According to The Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali, there are five Yamas – or Restraints – central to our spiritual growth and development.

These are:
1) Ahima – non-violence
2) Satya – truthfulness
3) Asteya – honesty
4) Brachmachanya – continuity, centeredness on spiritual goal
5) Aparigraha – non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-envy

A person may have had many years of life behind them when they come to the point of learning about yoga. During this time, their mind and body have undertaken thousands of different experiences which have come together to create the person in their present state. Culmination of many years of an unguided cycle of life, involving happiness, sadness, good health, illness, emotional challenges, successes, losses, to name a few can leave us spiritually redundant and struggling to find meaning, peace and wellbeing in our lives.

Yamas provide us with a solid and vital basis to begin the process of spiritual growth and evolution. They offer a platform from which to start thinking, very honestly about one’s life – and moral character. What is our attitude, thoughts, beliefs, what are our emotions, behaviours and physical actions? Considering the five Yamas, in the first instance, opens our minds to the sort of person we are and the sort of person we can strive to become.

All the Yamas have their root in Ahimsa – the concept of non-harming living beings and learning how to perfect this love. When we think of non-harming, we can see how this principle filters down through the remaining four Yamas, as being truthful, honest, centred and non-possessive are all acts that show respect for others and allow them and ourselves to live in peace and in love from us. The five yamas, when looked at in detail, present us with the challenge of deeply examining the darkest corners of our lives, histories and personalities to try to work through to be at one ‘in yoga’.

Being dishonest whether through what we say or how we live can cause people harm. In contrast, living in an honest way and being truthful with ourselves and others and in how we run our lives brings peace and clarity. A valuable way which we can evolve spiritually is learning how to be honest with ourselves and have the courage to face all our thoughts, feelings, behaviours and positive and negative aspects of our personalities.

Cultivating satya within our lives also works hand-in-hand with honesty or asteya. On a subtle level – embracing honesty as we learn to grow can also refer to learning to appreciate what we have and what we need. Modern culture and life harbours us into a cycle of desire, over consumption, greed and longing – which all have a negative effect on our health and wellbeing. Yamas help shed light on what we have in life to value and what we can free ourselves from, the fifth yama, Aparigraha, ties into this, referring to non-possessiveness and non-greed. People spend their whole lives wanting more money, possessions, status, popularity, often without ever stripping everything away and looking at the bare bones of their lives. This is what the yamas can enable us to do, to be free.

Brachmachanya encourages us to think about the work we are undertaking in yoga and a yama that reminds us to remain focused through all parts of our lives on this spiritual path. And that is the challenge of undertaking such a process of personal development within our present lives; jobs, money, society, media, socialisation are constantly presenting us with situations which we are so used to reacting to in a certain way. Remembering Brachmachanya – spiritual centeredness – will help bring us back to yoga, yamas and these principles, so we eventually re-learn how to operate in this world.