Raja Yoga – Part 1: Yama

Eight Limbs of Raja Yoga

Raja yoga practice consists of eight steps or limbs. So, it is called Astanga Yoga(i.e.  eight limb yoga). Traditionally, Raja Yoga should be practiced in these eight sequential steps to achieve the real goal.

What are the eight steps of this yoga? Shri Patanjali Muni provides them  in a sutra (aphorism):

Yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayo astavangani | Yoga Sutras 2.29

Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi – are eight limbs(of Raja Yoga).  Let us explore.


This word comes from Sanskrit dhatu (root) yam uparame meaning “to check or to prevent”. Yamas are set of practices that prevent us from doing bad things. Bad deeds accumulate bad karma. So they are tools of purification.

Yamas constitute code of our external conduct in the society.  Which are they? Shri Patanjali Maharishi  tells us in the next aphorism(sutra):

Ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigrahah yamah | – Yoga Sutras 2.30

Nonviolence, truth, not stealing, controlling senses, non-acceptance are yamas.

Shri Patanjali Muni defines five yamas in this sutra.  Ahimsa is not hurting any other beings  physically, by  speech or even in thought. This also means – “not killing” i.e. respecting all being’s right to live.  Satya is  telling  only truth.  Asteya is not stealing anybody’s property.  Brahmacharya is chastity or moderation in sensuality. Aparigraha is having only the things required for a simplest living; not accepting anything more nor accumulating anything extra.

Some of us may be thinking by now – “Looks like very tough rules to follow! Who should observe? When should one practice?” Shri   Patanjali Muni replies these with authority:

Jati desha kala samayavachchinah sarvabhaumah maha vritam | -Yoga Sutras 2.31

This is a great universal vow; not to be broken because of birth, place, time and circumstance.

Shri Patanjali  Muni declares that practicing the yamas is a great universal vow and must be followed at all times by everybody under all circumstances. So, we cannot give the following excuses not to follow, for example in case of Ahimsa (non-violence):

  • Birth: “I will not kill because I was born in  some community”
  • Place:  “I will not kill in holy places”
  • Time:  “I will not kill on Fridays or in the holy month of Shravana
  • Circumstance:  “I will not kill for commercial purposes”

Some questions may be haunting many of us by now: “Great. But, these are easier said than done! What is the use of  following these  tough practices?  What are the benefits, by the way?”

Hold your horses! We will discuss these in the next post.

Next: Raja Yoga: Part 2. Stay tuned!

Daiveeh swastirastu nah |

May the divine powers be very graceful to us!

Om Namah Shivaya ||

– Kalidas

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