If you haven’t had enough yoga philosophy and my interpretations on how to adopt the teachings of yoga into daily life, then read on for my third instalment of this series. I have experienced great joy in reading the text and then contemplating how to make it accessible and useful for average joes like myself. To be honest, it’s not an easy read and unless I had a sincere interest in yoga, I would probably never have read anything of the sort. I have learned about this subject with several teachers and still hadn’t thought about how I could really live with these tenets in mind. Only now can I see what I would be missing! So let’s get on with it then and see what we can learn in this writing on Yamas.
What are Yamas?
Yamas are the restraints that yoga explains we must abide by to prepare ourselves for higher states of being. I see them as a moral code which we can observe to help maintain our inner peace and work towards being more thoughtful and understanding human beings. The Yamas are the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga. There are eight of these limbs, all of which are considered to be equally important.
In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, we see the following Sanskrit and translation for this sutra of the Sadhana Pada or Portion on Practice:
II.30 ahimsa satyasteya brahmacaryaparigraha yamah
Translation: ahimsa- non-violence, satya- truthfulness, asteya- non-stealing
brahmacharya- continence, aparigraha- non-greed
What is the point of these restraints on behaviour? How can we live by these in our modern world? I think it is important to draw attention that the sutra immediately following II.30. It explains that there are no excuses for anyone on the path of yoga to forfeit these vows, but for all others they can be modified to their position in life. I absolutely believe that we can adapt this ancient knowledge to our daily lives. When I think about the wisdom provided by yoga and the moral truths that resonate within me, I can’t help but think about ways to apply them to my life in a realistic way. I have already made choices in my life that preclude my desire or ability to come close to knowing what it feels like to reach samadhi or enlightenment. The next best thing is to try and live a life where I can be as true to my inner spirit as possible and to seek it out in others.
Ahimsa- to cause no harm or pain
The first thing I believe people think about with ahimsa is physical pain. Of course I believe it to be wrong to cause physical pain to any living thing. I think ethically about the items I consume or make use of. I do my best. If I can carpool somewhere or purchase products that are fair-trade, non-animal based and environmentally responsible, I will do my best to do so. If there is a choice to get a recycled paper product, I will select it. You get the idea. Ahimsa can be an everyday promise to yourself to try and be mindful in what you do and how we imprint the world. Every decision made is a chance to observe this restraint on causing pain to others. The other aspect of ahimsa is emotional or psychological pain. Sometimes this one can be more difficult than the physical. It requires compassion, empathy, kindness and above all, love. When I see distress in relationships of my own and others, I want to find a way for peace and love to rule, what a hippie! Of course I get angry and sad but after the initial emotions wear off, I look for that place in my heart.
Satya- truthfulness, non-lying
In our world of fear, betrayal, greed, I could go on but it is really fear that drives our inability to stay truthful to ourselves and others, in my opinion. I have read about experiments on children who were placed in situations where they had the option to do something they shouldn’t. An example- the child would get a prize if they could throw a ball into a basket with their eyes closed. When the adult left the room, the child, sincerely wanting the prize, would cheat. The scenarios were recorded. When the child was asked about it, they would lie because they were afraid of the consequence. This is not so different from how adults behave. When nothing is at stake because of a lie, why do we still fear the truth? We do because deep down inside us, we know that it’s wrong. If lying becomes a pattern in our behaviour, it can infect our perception of what is right and how far that boundary can be stretched. So when you can and even if it seems difficult, follow your heart and be true to yourself. Since the core of humanity is love, you really can’t go wrong;)
Asteya- non-stealing or indifference to what is not your own
This one can be as small as not taking a dollar from your dad’s wallet or as large as stealing a car or an identity. Stealing feels bad. I remember when I was a young girl, I saw a women at the grocery store drop a ten dollar bill. I didn’t tell her. I went and took it. At first, I thought it was great, free money! But I didn’t find it there, I saw who lost it. When I got home, the feeling of remorse I experienced for such a deed was overwhelming. If we ignore that feeling when the act is small, it could lose its influence on our conscience over time and when the action is more significant.
Bramacharya- continence or control of the sexual force
It is important to identify that bramacharya is NOT the suppression of the sex force. Satchidananda states in his commentary that suppression will only cause the mind to become further preoccupied and attached to sexual desire. This can cause irritability and restlessness, which would be unpleasant and unnecessary. For modern society, I think that being wise as to who I decide to share intimacy with and the meaning of doing so is how this can be observed. Sexual desire should not be at the forefront or the underlying reason for our daily activities. It has a beautiful place in our lives, where it should stay.
Aparigraha- non-greed or the ability to see the actual role of possessions
When we truly understand the actual role of possessions, it is much easier to see how little we really need to be happy. When I hear in the media about how stars feel lonely or die due to an overdose on drugs, I can see that having money and many possessions isn’t what brings happiness. Yes, it can lessen the stress of getting by day to day for those stuck where no escape can be seen. There are countless people around the world who live with much less than first world countries who are much happier and have a far greater understanding of what is important in life. When I look around me and imagine what I could not live without if there was a fire or catastrophe that would ruin my belongings, it is the possessions that hold memories of the beautiful things that have taken place in my life that I can’t do without. It’s old pictures that can never be replaced, the first blankets that my babies used when they were born, the school work and paintings my children have created, items that would carry no meaning for anyone else. It’s not a jacket, or shoes I would run to try and grab! I also try to minimize my collection of things, which would be easier if my husband wasn’t a pack rat! LOL. It’s all about doing the best you can.
After reading about the Yamas, I hope you have found some bits that resonate within you and you decide to follow your spirit, listen to the truth inside you. We all have the capacity, it is there. It’s love baby, yeah! And it sure feels good.