Yamas Explained: Understanding the Yamas in Yoga
By: Steph Ball-Mitchell, E-RYT-500, RPYT, RCYT, YACEP
I'll never forget the first time I heard the Yamas explained and came to understand the Yamas. The notion of Yamas was introduced to me for the first time in a yoga workshop early in my practice. I had been doing yoga for a few months at that point and had heard of the eight limbs of yoga, but I had yet to really look into what they were. The Yamas, the first limb of yoga, is a set of ethical guidelines for acting towards people and the environment. After hearing my yoga teacher go over the five Yamas, I understood how much of an influence they might have on my life, on and off the mat.
Being true to the Yamas has been a lifelong challenge for me. The process is an undoing of your physical self, and it involves unlearning, self-awareness, and dedication. I am glad I have undertaken the time to devote to them because they have changed my life. I've learned to think about how my choices may affect others and have grown more empathetic and compassionate. For me personally, practicing the Yamas has led to a deeper level of serenity and contentment.
My initial encounter with the Yamas has been life-changing, and I am profoundly appreciative of the wisdom and direction they have given me on my path to self-awareness and development.
Known as the "first limb" of Yoga, the Yamas are a code of conduct that helps us find direction toward a more purposeful and happy existence. The Yamas have their roots in the ancient Indian tradition that gave rise to yoga. The Sanskrit word for "restraint," "abstinence," or "control" is "Yama."
The Yamas were first mentioned in writing approximately 200 BCE in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are the eight pillars of yoga established by Patanjali. The Yamas are the foundation upon which the other limbs of yoga rest.
Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (nonstealing), Brahmacharya (moderation), and Aparigraha (non coveting or non gripping) make up the Yamas (external disciplines). With these tenets as our guidance, we may better understand and engage with the world around us and learn to be more compassionate and respectful individuals.
Even these centuries later, the Yamas remain essential to a yogic lifestyle. They instruct us in the ways of honesty and kindness and teach us how to find contentment inside ourselves. Anyone seeking a more purposeful and satisfying existence would do well to study the Yamas.
Among the five tenets of yoga, Ahimsa is our first Yama and emphasizes nonviolence and avoidance of injury. The teachings of Ahimsa call on humans to treat all sentient beings, including nonhuman animals and the planet itself, with respect and care. Ahimsa is based on the idea that all organisms are interdependent, so when we hurt one, we hurt ourselves.
The notion of ahimsa, which can be put into practice in a variety of contexts, is profound and transformational. One way to lessen our impact on the world's animal population and the planet's ecosystem is to consume a plant-based diet. Kindness and compassion above rage and aggressiveness are also part of this practice. This is not to say that ahimsa means you should be vegan, but it means that you don't want to contribute to the harm of animals in any way.
The planet and our own lives can benefit significantly from Ahimsa's practice. Kindness and compassion towards all sentient beings are the paths to a more peaceful and harmonious world. Every life is sacred, and we must take care to preserve it, as preached by the Ahimsa philosophy. Also, we learn the importance of being aware of the effects of our activities on the environment around us and the fact that there are always repercussions for our acts.
Satya, or honesty, is the second tenet. Satya is the spiritual practice of stating the truth lovingly and compassionately and rejecting all forms of deception, including lies and half-truths. Satya inspires us to be truthful, genuine, and upstanding in everything we do. Yamas explained
Satya is built on the idea that telling the truth is crucial to having a life that matters. According to Satya's principles, self-knowledge, self-assurance, and more meaningful, genuine connections with others are all possible outcomes of life.
Satya's path is not without difficulties, especially when telling the truth causes distress. Though being honest can sometimes be difficult, the rewards are worth the effort. When we cultivate Satya, we get more respect from others and from ourselves. We also foster an environment where people feel safe opening up to one another, which can result in deeper, more gratifying connections with others.
The yogic principle of satya, or truthfulness, has far-reaching implications in all spheres of existence. Living a life of truth, honor, and significance is possible through the practice of Satya. When we begin to understand the yamas and listen to the yamas explained, we learn the importance of truthfulness.
As the third tenet, Asteya entails refraining from theft. The principle of asteya exhorts us to be honest and refrain from stealing. To cultivate Asteya, one must be self-aware and refrain from acting out of greed or for one's own benefit at the expense of others.
