Many people in America think that yoga is all about being able to get your body into specific positions, but it is so much more than that! Yoga incorporates the mind, body and spirit to create the healthiest versions of those who adhere to the practice. We call this the 8-limb path. The path starts with Yama, or your principles/moral code.
What is Yama?
Yama is the set of attitudes, beliefs and actions we use in our lives, especially when practicing yoga. It is known by different names in other religions – The 10 Commandments in Judaism and Christianity, the Five Pillars in Islam – but there’s common threads running through them all. These are the themes in yoga:
- Ahimsa: non-violence and reverence for life. This is one of the greatest lessons anybody can learn because it takes away most of the stressors we encounter in life. Ever had a bad day at work where a coworker criticizes everything you do in front of your boss? It is very easy to get annoyed with them and complain to others about what they’ve done, but in the long run, it hurts you much more than them. You increase your stress levels every time you recall what they’ve done to others and if they’ll do it again. That endless worry leads to health problems like weight gain, heart disease and anxiety if left uncontrolled. When practicing ahimsa, you are much slower to react to what people are doing and that allows the people who are causing problems to expose themselves while you are becoming your best self.
- Satya: truthfulness in yourself and the world. Self-awareness and knowing the world you live in is an incredible tool for your wellbeing. Intertwined with ahimsa, satya is about recognizing the personality traits in yourself and others and knowing how to use them to your advantage, WITHOUT exploitation! Acknowledging the things people do and say is crucial to maintaining a sense of peace. Most people conflate acknowledgement with criticism, but they are very different, once you learn how to harness the power of satya. If a loved one, for example, is making bad decisions that are negatively affecting you, you can practice satya by explaining to them how their actions are hurting you and setting up boundaries for yourself. The key is being honest with them and giving them the chance to change.
- Asteya: no stealing – taking physical property, but also not stealing emotionally from ourselves and others. When we worry or let someone else put us in a bad mood, we are guilty of asteya. Asteya also relates to the attitude we have towards life and the events connected those attitudes. Have you noticed that when you are constantly worried about how you’ll be able to pay for the bills, you never seem to make enough money? Or have you ever wanted to talk to someone and suddenly you get a call or text message from them? These are examples of asteya manifesting itself in your life.
- Aparigraha: non-posessiveness. The best way to fully understand this Yama is to break the word down – “a” means cnot” or “none,” “pari” translates to “all sides,” and “graha” means “grab.” Taking all of this into account, you’ll realize that aparigraha doesn’t just relate to having too many material possessions – it also provides a look into how you should treat your relationship with the other people in your life. It is OK to ask for help every once in a while, but you must not be so dependent upon them that they cannot fulfill the requirements of their lives.
- Brahmacarya: moderation. This goes hand-in-hand with aparigraha. If you come to the realization that you don’t need much to be happy, you are able to realize if and when you’re giving into the materialistic side of American culture. A personal example is when I have a little bit more money from my paycheck and I see my friends and colleagues buzzing about whatever new things they’ve bought or done – if I’m not in tune with aparigraha, I definitely start buying more things that I don’t need.
Now that you are aware of the first limb of yoga, the yamas, which ones do you feel you need to work on?