Yama, the first limb of yoga, is a code of behaviour designed to build moral conduct. In the Yoga Sutras Patañjali names five actions that must be restrained if we wish to act for the right ends. These restraints are the yamas, and they are as relevant today (if not more) as they were to humans seeking enlightenment thousands of years ago.
Ahimsā is about walking a non-violent path. Non-violence begins with thought. If we learn to ignore the negative chatter of the mind, we are less likely to harm others with our words or actions. When negative thoughts and feelings arise, who does it hurt? You! Learn to ignore them by having the opposite thoughts and feelings. Ahimsa applies to your āsana practice, too. Avoid the competitive urge to muscle your way through each pose aggressively, pushing yourself to extremes, by meeting resistance with joy and equanimity. Be kind to yourself, take one step at a time, and enjoy the process of gradual transition.
Satya or truth really is beautiful. It is impossible to grow spiritually and find fulfilment without truth. Being truthful to others is not always easy, but it’s empowering when you are. Of equal importance is the notion of being truthful about your yoga practice. If you are tired, injured, recovering from illness or surgery, or have been eating and drinking too much, acknowledge it and adapt your practice accordingly. Your approach to yoga must be in alignment with your truth if you wish to be free from the disturbing minds of egoism, attachment and aversion.
Asteya is a no-brainer. Apart from being completely unacceptable, stealing or taking that which is not freely given to you is ultimately not satisfying. When something comes to you by free and honest means – be it a gift, friendship, money or another person’s time – it is much more enjoyable than if you had forced the experience. When you don’t run after something it may come to you by itself, it also may not. However, the case for asteya lies in the fact that if you follow the path of an uncontrolled desire nature, it will only make you unhappy. The same applies to your āsana practice. Don’t try to covet the mastery of others. Let go of what the pose looks like, keep the focus on your breath and notice how the pose feels for you. Magic occurs spontaneously through dedicated daily practice.
Bramacharya is characterised by the practice of strict celibacy in the Yoga Sutras. This is because sexual energy exists in a subtle form throughout the entire body, and in a broad sense its vitality and potency can be used for the purpose of spiritual progress. Today, unless you are a monk or nun, celibacy is unlikely to be very appealing to most people. However, rather than treating sex as a throw away act, you can use your sexual energy in an uplifting way without losing your spiritual power. Sexual energy is contained in yoga class out of respect for others and the divine, which in turn opens our connection to our true self.
Aparigraha is about not hoarding or succumbing to greed. In our advertising-ridden culture, it is so ingrained in us to see and to want. However, if you think about it, the thrill of material purchases is very short lived. Unless it is absolutely necessary, whatever you have bought generally becomes a piece of clutter very quickly. If you lead a simple minimalist life and feel happy with few possessions, it is because you have less attachment. Also, there is no ‘real estate’ in yoga. Hoarding space in class is not appropriate, nor is invading someone else’s pace. Be considerate of those around you, and take some time each class to acknowledge and give thanks for what you do have.
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