The word yama means: abstinence, the fact or practice of restraining oneself from indulging in something. They deal with the ethical standards and focus on the behaviour one should practice in life.
The Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. The first two limbs are teaching guides us on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. Using the 30th Sutra in Book Two, Patanjali describes the Yamas as such:
“Yama consist of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-greed.”
Ahimsa (non-violence): According to Patanjali, non-violence is not necessarily the act of non-killing. We can harm others and cause pain by our words, thoughts, actions. In modern society we can practice Ahimsa by being self-aware of our actions and learn to understand what consequences they result in. There is no perfect way of living life, but one can always extend his/her knowledge and make his/her decisions based on the gathered information. If not possible to fully eliminate every sort of harm by our existence, we should still keep aiming for the least harmful option available for us at the time and place we are in. Patanjali says that “when the act of Ahimsa is established in someone, all enmity ceases in his or her presence because the person emits harmonious vibrations.” So in this sense our inner practice of Ahimsa effects the world/environment around us. “Even a bit of Ahimsa is enough to elevate us to a higher state.” By practising Ahimsa we are bringing peace, harmony and friendliness into our world. This can benefit us, people and all living being around us in all kinds of life situations. From work through friends to family, as well as other life forms.
Satya (truthfulness): Satya, meaning not lying, which is a quite self-explanatory term, but in the 36th Sutra (Book 2), Patanjali explains the benefits and importance of truthfulness even further. As he says, it requires effort at the beginning to be completely truthful - and I find here important to express, not just to others, but to ourselves as well - but once we begin to practice truthfulness and gain it’s benefits, it will become easier to reach our goals. This can be again understood in regards to our daily life, our careers, our studies, relationships and our finances as well as our growth as a person.
Asteya (non-stealing): In the 37th Sutra of Patanjali’s Second Book, he redefines the expression “non-stealing”. Not stealing not only means to consciously not taking what isn’t ours, but also the act of not holding onto wealth that we don’t need. “If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep our minds serene, all wealth comes to us.” It’s important to note, that this teaching doesn’t only cover the materials around us, but also implies that we should not be stealing ideas and imprison people in our lives. Once we learn to let go and accept the flow of nature, welcome everything into our lives with the mindset, that it can all move away from us as it pleases, we gain the attitude of not being fearful of the loss of anything. With this mindset, we attract more, therefore gain wealth to an extend that we truly need, not more, but also not less. Should we give all our possessions away? We should definitely share if someone else needs anything, or let go and give away rather than wasting, while there is nothing wrong with using everything that is around us as long as it’s not for selfish reasons.
Brahmacarya (continence): “By one established in continence, vigour is gained.” In this sutra Patanjali is explaining the benefits of celibacy and how that can help one to improve their life. (He is explaining that by making the choice of holding back on sexual pleasures we save energy, that can be transformed into subtle energy called ojas. “It tones the entire personality, builds the nerves, improves brain power and calms the mind.”) Not only he discusses the sexual energies, but says that we should not give in to all impulses we have in order to show our love. This can also be shown in making rightful decisions for our children when they don’t know any better as well as keeping our lives in balance and not being disturbed by external things.
Aparigraha (non-greed): Patanjali explains that Aparigraha is abstention from greed or hoarding or not receiving gifts. This doesn’t mean that have to avoid receiving any kind of gifts altogether, but he highlights the attitude one needs to practice when receiving a gift, which is detaching ourselves from the sense of obligation. One can only see his/her present birth if he/she detaches from desires and obligations. How I interpret this teaching is that in order to understand why we are in life where we are, we have to detach ourselves from everything we “hoarded” in life, let that be materialistic things as well as people but even opinions and thoughts. Everything we gathered so far in life. If we detach from them, we have the room to truly see how we ended up where we are. By “not accepting gifts” we eliminate the chance to get attached to new obligations, that may not serve our chosen path, but once we learn to have the attitude to receive without attachment, we can freely accept gifts and stay honest to ourselves.