We know that there are 8 Limbs of Yoga, and the Yamas are the very first limb. In a way, they are like the foundation on which to build your yoga journey upon. The Yamas are guidelines and ‘restraints’, and you’ll notice they align very much with many religious & spiritual values overall. They might seem simple, or a little too obvious — but let’s really consider what they so eloquently suggest.
Ahimsa: Non Violence
Ahimsa is said to be the foundation of yoga. It’s non-violence towards yourself and other living beings in your actions, thoughts and words. Ahimsa starts with the self & is based on the truth that everything is connected.
It is rooted in compassion, love and self-love. When we think of the word violence, we tend to think of it physically; but there are many ways in which one might be ‘violent’ to themselves and others through words or thoughts.
A yogi also considers the impact of their choices, particularly buying choices — ensuring that they are sustainable, humane and fair trade. In other words, considering the harm caused to the environment, animals or humans involved in the making of a product or food item.
In essence, Ahimsa is a true oneness that you feel with humanity, with nature and with all living beings.
Satya is truthfulness in one’s speech, thought and deed. Truthfulness is beyond the act of not lying. It includes:
- Taking off our masks, letting our real selves be seen (vulnerability)
- Assertiveness; genuine communication
- Seeing things as they are rather than what you want them to be
Essentially, Satya is:
seeing the truth (seeing reality vs delusion)
speaking the truth (honesty)
having your actions in harmony with your thoughts and words (integrity)
and being the real you (authenticity).
Similar to the other Yamas, there’s more to Asteya than meets the eye. So how do we practice non-stealing in our thoughts, words and actions?
When it comes to the earth: Human beings do ‘steal’ from the earth’s resources quite a bit. Let’s give back wherever we can, and not take more than we need.
When it comes to relationships: coming to the relationship to give rather than take. Respecting their time, being a good listener and holding the space for them to be who they are.
When it comes to ourselves: Having an active gratitude practice so that we are rooted in a sense of completeness and contentment with what we have. A daily gratitude practice also keeps us from envy, jealousy or comparison which are forms of ‘stealing’ as well.
They say overindulgence is often due to spiritual starvation, and that if you’re truly connected, you’ll rarely overindulge. Brahmacharya is moderation of sensual cravings in an empowered way where we are not slaves to the senses.
Traditionally, Brahmacharya means a lifestyle of celibacy, or abstinence until marriage. It was encouraged to remain celibate in one’s younger years so that their energy could solely be expended on studies, gaining spiritual knowledge, and using this time to find ones place and purpose in the world — being undistracted and focused on their Dharma.
Even in marriage, it is recommended to conserve our sexual energy which leads to many physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Brahmacharya can also mean bringing a mindfulness to things like food, sex and anything else that has the potential to become something we overindulge in.
The essential philosophy behind all of this is moderation, and the right use of energy.
Brahmacharya to me, is the harnessing of our energy towards self-realization and Divine pursuits while still enjoying the pleasures of life with discipline. Discipline equals freedom.
Aparigraha is non-greediness, non-possessiveness and letting go.
In practice, it means letting go of our attachments to possessions and worldly goods for our happiness. It is simplicity, non-accumulation and being content fulfilling needs rather than wants. Practicing minimalism is practicing Aparigraha.
Letting go is the opposite of holding on — and when we think outside the realm of material things, many of us are holding on to certain feelings and emotions as well that might be harming us. Practicing forgiveness is practicing Aparigraha.
One can still be ABUNDANT and practice this, as it is a mindset from which you operate.
Putting it all Together
So there we have it.
Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation/celibacy) and Aparigraha (non-greediness).
These are the 5 ‘restraints’ that yoga philosophy condones. Like many yogic concepts, they all have a much deeper meaning beyond the surface. So whether you are new to yoga, a seasoned yogi, or somewhere in-between — its good to check in and reflect on the Yamas and see how we are doing.
A foundation is a strong, grounded formation that can hold up the tallest tower and I hope this information can be that foundation for you and your practice.