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The Yamas: What they are and why they matter

There's way more to yoga than the shapes we make in class. Actually, I incorporate philosophy into classes wayyyy more sneakily than you might think! Philosophy doesn't need to be overly spiritual or hard to access. It's really quite simple stuff that adds to our overall experience in yoga and day to day too.

So, today we're going to dive into the Yamas, the first of the Eight Limbs of Yoga I introduced you to in my previous blog.

The Yamas are a set of guidelines for how we interact with the world, I like to think of them as the yogic equivalent of "don't be a dick" in essence and there are 5 Yamas.

They are:

Ahimsa (non-violence)

Satya (truth, truthfulness, true essence)

Asteya (non-stealing - literally and as a broader thing)

Brahmacharya (moderation/right use of energy)

Aparigraha (non greed, non attachment)

Let's dive in on what these mean and how these translate in yoga on and off our mats.


I mean Ahimsa sounds pretty straight forward, don't be violent to others, right? Well... actually it extends to yourself too. In class you'll often hear me say take choices that feel good for you, if it doesn't feel good don't do it. This is the literal practice of ahimsa in action. You are being kind to yourself.

I'd also extend this out to the things you tell yourself away from class too. If you say things like...

"I look fat in this outfit"

"I'm disgusting"

"I'm stupid"

Just know words can be just as damaging as a fist, if not more so. If you're saying things to yourself that you wouldn't say to others, then please, reconsider. You are none of these things and you deserve more kindness than that.

If you want some helps with affirmation practices or meditation to help you in this area, please drop me an email or have a chat with me after class.


Sanskrit words actually have translations that capture essence as well as literal translations. This is one that falls into both of those camps, because Satya isn't just about truth (i.e. honesty, not lying) but also about YOUR truth - being true to yourself and what you want in life.

It's also interesting as a lens to view ourselves through because we are actually distinct from our thoughts and sometimes the things we think aren't actually true (see the statements I mentioned above!)

In a practice this might extend to taking your attention on to your breath and jaw tension. These are big tellers of the truth in a practice - what position your body is in and it's experience versus your ego saying it's totally fine... yet your body is like "no! this is too much!" It's a big lesson to learn and to tune into that inner truth.

This isn't to say it is always best to be honest if that truth is going to cause more hurt than harm. A lot of yoga philosophy is context based; so the overall situation is taken into account and the Yamas as a set of foundations is applied as a whole rather than in isolation. Because the Eight Limbs say to do something isn't a licence to act freely without consideration of the wider context of every situation.


I mean, don't steal things is relatively straight forward. But it also extends to intangible things like:

Time - this is why I lock the door at the class start time. You're stealing time from me and everyone else when you're late, a literal application of Asteya in my classes! This one is my pet peeve, I'm always really keen to pass this lesson on in class to students so they can take that out into their lives too.

Space - Did you park your car somewhere that made it difficult for someone else to get their shopping in the boot? Did you move out of the way so someone with something heavy could pass you?


A lot of the time this is translated as celibacy, but that's not 100% of the story and largely irrelevant in our society given we aren't monks.

The translation here means "behaviour which leads to Brahman". In Hindu and yoga philosophy we think of Brahman as the creator, so one way to think of this Yama is the just use of energy. Essentially we're talking about moving away from being externally motivated by tangible goods like bags, cars, watches towards finding that happiness within ourselves.

We're also talking about moderation, buying and consuming what we need. This comes back to Ahimsa (not being violent with ourselves) and to Satya (truth - is this something we need, what is the motivation for it). We're using our resources in a considered (or moderate) way.


Here, we're talking about non-attachment and being happy with letting things go when they leave our lives too in order to find that inner peace and happiness (which isn't the easiest thing to do - ask my husband about when he spilt paint on my favourite boots...)

In our classes, that could be a pose we can usually do and we can't find it in that particular practice and becoming okay with that.

Personally, I think the Yamas and Niyamas have a lot to offer us in this day and age. A lot of the lessons within are really translatable to our day to day lives and overall happiness. Plus, now you've seen how I actually incorporate some of this stuff into class without it seeming snooty or overly spiritual!

Next time, we're moving on to the Niyamas!

See you then!

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