The Five Yamas
Posted on 07/26/2016 by Emma Cushing
Part One - The Five Yamas
Between 1600 and 2200 years ago, a person in India named Patanjali compiled and put to paper a collection of yogic philosophy entitled the Yoga Sutras. These 196 sutras, or principles, contained what Patanjali called the Eight Limbs of yoga; Patanjali believed that if you followed this path, you would achieve yogic enlightenment, self-actualization, and peace. Despite their age, many of these sutras remain relevant and applicable to modern life.
Today we’ll look at the first Limb, a list of don’ts known as the Yamas. Yama literally translates to “bridle” and these are temperaments Patanjali believed you should observe to fulfill your yoga.
Ahimsa ~ Non-violence: Obviously physical violence isn’t okay, but even negative thoughts can be violent -- they create anger and stress, which manifests in your body harmfully. Ahimsa applies to yourself, everyone you encounter (yep, even the dude who cut your car off this morning), and everyone on the planet. Practice self-love and compassion. Practice soft thoughts, kind words, and gentle actions.
Satya ~ Non-lying: Be truthful, through and through. Look into your own heart and align your feelings, thoughts, words, and actions. The next time an opportunity for a white lie presents itself, take a moment and see what happens if instead, you decide to simply tell the truth.
Asteya ~ Non-stealing: Part of this Yama is upheld by the law, so that part is easy. But there is more to it than just straight theft. Asteya also means don’t take anything that isn’t freely offered, and don’t rob yourself of your own value/happiness/belongings by envying those around you for theirs.
Brahmacharya ~ Non-excess: This one is pretty self-explanatory. There is an Ancient Greek phrase that covers this one too: meden agan, or “nothing too much”. These days, we usually hear it as “everything in moderation”. Whatever the wording, we all know what it means - don’t overdo it, no matter what “it” is. If you struggle with this, try hard to limit yourself in the moment of temptation instead of creating a chain of overindulging then restricting past reason (think of the last diet you tried).
Aparigraha ~ Non-possessiveness: Also translated as non-grasping, this Yama is reminding us to not be greedy or put too much stock in what we have over who we are. It is also a call to let go of what you think others should be or do. Aparigraha is epitomized by corpse pose, savasana. Try lending out one of your favorite books or treasured items, but also maybe try letting go of a disagreement you have with someone over a difference in point of view. In the words of Disney’s Queen Elsa, “Let it go!”
Next week, we’ll follow up with the Second Limb from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Niyamas. In the meantime, leave us a comment with how you might find ways to practice the Yamas in your own life!