Living the Yamas:
As a yoga student (or teacher), common questions that arise are: “How do I bring my yoga practice off the mat? Is there a way for me to check my progress?” In response, we turn to Patanjali, an ancient yoga guru, and author of the Yoga Sutras.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes an eight-limbed path to reaching one’s full spiritual potential. Each limb is designed to guide the student to align the mind and body with spirit. Asana—the physical practice—is the third limb, but generally, it is the first exposure we have of yoga in the western world.
The first limb and the most foundational step are the Yamas— or restraints. The yamas teach us how to live and interact with others and ourselves within moral and ethical parameters, helping cultivate newfound awareness in how we present ourselves.
Ahimsa, in its simplest form, is the practice of non-violence. At surface level, this encompasses physical violence, but further, it can be seen as malicious gossip, passive aggression, judgment, and angry reactions. Getting even deeper, ahimsa may refer to causing harm of any kind – with your thoughts, words or actions.
Satya is truth or honesty. Of course, it refers to not lying, but it also relates to an overall sense of integrity in thought, word, and action. Sometimes we read or hear something and believe it to be true without taking the time to fully research and validate the claim, and then inadvertently pass it along to others. Sometimes we don’t even notice we are not being truthful with others because we are repeating lies we have told to ourselves so much we begin to believe they are true.
Asteya is non-stealing, and not taking what is not freely given, both physically and energetically. This encompasses literal theft, energy-sucking, time and greed. Sometimes we may be guilty of asteya without meaning to be, by calling a friend and beginning a really long venting session without asking them if they have the time, or showing up late for a yoga class.
Brahmacharya may be the most controversial of the yamas. On its extreme traditional interpretation, it is celibacy; however, it translates as “behavior that leads to the divine.” Modern yogis reinterpret and apply this yama by taking ownership of our desires and urges, redirecting our vital energies away from primal urges and towards our connection with the spirit. Ultimately, we act appropriately sexually and energetically with ourselves and others. The best way to begin working with this limb is pausing and asking – is my response and output appropriate for the situation and person?
Aparigraha is non-coveting or non-grasping, and helps to guide us away from the unnecessary distractions of greed and excess. This can manifest in both a physical form with our possessions as well as our attachment to people. When we begin to release what we have in excess or depend on, we begin to see what is real – our knowledge, our passions, our wisdom, our intuition. When we fully embody aparigraha, we feel unbounded by our possessions and a sense of freedom is restored.
If any of the yamas resonated with you, “struck a nerve”, or left you curious… perhaps this is a good time to explore your own habits both on and off your yoga mat. Jade and the Mangala Yoga – Maui Community are currently in the midst of our 5 Week Yoga Challenge (began Feb 19th) and the Mangala Yoga Telluride just finished their 5 Week Yoga Challenge with Maureen. During these challenges we are discuss each yama and explore applying it in different our life. Whether you are a part of this challenge or not please continue to explore these yamas and notice where in your life you can create more awareness and space, ultimately joining mind, body and spirit. Stay tuned for the next challenge.