Updated: Feb 1
You may have heard your yoga teacher talking about some "moral codes" or "ethical living standards" in yoga? These are the Yamas and Niyamas. They come as a pre-condition in the eightfold yoga tree before you learn to study shapes, postures, or the Sanskrit word asanas.
Here, I briefly outline the 5 Yamas mentioned in the Sutras for you.
The Yamas are like the "don't do these things you don't' want to happen to you" and reduce suffering for you and others, whereas the Niyamas give you the "do these, as you wish to be treated by others".
1. Yamas - The question is "Can you live your life gently and lovingly that feels balanced?
Can you give your best (tapas) without aggression (ahimsa) and be content (santosha) with the outcome? Can you do this in life on and off your yoga mat?
1.1 Ahimsa – translates as ‘non – violence’, or how to develop the opposite, which could be termed "kindness", which manifests in body language, thoughts, speech and actions. Practising ahimsa takes time and is an advanced practice. Only after some time of physical practice, you may understand that non-violence means you move, bend, and stretch more productively without overstretching overbending.
Sometimes we realise it too late, and we suffer from sciatica, knee, neck or other joint pain. Some questions help us to understand this:
Can you do your practice in such a way that you will not get injured?
Is your practice overstimulating, too aggressive, does your heart beats too much, or are you over-breathing?
How do you feel emotionally?
How are the postures affecting your physiology?
Are you overcritical?
Through the lenses with honesty, you see how your actions affect others, and you start mindfully changing your attitude. Your sensitivity reflects itself in healing and nurturing. We can also overstimulate and get over-emotional in our practice. The nervous system can get overtaxed. Through self-inquiry, we may realise this, and through the lens of ahimsa, we can change.
Ahimsa is really the lens through we do our practice on and off the mat and in a way, the most important of all Yamas. It is kindness in action.
1.2 Satya - truthfulness to yourself and others, to investigate honestly, e.g., we can ask ourselves:
How far can my body go?
For example, how far can you forward bend?
How far does your body want to bend backwards?
Are you using your limbs to force yourself into a posture, or do you let your body open gradually?
Are you truthful in the image you give of yourself to others?
Do you pretend you dislike certain things, but then you do them?
I find this fascinating Yama, especially with the emergence of social media, we see more and more people creating images that are not real or truthful. Claims to support selling their services, such as, that they have done something since they were kids (?), or they are the most primary source of greatness etc. - for me, modesty in action and humility as a yoga practitioner, not to claim to be the best and being real.
1.3 Asteya - giving and not taking what has not been given to you in an honourable way, showing gratitude and not holding back, is translated as non-stealing. This non-taking what has not been given to you includes ideas and taking credit for other people’s efforts. Give credit to people who inspire you or have inspired you and honour experience and the source of your inspirations.
There is a lot to be learnt about asteya as people don't honour any longer where they learned, who their inspiration was and claim it all "to be their own thang".
1.4 Brahmacharya - use the minimum energy to act in life, are you attached to what feels right and gives you pleasure? This might also manifest itself in an obsession with something, even your practice. Can you be flexible in your approach? It is not your body's flexibility that will change the world and do good but mind flexibility. Brahmacharya also means “celibacy” and especially religious traditions or the ascetics practised celibacy as part of their discipline (tapas).
1.5 Aparigratha - a virtue of non-possessiveness, non-grasping, or non-greediness. Cultivating a feeling of satisfaction and being happy and content with what there is in your life right now — understanding that the basic needs are covered without feeling the need for more or being greedy or taking from others. Sometimes you forget that your body has aged, and you think ‘I used to be able to do that’ and you get extremely disappointed that you no longer can. Can you be free from those deep-seated desires and accept changes and flow with them?
In addition to these 5 Yamas as mentioned by the Patanjali Sutras, we have a further five important attitudes:
Mitahara: Non-excess in food, moderation in food
Kṣamā: Non-agitation about suffering, patience, forgiveness
Dayā : Non-prejudgment, compassion
Dhrti: Fortitude, perseverance to reach the goal
Ārjava: Non-hypocrisy, sincerity
If you like this and would love to receive more blogs written by me about my passion, Yoga, please subscribe, and those articles will come into your inbox. The Yamas are guidelines that can enrich our lives and help us discern who our real friends are and how we can live our life fuller. Love, kindness, gratitude all lead to more content being.