1. Yama – control

In sūtra 2.30 Rishi Patañjali writes:

ahiṁsā satya asteya brahmacarya aparigrahā yamāḥ

The first level of ashtanga yoga is called yama or control and requires a yogi to have absolute control over non-violence (ahiṁsā), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), a pure way of life (brahmacarya) and incorruptibility (aparigrahā). The basis for a spiritual development is thus – regardless of the individual cultural background applicable – an ethical attitude of the yoga student to himself and his environment.

Ahiṁsā does not simply mean abandoning the use of external force. Nonviolence also means renouncing violence in thought. The aspirant’s goal is unity with the universal divine soul (paramātmā), and this divine soul (ātmā) is in turn the identity of each individual being in the universe. Then he cannot willfully violate another being, he would only use force against himself. This would block the path to one’s spiritual development.

Also with satya or truthfulness, the yogi shows his integrity: he does not lie, he does not pass on false information, does not make false testimonies. The spiritual seeker seeks the truth; he seeks his true identity; he is looking for the power that created the world. How should he succeed this while lying to others and thus to himself?

Another part of integrity is asteyadas non-stealing. Like the term ahiṁsā, asteya is to be understood as a fundamental principle. It is the control over greed that leads man to take more than he deserves.

Carya means “to wander with,” the brahmacarya thus wanders with brahman, God. Hiking with God means behaving brahminically in everyday life and is usually interpreted as abstinence. Of course, this interpretation falls short and must also contain elements such as decency, friendliness, courtesy or hospitality. With regard to abstinence, on the other hand, a strict interpretation in the form of the complete renunciation of sexual activity is not correct; the violent suppression of sexuality can have undesirable side effects. The yogi should exercise control over his sexual activity, recognizing that God or ātmā provides the power and inspiration for all activities. The yogi also senses unity with ātmā in sexual activity and thus practices abstinence.

Aparigrahā or not accepting gifts (incorruptibility) is important for maintaining one’s mental health. According to Swami Vivekananda, accepting gifts can destroy spiritual independence and enslave the recipient.