Asteya is founded on the idea that everything is interrelated and that when we take something from someone else, it will come back to hurt us. By adhering to the principle of Asteya, we can train ourselves to feel complete and fulfilled, secure in the knowledge that we have no wants or needs.
Developing self-discipline and control, as well as learning to let go of our connection to belongings, are necessary components of Asteya's practice. Being aware of our behaviors and avoiding places where we could be tempted to take what is not ours is also essential.
The yoga principle of ahimsa, or nonviolence, can have far-reaching effects on our own lives and the community at large. Living without stealing fosters an environment of honesty and integrity, which in turn promotes a more peaceful and harmonious existence in all spheres of life. Supporting and upholding fair and ethical trade practices and respecting the property rights of others are two more ways we can help make the world a more just and equitable place.
The Sanskrit word brahmacharya can mean either the discipline necessary to master one's sexual energy or the path that leads to the knowledge of the ultimate truth. Brahmacharya, one of the five Yamas, is crucial for a yogi's development as a spiritual being because it aids in preserving and redirecting prana, the yogi's life force.
Traditionally, brahmacharya had to do with celibacy, although it reaches much further and this was back when it pertained to monks. Celibacy in the context of brahmacharya encompasses abstaining from all sexual impropriety, including courting, seduction, and pornography. This method was developed to help people (monks in particular) find calm and focus by eliminating the emotional and mental turmoil brought on by sexual desire. For us today, brahmacharya is still relevant but has a wider scope.
Self-restraint and discipline in all facets of life, including eating, sleeping, and talking, are also central to the Brahmacharya lifestyle. The yogi can prevent excess indulgence and keep their equilibrium by controlling the sensory input they can experience.
Brahmacharya is not intended to be a means of repressing or denying one's natural impulses; rather, it is a means of channeling those desires into a more refined and spiritually fruitful form of energy. Brahmacharya helps the yogi develop a calm, clear mind, which is crucial for realizing yoga's ultimate aim of connecting with the divine.
At last, there is the principle of aparigraha. As a central tenet of yoga philosophy, aparigraha emphasizes the dangers of amassing material prosperity at the expense of one's spiritual development. It emphasizes non-possessiveness, or non-greed, which refers to a state of mind in which one does not cling to or covet one's belongings.
Aparigraha is the Buddhist practice of developing an aversion to and disinterest in acquiring material goods. Practicing minimalism entails letting go of the urge for constant stimulation in favor of a concentration on the bare essentials for a happy, healthy life. A yogi's goal is to become less reliant on other resources so that they can devote more time and energy to cultivating their inner being.
Adherence to aparigraha does not include giving up one's things or opting for a life of abject poverty. On the contrary, it's about striking a balance between satisfying one's material demands and accepting the transient nature of all things material. Being content with one's circumstances entails appreciating one's possessions while keeping a healthy perspective on their relative value.
The yogi can gain wisdom about life's transience and the path to happiness through these exercises. The yogi can free up mental and emotional energy for spiritual development and self-realization by minimizing attachment to material objects.
Aparigraha also has to do with non-gripping beyond material things. We want to practice freedom within our yoga practice, our relationships and with ourselves. When we seek to understand the yamas and in particular aparigraha, we learn that it is the idea of not holding on to things and letting them freely exist.
It could be that we grip on to ideas or thoughts about ourselves or where we are meant to be. Maybe we are holding fast to thoughts about our yoga practice and how we think it should feel or look. We can grasp tightly to people and concepts and habits, and aparigraha asks us to release all of this gripping.
The Yamas are guidelines for how to conduct oneself in a way that respects oneself, others, and the natural world. The Yamas are foundational to a good and balanced way of life because they outline guidelines for doing so. By practicing the Yamas, we can develop traits like kindness, openness, and self-control, which are crucial to our development and happiness.
In addition to helping us live more mindfully and aware lives, the Yamas assist us in developing a sense of awareness. Practicing self-awareness enables us to make decisions that are in line with our core beliefs and aspirations.
The Yamas are important not only in yoga but in all aspects of our life and relationships. Nonviolence training can help us develop more considerate and sympathetic ways of relating to one another. We may strengthen our relationships based on trust and honesty.
In conclusion, the Yamas are fundamental to a well-rounded and harmonious way of living. Practicing these ethical guidelines can help us grow in self-awareness, compassion, and significance.