The Yamas “Ethical Standards” are the first of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. Each of the eight practices provides a ‘path’ that can assist in improving one’s physical, mental and spiritual health and ultimately lead one to pure bliss, Samadhi (pure consciousness). The 8 Fold Path starts with external practices and leads to internal practices.
According to Patanjali, the Yamas are guidelines for living ethically and they have to do with how one relates to others in daily life. They are the moral, ethical and spiritual guidelines of one aspiring to achieve balance, health and wellbeing, leading to spiritual development. The Yamas require one to be introspective and consider how he / she treats others and one’s self.
For example, ponder:
Ø Ahimsa: Am I compassionate to others? Be kind
Ø Satya: Am I committed to speaking my truth? Stay true to yourself
Ø Asteya: Do I steal things (physically or emotionally)? Be generous
Ø Brahmacharya: Do you use your energy mindfully?
Ø Aparigraha: Do you resit the urge to take more than you need? Less is sometimes more
There are five standards to live by and remind us that what we practice on the Yoga mat is transferrable to how we live off it. That is, the Yamas show us how to behave in society, within our families and within ourselves. They assist in purifying our nature and in turn, promote a healthier society. The five characteristics of the Yamas can be observed in one’s actions, words and thoughts…
1. Ahimsa - non-violence
2. Satya - truthfulness
3. Asteya - non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya - to live in higher awareness
5. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness, non-greed
Ahimsa is about stopping intentional harm in thought, work, or deed to others, to yourself and to the Earth. It is having and displaying complete compassion to all living things, including one’s self. Negative self-talk is harmful to one’s self, therefore meet ‘negative’ feelings with more positive feelings. “Sometimes when you’re in a dark place you think you’ve been buried, but you’ve actually been planted.” With this outlook, grief becomes our gift, our fear becomes our friend and our pain becomes our pearl of wisdom. “With our thoughts we shape the world” - Buddha. Ahimsa can be distilled into life physically, mentally and emotionally to promote growth. “Once we truly love we will meet anger with sympathy, hatred with compassion, cruelty with kindness… Love is the most powerful weapon on the face of the Earth” - Unknown.
Satya is a commitment to the truth. Sometimes the truth may be coloured by the environment, culture and languages. Yoga practice shows us that truth is to be found in honest self-reflection and in the study of the writings and acts of wise men and women. It relates to vishuddhi, the throat chakra, encouraging one to speak the truth to one’s self and to others. THINK before you speak - The acronym, Think is it: True.. Helpful.. Inspiring.. Necessary.. Kind? If not, no need to say it. Check in with your limiting beliefs for they may be robbing you of joy. It may seem scary to deliver the truth, especially if we think it may hurt another’s feelings, however not telling the truth may end up being even more hurtful for ourselves and for others. The truth can be delivered with respect, care and compassion and may provide a sense of freedom. Be kind to yourself and communicate directly with others instead of making assumptions. Satya means aligning with the truth of love and light. One can practice sitting with one’s self to contemplate big decisions and feel how the mind and body perceive them. Decisions are to be made by choosing from one’s inner truth. May one’s thoughts, speech and actions be truthful. Living an authentic life will lead to ‘moksha’ (freedom).
Asteya is about non-stealing and can be interpreted in a number of ways: Non-stealing of other’s time, ideas, possessions, emotions, energy, money, or mindlessly consuming resources. To steal from another is disrespectful, dishonest and creates adversity. So too is stealing from one’s self. Don’t allow others to steal your attention and time if it’s unwanted. If you deprive yourself of things that bring you joy and nourish your soul, this is like stealing from yourself. As we practice ahimsa and satya we naturally become more aware of how to practice asteya in our daily lives. Communicating with intention is another aspect of asteya, “Open your mouth only if what you are about to say is more beautiful than silence” - Arabic Proverb. It has been said, “all the wealth of the world will be drawn to one who has mastered the practice and discipline of asteya” - unknown.
Traditionally, brahmacharya emphasised the management of one’s sexual energy. The idea was to raise one’s awareness to realise that engaging in excessive sexual energy will deplete one’s vital energy and ojas (vital essence). One’s use of sexual energy should not bring harm to one’s self or others. Another perspective of brahmacharya is to consider how one expresses their creative and sensual energy on a regular basis. Embrace the creative within you and do what brings you joy. Responding to the urge to create when it arises is brahmacharya and the practice can ignite more energy into one’s life. Brahmacharya can loosely be translated as “right use of one’s energy”. Consider where your energy is mostly directed. A lot of time can be wasted on worry - worry about the past or worry about the future, but this does not serve us. “Realise deeply that the present moment is all you will ever have” - Eckhart Tolle. Direct energy away from the external and instead inwards, towards finding peace and happiness within one’s self. Invest your energy in good company, good food, and listen to what your body needs. Essentially, brahmacharya means to observe self-restraint in all things. Practicing brahmacharya in all areas of one’s personal and public life is a natural consequence of observing the previous Yamas.
Aparigraha is often interpreted as non-coveting or non-greed. Greed-based desire that stems from jealousy, judgement, envy, lust and comparison only steal one’s joy. Consider what you need in life in order for you to be a full expression of yourself and trust the Universe to give you what you need without holding onto anything. Feed your desires to meet your higher purpose. Do not use your energy and actions trying to accumulate external things, ideas, emotions or energy – all happiness resides within one’s self. There is no need to look outside as it is a waste of time and energy to try to possess things. When each individual looks inward, peace can be found. It is the attitude of consumerism and attachment to possessions that can be harmful. Therefore, don’t let your possessions possess you, after all, life is in a constant state of flux and nothing is permanent and all can be gone in an instant. To practice aparigraha, choose grace and shift to an attitude of gratitude. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. By focussing on one’s own abundance and creativity, one can blossom and bloom into their own potential. It’s all about perception - take care of your own self and be mindful when giving and receiving. “The grass is greener where you water it” - Unknown. Be proud of every step you take towards reaching your goal, and celebrate another person for their achievements and for what they have. By celebrating others’ successes with them, we can merge with their excitement and that is union, that is Yoga. Every one of us has gifts and talents that are uniquely our own. Each person is on their own path to shine their natural light upon the world.
Practicing the Yamas in daily life can bring one closer to balance and peace of mind. The Yamas are general rules of societal behaviour. They are the foundations for long-lasting and peaceful relationships with ourselves and others as a cohesive and organic system.
“Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. Accept what is and let go of what was. Be grateful for the life you have” - Buky Ojelabi.
Love and Blessings,