Part 1: The Yamas
As discussed in the Introduction post, this series will explore the eight-fold path of yoga philosophy. So far we have discussed the definition of yoga, and now we will explore each limb in detail, including practical applications in your daily life, starting with the Yamas.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga:
1. Yama : Universal morality (today’s focus)
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asanas : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
5. Pratyahara : Control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
What are the Yamas?
The Yamas are 5 basic moral principles surrounding our relationships with those around us. Rather than just a negative list of don’ts, these codes instead remind us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest and peaceful.
Follow these guidelines when considering your interactions with the world around you:
1. NONVIOLENCE (Ahimsa)
- How you treat ALL other living beings
- How you treat YOUR body and mind
- How you think and what you think about
- How you talk and what you talk about
- How you eat and what you eat
- Be kind and loving to your body. Focus on feeding your body clean, whole, healthy foods. Listen to your body and give it what it needs (warm bath? nap? restorative yoga? Your body really should be your temple!
- Don’t hurt the people you love or even the people you don’t like. Don’t get in fights. Try not to hurt others in other ways, such as harmful words or actions, idle gossip, or even negative thoughts. Remember, this applies to EVERYONE – those you love, perfect strangers, and even your enemies.
2. TRUTHFULNESS (Satya)
Consider the Nonviolence / Truthfulness dilemma: Have you ever been in a situation when the truth would be hurtful or harmful to someone? What’s the right thing to do: to say the truth and be hurtful, or lie and save someone the embarrassment?
The answer is “WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT HARM; LET YOUR EVERY ACTION BENEFIT AT LEAST ONE AND HARM NO-ONE.”
Here’s the bottom line: Tell the truth BUT do it diplomatically.
- Be honest with others.Speak openly and honestly, and always from your heart. Speak the truth – no lies (even the littlest white lies can taint your integrity), no exaggerations for dramatic effect (we’ve all done it!), no purposeful omissions. Ask yourself before you speak to someone: Will this action bring benefit to at least one, and hurt no-one?
3. NON-STEALING (Asteya)
This refers to taking only what we need, and leaving the rest to others.
Ask yourself: How much do you really need?
We need only as much as necessary for our survival in terms of basic needs of nourishment and comfort, just enough (of material possessions) to be able to perform our life’s work. Owning three cars, each for a different occasion, would probably classify as breaking this principle. ASTEYA also implies being thankful for what we already have. Not stealing, and NOT WANTING to steal more.
- Take an inventory of everything that you have. Is there anything that you can donate? Are there things in your house you don’t really use? If so, give these items away to friends in need or donation agencies such as Goodwill or Salvation Army. If you are not quite ready, then simply express gratitude to the universe for all of your blessings.
4. FAITHFULNESS (Brahmacharya)
This doesn’t just refer to your relationships. It actually encompasses ALL areas of your life as well: your teachers, your friends, your principles and values, and your commitments.
- As you take on a new task, a new endeavor, a new step, ask yourself: Am I betraying any of my relationships, principles, promises, and commitments?
5. NON-GREED (Aparigraha)
Non-greed is better described as non-hoarding, and is related to ASTEYA. It implies LIVING SIMPLY. It means to take only what is necessary, not taking advantage of a situation or having greed. We should only take what we have earned, because if we take more, we are exploiting someone else. Additionally, unearned rewards can bring with them obligations that might cause problems later on. Our focus should not be the outward towards material objects, but instead, inward towards a spiritual journey that allows us to purify ourselves and create positive change in the universe.
Our convenience-based society and consumerist culture pressures us to want more stuff. We should instead value SIMPLICITY and MINIMALISM.
- Ask yourself before taking a new step: Will this new (…) help me to make other people’s lives better? Is this (…) a real necessity for my yogic living?
“The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting. (127)”
– Swami Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras
Skip ahead to the next post – What is Yoga: Part 2 HERE