Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2: 29-31: The 8 limbs of Yoga are: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. Yama, or the 5 restraints, consist of non violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, sexual restraint, and non greed. These great vows are universal and not limited by class, place time and circumstance.
Defining the Sutras
Patanjali lists the 8 limbs of Yoga and the five Yamas which are part of the 8 limbs. The Yamas are called the “maha vrata” or great vow. Everyone, who is dedicated to the path of Yoga, take a vow to follow them.
Modern Day Application:
It is important to point out that these vows are for people who are actively pursuing the path of Yoga. Meaning that they are in the student phase of their life and fully focused on Yoga. To use an over simplistic example, It is the difference between being a nun and just being a member of a church. More is expected of a nun and their vows are stricter than the average Christian.
This is why it was acceptable for Arjuna, the warrior of the Bhagavad Gita, to go to war. Even though he was considered to be a righteous man, at the time, his role as warrior and as a member of a royal family, was his focus, dharma, or path.
Once you decide to dedicate your life to Yoga, there is no exception to the vows. That does not mean that you shouldn’t try. Here is another over simplistic example. When you first start dating, it is not that serious. You are feeling the person out. You still may see other people. Your lives are not intertwined. As you continue to date, the relationship gets serious. Even though you are not married, you treat your boyfriend/girlfriend with the same respect you would a spouse. Your life gets a little more intertwined. Eventually, you may decide to take a vow of marriage.
Students of Yoga pass through the same phases. First we are trying to figure out if we like it. We finally chose a Yoga style to get serious about. Maybe one day, you decide to devote your life to it. Even though you may not have taken the “maha vrata”, if you practice Yoga, you should try to be a nice person.
Why This is Important:
The great vow, or the Yamas, are important because they form the bedrock of the behavior of a Yogi. The Yamas, along with the Niyamas, free the Yogi’s life from drama so that they can focus on Yoga.