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Do You Know The Yamas?

January 18, 2016

Heart_SilhoutteThere are eight limbs in the yogic path as codified by Patanjali – the Yamas are one of the eight limbs. They are observances that create a spiritual foundation for the practice. Practicing the yamas prepares us for developing the ‘witness’, it reveals the unconscious patterns of our self-image and self-concepts. Practicing both on and off the mat, the yamas initiate the process of uncovering our Higher Self. The practice of observing our thoughts, words and deeds allows us to see and accept ourselves where we are right now in this present moment. Sincere practice with intention eventually removes these obstacles uncovering the Spirit within.

There are five yamas: Ahimsa (Non-Violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-Stealing), Brahmacharya (Follow God), and Aparigraha (Non-Attachment). Let’s take a closer look at each of them.

Ahimsa (Non-Violence) – When you think of violence, for most, your initial reaction may be of bodily harm. Beating up on someone, a physical fight or to the point of killing others. But there are many other subtler aspects of violence. When we practice Ahimsa we are practicing non-violence in thought, word and deed. What are the thoughts you are thinking both of others as well as with yourself? Do you have loving thoughts? What words are you using, do you gossip and say rude or mean things to others? On our mats we practice Ahimsa by respecting our body, being gentle and patient with ourself. Off the mat we continue our practice of Ahimsa. We are either practice non-violence or violence — there is no inbetween. Being in the present moment and becoming mindful of our day to day thoughts allows us to better understand ourself, our fears, frustrations and worries. It allows us to remove harmful habits and in return we begin to uncover our Higher Self.

Satya (Truthfulness) – Practicing honesty on the outside may seem so easy, but the reality is we all lie. Without judgement, looking truthfully at who we are at the very core and having the courage to be our true self can be difficult and challenging. “Keeping up with the Jones'”, giving the impression to others we have it all together, all the time can drain us of our energy. On our yoga mat how do we practice Satya? Are we doing the poses to show off? To show others and our teacher what a great yogi we are? Are you practicing and going so deeply into the pose that it is uncomfortable only to impress the person next to you? Off the mat what is the impression you are giving others of who you are and is this representation the real you? Many times at the root of these actions is fear — fear that someone will find out the truth. When in reality when we fully express ourself, when we put our true self out there for others to see we blossom. With all our vunerability, others see our ‘human’ side and can relate to us.

Asteya (Non-Stealing) – Stealing usually comes from the fact that we feel we are lacking. This can be on a subtle level, for example, not being fully present when doing a task by thinking and planning all the other things that need to be done in our day. Wishing we were somewhere else and not enjoying the present moment ‘steals’ that moment from ourself. When practicing on the mat, are you fully present? Are you savoring every moment? Off the mat are we late to a meeting or appointment – stealing the other person’s time?  Do we feel we are entitled to something and take what isn’t ours? Observing our actions on a subtle level allows us the opporutnity to remove the fear of lacking, not being enough. We beging to understand we are enough, we are a miracle and that a Higher Power will provide us with all we need.

Brahmacharya (Follow God) – Brahmacharya has many interpretations and for some this yama can be ‘scarey’ or raise questions concerning yoga, religion, faith and sprirituality. In the literal sense Brahma means God (or Highest Power) and Charya means to follow. So Brahmacharya literally means to follow God or to follow the Highest Power. Yet, when you begin to research more into Brahmacharya you will find many interpretations including celibacy, abstinence, non-excess and returning to Source. For me, my yoga practice is not only a physical practice, it is also a spiritual practice. It is a way for me to connect to my Higher Self and connect with God. This may not be for you, yoga for me is spiritual, but it is not a religion. I personally believe you can have a deep faith, a religion you follow and still do yoga.  Practicing Brahmacharya on and off the mat means you follow God. If you do not have a religion or faith and you do not want to practice the spiritual aspect of yoga, then be true to yourself. Do what feels natural for you, practice what inspires you to be your true self.

Aparigraha (Non-Attachment) – This can be a tough yama to practice. How many things in our life are we attached to? I remember attending a meditation course and the teacher told a story as an analogy concerning attachment. The man had went into the meditation hall leaving his shoes at the door. When he came out of the hall his shoes were gone. He was upset and all day was looking everywhere for his shoes. Who had taken them, why, would he get them back, if he didn’t get them back what would he do, etc. He spent the entire day obsessing over getting his shoes back. Late in the day he went back into the meditation hall to work on letting this attachment go and when he came out of the hall he took a different exit — and there were his shoes! His shoes had been there all day — he had simply went in one entrance and came out a different way. No one had taken his shoes, yet all day he had obsessed over his shoes feeling sad and frustrated that they were gone. How do we practice this yama – Aparigaha – on the mat? How many times do we get attached to a certain pose, a certain type of practice or a certain teacher. We go to practice and there is a sub for the day and we become frustrated, or maybe our favorite teacher changes the practice and we get upset because it isn’t what we expected. Letting go of these attachments, not having expectations and allowing the next thing to come our way. The Chinese have a saying that tells us to empty our cup – meaning that when the cup is full there is no room for anything else to come in.

The yamas are observances we can practice both on and off our mat. They can become a powerful part of not only the physical practice of yoga, but also a powerful aspect in our daily life.  Do you practice the yamas? If so how have they changed your physical practice and how have they changed your daily life?

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