The Yamas – discovering the truth and kindness within ourselves

Today’s post will talk about Yamas – the ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga that can help us live a happier life. As we hinted last month, practicing yoga does not only involve physical practice (Asana). Quite the contrary, Asanas only form 1/8 of yoga and are accompanied by the Yamas and Niyamas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, and Dhyana. So what are the Yamas?

Yamas is a Sanskrit word translated as “discipline” or “restraint.” Thus, Yamas can be understood as rules that guide us in life in a way that we restrain ourselves from behaviors against yogic beliefs. They introduce us to behavioral patterns we should follow. For example, there are 5 Yamas known to us, and we will look at them one by one.

Yamas of yoga

Ahimsa - the Queen of Yamas

If translated literally, Ahimsa means the absence of violence. We can explain it as kindness, friendliness, or thoughtful consideration for other people, animals, and us. Ahimsa encourages us to treat others with care and respect and think about our actions and consequences. An example of Ahimsa might be parents avoiding dangerous activities. They understand that if they hurt themselves, it would adversely affect their children. 

Choosing an eco-friendly yoga mat over a mat produced from unsustainable materials is another example of living following Ahimsa. Last but not least, practicing Ahimsa does not mean we do not defend or protect ourselves. It means we do so in a considerate manner.

To speak the Truth - Satya

Satya means “to speak the truth.” Speaking the truth, though, might sometimes affect the recipient. Thus, instead of pointing out what someone is not good at, it is always better to omit it and highlight what the person excels in. Satya, combined with Ahimsa, encourages us to remain silent if the truth would cause harm otherwise. It does not enable us to lie, as that would be against Satya.

Asteya

= Non-stealing. If we wish to live by Asteya, we shall not take anything that does not belong to us. Asteya also applies to intellectual property or information we are entrusted with. Practising Asteyas might protect us from uncomfortable situations in the present and future.

Brahmacarya

The Sanskrit word Brahmacarya is composed of car, meaning “to move,” and Brahma, which means “truth.” Therefore, we can understand this Yama as advising us to move towards the essential truth. Following the fundamental truth will guide us towards content and abundance. We must form relationships that will lead us in a direction our soul wishes to go, and that will help us stay true to ourselves. It also motivates us to control our intimate desires, not suggesting we should live in celibacy, but encouraging us to be respectful towards our loved ones and family and preventing ourselves from being unfaithful. 

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Aparigraha

The fifth Yama encourages us not to seize opportunities that might not be for us. Instead, it guides us only to take what is there for us and not take advantage of others or situations. Furthermore, it implies that if we seize more than we are entitled to, we might end up burdened with unnecessary obligations that might result in difficulties or problems.

Like everything in life, all 5 Yamas are closely connected, and they should not come into conflict. If we are new to yoga and find it difficult to practice all of the 5 Yamas at once, we might start practicing them one by one. Then, beginning with Ahimsa, we will learn to take care of others and ourselves and live so that we do not cause harm. Then, we might quite naturally incorporate Satya into our lives and Asteya and Aparigraha. 

As all these three Yamas have their roots in Ahimsa, are closely related to it and should not come in conflict with non-violence. Once becoming comfortable with these 4 Yamas, we could suddenly realize that we are on the path to living per Brahmacarya without any extra effort. We will find ourselves living in truth, seeking truth, and speaking the truth, living in balance, abundance, and happiness, not seeking more than we need and not offering more than is asked.

References:

Desikachar, T. K. V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Developing a Personal Practice. Inner Traditions International: Vermont.

 

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