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Yamas, and its complement, niyamas, represent a series of "right living" or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. These are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. Every religion has a code of conduct, or series of "do's and don'ts", and the Yamas represent one of the "don't" lists within Hinduism, and specifically, rāja yoga.
Yama (Sanskrit) यम, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The yamas comprise the "shall-not" in our dealings with the external world as the niyamas comprise the "shall-do" in our dealings with the inner world.
Ten yamas are codified as "the restraints" in numerous scriptures including the Shandilya and Varaha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular. Patañjali lists only five yamas in his Yoga Sūtras.
Ten Traditional yamas
- Ahimsa (अहिंसा): Nonviolence. Abstinence from injury that arises out of love for all, harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This and Satya (सत्य) are the "main" yama. The other eight are there in support of its accomplishment.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts, honesty.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): being constantly aware of the universe, immersed in divinity, divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithfulness when married.
- Kshama (क्षमा): patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
- Dhriti (धृति): steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
- Daya (दया): compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
- Arjava (अर्जव): honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
- Mitahara (मितहार): moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor too little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
- Shaucha (शौच): purity, avoidance of impurity in body, mind and speech. (Note: Patanjali's Yoga Sutras list Shaucha as the first of the Niyamas.)
Five yamas of Patañjali
- Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-violence
- Satya (सत्य): benevolent truth, absence of falsehood
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): spiritual advancement by education and training. Some traditions associate Brahmacharya with celibacy.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): non-appropriation, absence of avarice
Importance of yamas
In rāja yoga, observance of the abstinences, or yamas, help attain a healthy mind and body. As hatha yoga is the yoga for attaining control over the mortal body, the yamas (together with the niyamas) are its essential first two steps. Further, the Patanjali text states that it is not enough to observe them for their individual ends (i.e. eradication of hostility, conquering self, etc.); one must follow them without a desire for any end goals. The secret to attainment of these is to harness the mind into thinking of the opposite of the element one needs to overcome.
- Svātṃārāma; Pancham Sinh (1997). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (5 ed.). Forgotten Books. p. 14. ISBN 9781605066370. "अथ यम-नियमाः अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं बरह्यछर्यम कश्हमा धृतिः दयार्जवं मिताहारः शौछम छैव यमा दश १७"
- Ramaswami, Sŕivatsa (2001). Yoga for the three stages of life. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 229. ISBN 9780892818204.
- Devanand, G. K. Teaching of Yoga. APH Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 9788131301722. "Yama is a "moral restraint" or rule for living virtuously. Ten yamas are codified in numerous scriptures, including the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika compiled by Yogi Swatmarama, while Patanjali lists five yamas and five niyamas (disciplines) in the Yoga Sutra."
- Subramuniya (2003). Merging with Śiva: Hinduism's contemporary metaphysics. Himalayan Academy Publications. p. 155. ISBN 9780945497998. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
- Alain Daniélou (1991). Yoga. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 38. ISBN 9780892813018. "The abstinences and observances each number five; by practicing them for their given purpose they yield diverse results; by practicing them without desire they lead to liberation."