An imperative is a command. Existential imperatives (yamas) are commands of Existence Itself. In other words, it is just the way things are. If I acknowledge them and live in accordance with them, then I can move with the movement of Existence rather than be at odds with It.
For me, the power of the yoga sutras is not in edicts, such as: “Do this!” and “Don’t do that!”. It lies in the fact that the sutras merely point out how this mysterious thing called consciousness works; what some of the basic laws are that seem to govern it; and how it is possible to abide by these laws in order to come out of the state of fragmented consciousness. Simply stated, when fragmentation in my consciousness subsides, unity consciousness is revealed as the default of my conscious existence. It is my birthright.
Therefore, the study of these sutras on the existential imperatives that are the “yamas” in the yoga sutra system, is crucial to my living the yoga marga (path of yoga).
The pertinent sutra (II, 30) is:
ahimsa = non-violence, do no harm, recognition of the underlying unity of life
satya = truthfulness
asteya = abstaining from stealing, honesty, refraining from misappropriation
brahmacarya = refraining from waste of vital force and self-indulgence, freedom from attachment to objects of sensual enjoyment
Future explorations will expand on each of these yamas.