On Yoga, Really: Who’s Your Yama? (Part 1 of 3)

With all of the controversy and distortion about yoga in the media lately, I thought I’d take us back to the basics — before ridiculous sex scandals and unfounded sensationalized books — to patanjaliexamine the foundational text of Raja Yoga, The Yoga Sūtras.  Raja yoga which includes asana (poses),  focuses on transcending the mind through meditation.  in fact, Patanjali refers to yoga as “the settling of mind into silence.”  P.S. asana helps set the body up for meditation.

While Patañjali was not the first to write about yoga, his sutras have become an authority text along with the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads (which make up the sanskrit Hindu epic, the Mahabharata).  The yoga sutras are aphorisms that outline the art, science, and practice of yoga and meditation.  Yoga means union or join — the uniting our ourselves that isn’t actually separate — and sutra means thread.

The yoga sutras are referred to as the eight limbs or eight fold path of yoga because the path is not necessarily sequential as one can be practicing many concurrently.  The first limb of yoga are the yamas, or laws of life (sometimes referred to as restraints).  They can be thought of as the universal moral code for living. 

There are a number of translations, but essentially, the yamas are:

Ahimsa – Non-violence, or compassion for all things.  This includes non physical violence like cruelty, prejudice and self violence too.  In every situation, we should apply consideration and do no harm.

How can you better practice non-violence?  Can you lay off of the horn when someone cuts you off in traffic?  What about ushering the spider out of the house instead of stepping on it?  How can you practice Ahimsa toward yourself?  Stand strong in mountain pose, aligned with the universe.

Satya – Truthfulness.   The most literal here being actual honesty.  However, yogis believe that if speaking the truth would harm another, it’s better to say nothing.  Truth also refers to acknowledging simply WHAT IS.  The truth is your mother is the way she is, regardless of how different you want her or your relationship to be.

Where does Satya show up in your life?  Are you honest with others and most importantly are you honest with yourself?  Remember, there’s not judgement here.   Sink into Virabhadrasana (Warrior) 1 firmly grounded in your truth.

Asteya – Non-stealing.  Of course we start with the laws of society and literal theft.  This also includes elements of non-coveting and non-violence.

Can you be happy for someone who has more than you without wanting to have it for yourself? If someone confides in you, can you keep it to yourself and not betray their trust?  Can you abstain from gossiping or giving away information that doesn’t belong to you?  Bow to your own completeness in Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose).    Posture is focused on yourself an not what others have or are doing (or how deeply they’re folded into the pose).

Brahmacharya – Sense control or abstinence.   Also referred to as moderation in some translations.  This doesn’t imply a strict life of celibacy though some Buddhist monks choose that life.  Rather, using your energy — particularly sexual energy — as a means to connect with our spiritual self.  It means acting responsibly without harming others or ourselves.  It can also mean to manage addiction or resist allowing something external from controlling your spirit.  Hmmmm… quite the opposite of the most recent sex cult allegations wouldn’t you say?

Does caffeine quite literally control you?  Do you give yourself away literally and emotionally too easily or do you keep some things to yourself?  Do you eat until you hurt or when you’re not hungry? How can you moderate your forward folds in Uttanasana and Janu Sirsasana?  Are you tempted to pull and yank yourself deeply into the pose or can you relax into it and let your body do what it wants naturally?

Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness or non hoarding.  We can think of this as contentment with what we have, a resistance to desiring more or resistance to greed.  To take it a step further, if we continue to take more than we need, we are exploiting someone else.  Hoarding implies a lack of faith that the universe will provide exactly what you need.  This is easy to observe at the dinner table.  Take more than your portion, leaves someone else lacking.

In a yoga class, it may mean being considerate of others in the class.  Are you on time or are you disruptive, taking away from your classmates experience?  What about in asana?  Are you able to control your ego and go with the flow or do you aim for the poses that look good in Yoga Journal at the expense of the rhythm of the class?

Many spiritualities and religions have their tenets for living responsibly towards yourself and others.  Many of which consistently appear in some form or fashion.  So, whether you’re a yogi or not, there’s a little yama in all of us.

Rock on and go with the flow of your yamas.


-Your Charmed Yogi

Next: On yoga, really: Nyama for you (Part 2 of 3)>

7 thoughts on “On Yoga, Really: Who’s Your Yama? (Part 1 of 3)

  1. Pingback: On Yoga, Really (Part 2 of 3): Niyama for You | A Charmed Yogi

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