Are you considering, or have you considered, making a new year resolution? The start to a new year can be an opportunity for introspection and reflection. From this careful consideration you may discover that your approach or relationship to some aspect of life no longer resonates. You can then decide on change. We could consider every day on the calendar to be an opportunity for reflecting and visualizing life anew, but sometimes we need a bigger occasion to prompt the kind of clarity and fortitude that generates a shift in momentum or direction. A practice encompassing the 8-limbs of yoga can help guide and sustain that shift.

The 8-limbed path is outlined in the Yoga Sutra, a significant text of yogic philosophy and practice which we reference throughout our Yoga Teacher Training and In-Depth Studies program. This text has been translated and commented on by yoga practitioners and scholars for more than 2000 years. 

Many people I speak with in casual conversation are primarily aware of or entirely equate yoga with one limb of practice: asana or postures.  This writing and the next few blogs I share will address the lesser known elements of yoga practice, all of which are interrelated and utilized in achieving yoga (described as stilling the fluctuations of the mind to achieve awareness of oneness with all things). 

The first limb of yoga, described in Sutra 2.30, is yama. Typically translated as restraint (sometimes abstentions), yamas are guides for interacting with and in the world. 

What’s your initial reaction when you hear self-restraint as it relates to behavior?  Resistance may be present, yet the skillful application of restraint is necessary to move energy from a less helpful habit to a more helpful one. 

The first of the 5 yamas frames how to apply the rest: in a manner that does not cause harm.


The yamas are: 

  • Ahimsa – Non Violence
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non Stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Continence (Celibacy)
  • Aparigraha – Non Possessiveness 

Commentators have suggested the practice of all other yamas and niyamas are in service to ahimsa. “Non-animosity toward all living beings, all the time, in every respect.” (Tigunait 164).  For example, when we practice aparigraha and asteya by applying careful attention to what we acquire and consume, we may also reduce harm to the planet and each other by reducing the resources we use and waste we generate. 

Some acts of harm are flagrant.  Other forms of harm are more subtle, as so many behaviors are a product of momentum and repetition over time. What may seem innocuous could be a way you are coping with a feeling you don’t realize you’re coping with. Cravings are an example of this. As we pay closer, quieter attention to our inner world, we may find, as we pour another cup of coffee or open another app on our phone, we are doing so from a habit of distraction or distancing from feeling. This kind of action as reaction can be the bulk of our behavior if we’re not paying attention. 

It can be our work as practitioners of yoga to increase awareness of these unconscious patterns, becoming more intentional with our words and actions and responsive to their impact.  Whatever your goals, whatever the change you endeavor to nurture, consider them from a place of maitri (unconditional friendliness toward oneself) and ahimsa.

Does what you desire harm you? Does it harm someone else? Can you give yourself grace and extend it to others as you walk this path? 


Tigunait, Rajmani. The Practice of the Yoga Sutra – Sadhana Pada. Honesdale, The Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy. 2017.

Bryant, Edwin. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. New York. North Point Press. 2009.

  • Meghan Hogan, E-RYT 500, CCC-SLP is Lead Faculty for the Yoga Vidya Teacher Training and In-Depth Studies program, a Speech-Language Pathologist supporting preschool children with disabilities and their families, a wife and mother. Her mission in sharing yoga is to provide caregivers of all walks of life tools for self-care and stress management.