It’s quite common to see advertisements portraying yoga as a workout to achieve a flat belly and toned arms. However, behind its misconception as a modern fashionable trend for physical health, true practitioners know that real yoga is a balm for the soul, not the body. Ultimately, practicing yoga will set your mind and body free from the discomforts of everyday life. In this post, we will zone in on the practice of Yama, the practice or discipline of right conduct that serves as a reference for living a lifestyle that is in complete harmony with the world around us.
At least 1,700 years ago, the great sage Patanjali shared his compilation of the Yoga Sūtras, one of the most important texts on classical yoga philosophy. In it, we are taught Ashtanga, or the “Eight Limbs of Yoga” – a framework for humans to achieve spiritual development and reach the summit of their human experience.
There’s lot to be written about each of the Eight Limbs, but instead of tackling them all, we will briefly touch on putting an effort towards Yama, the first tangible limb.
Yama has a lot to do with how a yoga practitioner conducts himself in daily life. It acts as a universally moral, ethical, and societal guideline for a yogi to behave and relate to his world when truly immersed in the unitive state of yoga. There are five Yamas — Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Aparigraha – that should be practiced at all levels of actions, words and thoughts, and should not be confined to any class, place, time, or concept of duty (Yoga Sutra 2.31). Here are emphatic descriptions for each Yama, along with some advice on how to start practicing them today.
The highest ranking of the Yamas, Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence (physical, mental or emotional) towards one’s self and other living beings. Violence is often created in our habitual reactions to events and other people and works under many subtle disguises like judgement, criticism, anger, and irritation. This is not easy to do, but when Ahimsa is fully embraced, you will have a more harmonious relationship with the world and a deep-seated peaceful inner life.
Satya urges us to be truthful at all times. Truthfulness is seeing and saying things as they are, rather than the way we would like them to be. All aspects of your life can benefit from practicing Satya when you know that it means a whole lot more than “not telling lies”. In this case, be careful in choosing your words. Thoughts, emotions and moods are extremely interchangeable, yet we rely on them to create our own truth and our whole life experience.
The third Yama may be pretty self-explanatory and easy to accomplish, however, Asteya actually means much more than the physical act of stealing. Practicing Asteya encourages us to be more generous and helps us overcome greediness. Because wealth is ultimately a state of mind, Asteya helps you give up the desire for things and instead have an inner sense of wealth, and outer wealth will come to you by itself.
Brahmacharya is the control of our senses. The more people gratify their senses, the less energy and less ability they have to meditate for higher spiritual purposes. When a yogi has the courage and will to control his physical impulses in excess (moderation), he breaks the bonds of attachment and becomes a stronger, healthier and wiser person.
The last of the five Yamas, Aparigraha, urges us to let go of everything that we do not need, possessing only as much as necessary. Accumulating these things out of greed or fear is not only wasteful; the desire for possessions will take over and you will lose the ability to see your one eternal possession — the Atman, or our true Self. To practice Aparigraha, rely on your own abundance and creativity and celebrate what is yours without comparing yourself to others. You don’t need more and more if you are grateful and feel fulfilled with what you have at the moment.
In conclusion, rather than thinking of the five Yamas as a mandatory “to-do list”, view them as opportunities to truly transform your life and help you reach your highest aspirations such as peace, truth, abundance, harmonious relationships, contentment, self-acceptance, purity, love, and a meaningful connection to the Divine — the essence of happiness. If you wish to know more about cultivating Yama or the rest of the Eight Limbs on and off the mat, do pay us a visit or get in touch with us.