The yamas (Sanskrit: यम, romanizedyama), and their complement, the niyamas, represent a series of "right living" or ethical rules within Yoga philosophy. The word yama means "reining in" or "control".[1] They are restraints for proper conduct given in the Vedas and the Yoga Sutras as moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. The yamas are a "don't"s list of self-restraints, typically representing commitments that affect one's relations with others and self.[2] The complementary niyamas represent the "do"s. Together yamas and niyamas are personal obligations to live well.[2]

The earliest mention of yamas is in the Rigveda. More than fifty texts of Hinduism, from its various traditions, discuss yamas.[3] Patañjali lists five yamas in his Yoga Sūtras. Ten yamas are codified as "the restraints" in numerous Hindu texts, including Yajnavalkya Smriti in verse 3.313,[1] the Śāṇḍilya and Vārāha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svātmārāma,[4] and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.[5]

The yamas apply broadly and include self-restraints in one's actions, words, and thoughts.[6]

Etymology and meaning


The earliest mention of yamas is found in the Hindu scripture Rigveda, such as in verse 5.61.2, and later in the Jain Agamas.[1][7][8] The word yama in the Rigveda means a "rein, curb", the act of checking or curbing, restraining such as by a charioteer or a driver.[1] The term evolves into a moral restraint and ethical duty in the Jain Agamas.[1][9] The yamas were explained in detail by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali as the first step of the eight-fold path of yogic philosophy and practice for attaining enlightenment and union of the mind, body and soul.[7]

Yamas means "restraint", particularly "from actions, words, or thoughts that may cause harm".[10]

Yamas by source


The number of Yamas varies with the source:

No. 5 Yamas
Yogasūtra 2.30[11]
cf. Ethics of Jainism
10 Yamas
Śāṇḍilya Upanishad,[12]
1 Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence
2 Satya (सत्य): Truthfulness (Not lying)
3 Asteya (अस्तेय): Not stealing
4 Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): Chastity,[14] sexual restraint,[15] focus (not distracted)
5 Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): Non-avarice, non-possessiveness
6 Kṣamā (क्षमा): Patience, forgiveness.[16]
7 Dhrti (धृति): Fortitude, perseverance with the aim to reach the goal
8 Dayā (दया): Compassion[16]
9 Ārjava (आर्जव): Non-hypocrisy, sincerity[17]
10 Mitāhāra (मिताहार): Measured diet

At least sixty ancient and medieval era Indian texts are known that discuss yamas.[3] Most are in Sanskrit, but some are in regional Indian languages. Of the sixty, the lists in eleven of these texts are similar, but not the same, as that of Patanjali's.[3] Other texts list between one and ten yamas; however, ten is the most common.[3]

The order of listed yamas, the names and nature of each yama, as well as the relative emphasis vary between the texts. Some texts use the reverse of niyamas in other texts, as yamas; for example, vairagya (dispassion from hedonism, somewhat reverse of the niyama tapas) is described in verse 33 of Trishikhi Brahmana Upanishad in its list of yamas.[3] Many texts substitute one or more different concepts in their list of yamas. For example, in the ten yamas listed by Yatidharma Sangraha, akrodha (non-anger) is included as a yama.[3] Ahirbudhnya Samhita in verse 31.19 and Darshana Upanishad in verses 1.14-15 include dayā as a yama, and explain it as the ethical restraint of not jumping to conclusions, being compassionate to every being, and considering suffering of others as one's own.[18] In verse 31.21, Ahirbudhnya Samhita includes kṣamā as the virtue of forgiveness and restraint from continued agitation from wrong others have done.[3] Mahakala Samhita in verses II.11.723 through II.11.738[19] lists many of the ten yamas above, but explains why it is a virtue in a different way. For example, the text explains dayā is an ethical precept and the restraint from too much and too little emotions. It suggests dayā reflects one's inner state, is the expression of kindness towards kin, friend, stranger, and even a hostile person, and that one must remain good and kind no matter what the circumstances. This view of dayā is shared in Shandilya Upanishad and Jabala Darshana Upanishad.[3][20] Atri Samhita in verse 48, lists anrshamsya (आनृशंस्य)[21] as the restraint from cruelty to any living being by one's actions, words or in thoughts. Shivayoga Dipika in verse 2.9 substitutes sunrta for satya, defining sunrta as "sweet and true speech".[3]

