true, but sadly, it’s not. The yamas are the first of the eight limbs of yoga. Yamas are universal ways of being or obligations for living. There are five yamas and they all run on a continuum.


The first yama is ahimsa. Ahimsa means “nonviolence”. Many of us might have heard this Sanskrit word whispered around the yoga studio, especially as “that girl” explains why she just can’t eat meat. When we think about nonviolence we think about not hurting people or animals or, maybe even, things. However, like anything, it’s a spectrum.

     Murder                 Being a vegetarian           Giving gifts               Sacrifice               Love


We can always do more to practice nonviolence without thinking of killing someone. We can buy ethically sourced clothes and food. We can help a person in need. We can stop thinking about how we want to “kill” our coworkers. All of these reduce the amount of violence in our lives.


The second yama is satya, which means ‘truthfulness’ in English. I think satya is a really interesting yama because truthfulness is way more than just telling the truth.

         Deceit           White lies           Being honest with others           Living your truth


To really practice satya think about how you are living in harmony with yourself. That might sound contradictory, but if you hate your job, pull an Erin Motz and get out. Go live your dreams!


The third yama is asteya, non-stealing. This is in many a fancy yoga studio reminding patrons not to steal your shit from the locker room, but it’s more than a trendy sign.

Stealing just to steal            Stealing to provide                Giving freely of yourself


What could you to give freely of yourself and expect nothing in return? Is it volunteering? Is it giving your partner a head massage without actually wanting one from them in return? Well, maybe that last one is a bit excessive, but asteya. Asteya can also mean not taking time from others; so being punctual, starting and finishing yoga classes on time, etc.


The fourth yama is Brahmacharya (pronounced bra-ma-CHAR-e-a). This means continence which means self-control, and also non-excess. In its most extreme translation, brahmacharya can mean living in celibacy. On a more moderate spectrum, this means a life of balance and self-control. In yoga we often think of this final yama as “take the highest good as your teacher.” What can we do to walk in this world in a more genuine way?

Emulating bad influences                                                     Freeing yourself to follow yourself


That final end of the spectrum is a doozy. How can you be such a good person that you follow your own lead? Well, maybe good doesn’t mean the same for everyone. We are all unique and we can all be good, ethical humans in our own way. We can follow that highest good and let it teach us.


The fifth and final yama is aparigraha, which translates to non-attachment, or non-greed. This is more than not buying all those cute back-to-school clothes or five pairs of shoes at DSW (even if they are only $5.00).

Hoarding      Only buying the necessities         Giving (letting there be an end to your needs)


This conjures to mind that super yogi who lives in an ashram and owns no worldly possessions. I don’t think most of us are there. But, I try to practice this by up-cycling my clothes before I buy more or making an epic fridge meal before ordering take-out. I also clean out all my “stuff” like three times a year and give to someone in my life who will have a greater use for it than my closet does.



I hope I’ve helped break down the yamas for you. What aspects of the yamas can you adopt into your own life?

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