The last couple of weeks, I’ve been starting my classes with a brief discussion of the Yamas. The Yamas are the 1st of the 8 limbs of yoga as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. They are a set of moral or ethical guidelines that practitioners of yoga aspire to. These guidelines or restraints are more outwardly focused, external guidelines, while the Niyamas, the 2nd or the 8 limbs, are more internal practices. I like to think of the yamas as having both an intrinsic value (ethics and morals to adhere to because they are good in and of themselves) and a very practical value. As your yoga practice deepens, without the framework of the yamas, your practice will inevitably hit some stumbling blocks. They support and nourish the other 7 limbs.
Ahimsa means non-violence or non-harm. Not only does this mean not harming people or ourselves physically, but developing compassionate thoughts, feelings, and words. Things like our own internal self-talk can be either harmful (why am I unable to get into this pose. I’m so unflexible), or compassionate. Ahimsa asks us to treat all beings (including ourselves) with care and love.
Satya means truth, or non lying. This Yama, like the others, has both an obvious and a subtle meaning. It can be taken to mean don’t tell blatant lies, and it also means not fooling yourself when it comes to your thoughts, feelings, and abilities. In other words, being honest with yourself, even when you don’t like what you see. When you expand your vision far enough, this truth ends up being nourishing, helping you to grow and develop.
Asteya translates as non-stealing. This means both not taking physical things that are not yours and also adjusting your mindset so that you move from an outlook of lack and scarcity to one that recognizes the abundance available when let go of that mindset. When you fill your reservoir internally, you are not left empty when those outside objects, attention, energy, etc. goes away.
Brahmacharya means moderation of our life energy. This is often highlighted as sexual energy as that is the most easy to get lost in, but can really be the energy behind any desire or activity. It’s not a puritanical moral restraint, rather the idea that the energy behind our desires can either control us, or we can learn to work with it consciously so that it supports us on our path.
Aparigraha means non-greed or non-hording. This yama encourages us to not covet that which isn’t ours (both physical and mental) and instead, by not succumbing to greed, find the space to let ourselves grow. Instead of trying to get ahead by trying to accumulate that which others have, this yama asks that we instead try to find our own true selves, free from comparison and jealousy.
Together, the Yamas are the foundation that will support the rest of the 8 limbs. When committed to, they bring depth to your yoga practice and help to expand your practice to encompass the whole of your life.