See also

  • Dama – Cardinal virtue of control over excess
  • Niyama – Recommended activities and habits in Yoga
  • Religious vows – Promises made by members of religious communities
  • Samatva – Hindu concept of equanimity


  1. ^ a b c d e Monier-Williams, Monier. "Yama". Sanskrit English Dictionary with Etymology. Oxford University Press. p. 846.
  2. ^ a b Lasater, Judith (November–December 1998). "Beginning the Journey". Yoga Journal: 42–48.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bharti, S.V. (2001). Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: With the Exposition of Vyasa. Motilal Banarsidas. pp. 672–680. ISBN 978-8120818255.
  4. ^ a b Svātmārāma; Pancham Sinh (1997). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (5 ed.). Forgotten Books. p. 14. ISBN 978-1605066370. अथ यम-नियमाः अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं बरह्यछर्यम कश्हमा धृतिः दयार्जवं मिताहारः शौछम छैव यमा दश १७
  5. ^
    • Ramaswami, Sŕivatsa (2001). Yoga for the three stages of life. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 229. ISBN 978-0892818204.
    • Devanand, G. K. (2008). Teaching of Yoga. APH Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 978-8131301722. Yama is a "moral restraint" or rule for living virtuously. Ten yamas are codified in numerous scriptures, including the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika compiled by Yogi Swatmarama, while Patanjali lists five yamas and five niyamas (disciplines) in the Yoga Sutras.
  6. ^ Weiss, Debra (2006). "Ahimsa: Nonviolence from a Yoga Perspective". Fellowship. 72 (1–2): 25.
  7. ^ a b "Yama". United We Care. June 30, 2021.
  8. ^ Sanskrit: क्व वोऽश्वाः क्वाभीशवः कथं शेक कथा यय । पृष्ठे सदो नसोर्यमः ॥२॥ (ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं ५.६१ Rigveda, Wikisource)
  9. ^ Palmer, Michael; Burgess, Stanley (2012). The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice. John Wiley & Sons. p. 114. ISBN 978-1405195478.
  10. ^ Sturgess, Stephen (2014). Yoga Meditation: Still Your Mind and Awaken Your Inner Spirit. Oxford, UK: Watkins Publishing Limited. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-78028-644-0.
  11. ^ Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 102.
  12. ^ Aiyar, K. N. (1914). Thirty Minor Upanishads. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 173–176. ISBN 978-1164026419.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Dhand, Arti (2002). "The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism". Journal of Religious Ethics. 30 (3): 347–372. doi:10.1111/1467-9795.00113.
  15. ^
    • Taylor, Louise (2001). A Woman's Book of Yoga. Tuttle. p. 3. ISBN 978-0804818292.
    • Long, Jeffrey (2009). Jainism: An Introduction. IB Tauris. pp. 101, 109. ISBN 978-1845116262. The fourth vow—brahmacarya—means for laypersons, marital fidelity and pre-marital celibacy; for ascetics, it means absolute celibacy; John Cort explains, 'Brahmacharya involves having sex only with one's spouse, as well as the avoidance of ardent gazing or lewd gestures...'
  16. ^ a b Sovatsky, Stuart (1998). Words from the Soul: Time, East/West Spirituality, and Psychotherapeutic Narrative. State University of New York. p. 21. ISBN 978-0791439494.
  17. ^ Sinha, Jadunath. Indian Psychology. Vol. 2. Motilal Banarsidas. p. 142. OCLC 1211693.
  18. ^ Varenne, Jean (1976). Yoga and the Hindu Tradition. University of Chicago Press. pp. 197–202. ISBN 978-0-226-85116-7.
  19. ^ Mahakala Samhita (PDF) (in Sanskrit). Government of India Archives. pp. 302–304.
  20. ^ Gajendragadkar, K. V. (1959). Neo-upanishadic philosophy. Bombay: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. OCLC 1555808.
  21. ^ "AnRzaMsya". Sanskrit-English Dictionary. Archived from the original on 2014-12-30.

Further reading