Ashtanga's Eight Limbs of Yoga

The sage Patanjali outlined eight aspects, or "limbs" of spiritual yogic practice in his Yoga Sutras.

Yama (moral codes) | Niyama (self-purification & study) | Asana (posture) | Pranayama (breath control)
Pratyahara (sense control) | Dharana (intention) | Dhyana (meditation) | Samadhi (contemplation)

The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana and pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in these external practices are correctable while defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi—are not. Pattabhi Jois thought these internal defects to be potentially dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga Yoga method was followed. Thus Pattabhi Jois emphasized that the "Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga."


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, Raja Yoga.

A yama (Sanskrit) यम, literally "death", is a rule or code of conduct for living which will help bring a compassionate death to the ego or "the lower self". 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 Sutras.

Ten Traditional Yamas

The ten traditional yamas are:
1.Ahimsa (अहिंसा): Nonviolence. Abstinence from injury; harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word, or deed at any time. This is the "main" yama. The other nine are there in support of its accomplishment.
2.Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, word and thought in conformity with the facts.
3.Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing, non-coveting, non-entering into debt.
4.Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): divine conduct, continence, celibate when single, faithful when married.
5.Kshama (क्षमा): patience, releasing time, functioning in the now.
6.Dhriti (धृति): steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance, fear, and indecision; seeing each task through to completion.
7.Daya (दया): compassion; conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.
8.Arjava (अर्जव): honesty, straightforwardness, renouncing deception and wrongdoing.
9.Mitahara (मितहार): moderate appetite, neither eating too much nor too little; nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs.
10.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

In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, the yamas are the first limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga. They are found in the Sadhana Pada Verse 30 as:
1.Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-harming
2.Satya (सत्य): absence of falsehood
3.Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing
4.Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): appropriate use of vital essence
5.Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice

Importance of Yamas

In Raja 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 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.