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Yama In Yoga



Yama is one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. It is also the name of the God of death in Hindu Mythology. This article is about the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, its meaning, and its kinds, or types.

Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are the eight limbs of Yoga. Ashtanga Yoga (yoga of eight limbs) is one of the various versions of the Raja Yoga discipline.

Yama Meaning

Yama is the set of activities from which one should abstain. Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad defines Yama as “dehendriyeṣu vairāgyaṃ Yama” which means the detachment of the body from the sense organs.

Tejo Bindu Upanishad defines Yama as “the mastery over senses and continuous focusing upon the knowledge that Sarvam Brahma – All is Brahman.”

We could see the same definition in Aparokshanubuti of Sri Adi Sankara.

Yama is the practice of given virtues for the attainment of the yogic goal. It is the code of self-discipline. It is the adherence of abstinence for self-regulation.

Kinds Of Yoga

Yoga Sutra gives a five-fold Yama; whereas Mandalabrahmana Upanishad gives a four-fold Yama only; Trisikhibrahmana Upanishad, Shandilya Upanishad, Darshana Upanishad, and Varaha Upanishad give ten kinds.

Yama in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

Patanjali who was the pioneer of Raja Yoga gives five kinds of abstentions or simply Pancha Yamas. Sutra 2.30 says “ahimsa Satya Asteya brahmacharya aparigraha Yama”. It means Non-injury, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Celibacy, and Non-receiving are the five-fold Yama. Sutra 2.31 says “They become supreme vow when not limited by place, time, and situation”.

AhimsaIf Non-injury is established, all enmities cease in his presence. The same message is conveyed in Thirukkural verse 260 which says “All beings salute him who is not engaged in killing and eating meat.” 
SathyaIf Non-injury is established, all enmities cease in his presence. The same message is conveyed in Thirukkural verse 260 which says “All beings salute him who is not engaged in killing and eating meat.” 
AsteyaBy receiving gifts, he gets the memory of past life.
BrahmacharyaBy celibacy, he attains all powers.
AparigrahaBy receiving gifts, he gets the memory of his past life.

Yama In Yoga Upanishad

Trishikhibrahmana Upanisad

A ten-fold abstention is given in Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad.

Mandalabrahmana Upanishad

Mandalabrahmana Upanishad gives a four-fold Yama.

Shandilya Upanishad

Like Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad, Likewise, Shandilya Upanishad prescribes the same ten-fold Yama. Also, it goes a step further to explain each one of them.

Ahimsa or Non-Killing is the constant abstinence from causing pain or grief to other beings by the acts of mind, speech, and body.

Sathya or Truthfulness is the honest engagement of body, speech, and mind in the activities that benefit others.

Asteya or Non-stealing is the three-fold abstinence of body, speech, and mind from stealing things that belong to others.

Brahmacharya or Celibacy is the abstinence of body, speech, and mind from the activities that make bodily union in any form at any place.

Daya or Compassion is showing love for all beings in all places through the activities of body, speech, and mind.

Arjava or Morality is showing the same attitude towards the things prescribed by scriptures and the things prohibited, employing the activities of body, speech, and mind.

Shama or Forbearance is accepting exalting commendations and nasty condemnations alike.

Drutir or willpower is the steadiness of the mind even in extreme cases of losing wealth or closed ones and gaining new wealth or closed ones.

Mithahara or Temperance of food is taking pure and healthy food and leaving off a quarter of it.

Saucha or Cleanliness is internal as well as external cleanliness. External cleanliness comes with water and earth. The Yogi gets Internal cleanliness through Atma Vidya.

Darshana Upanishad

Darshana Upanishad also repeats the same list as enumerated in Shandilya Upanishad and Trisikhibrahmana Upanishad but with a different explanation of the ten-fold Yama.

Varaha Upanishad

Varaha Upanishad lists the same ten-fold Yama. Yet, it does not give a detailed explanation.


The five-fold Yama of Patanjali is most familiar. Of the five elements Yama mentioned in Yoga Sutra, other scriptures take only the four of them leaving the fifth one: Aparigraha. Some of the yoga Upanishads like Amirta Nada Upanishad, Dhyana Bindu Upanishad, and Yoga Chudamani Upanishad, exclude Yama and Niyama completely and explain only six limbs of Raja Yoga or Sadanga Yoga.

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