“I have found three ways of thinking that shift me out of a feeling of powerlessness: practicing gratitude, trust in the moment, and thinking about others.”
- Deborah Adele
Sutra 2.28: By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment.
The Yamas & Niyamas are the first two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. As Patanjali describes, the Yamas are guidelines for our attitude towards our environment and the Niyamas relate to the attitude towards ourselves. The Yamas help us to understand that yoga is a way of living and not just something we practice on our yoga mat. In this blog we will explain the Yamas, the first step of the eightfold path of yoga. The five Yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (honesty), Brahmacharya (containment of energy) and Aparigraha (non-greed).
Sutra 2:35: In the presence of one firmly established in nonviolence, all hostilities cease.
In our blog about Karuna and Ahimsawe have looked at the first Yama, Ahimsa. Ahimsa means nonviolence or non-harming. By observing our actions towards others and by being aware of our thoughts, intentions, words and actions, we can practice ahimsa. A way to integrate it into practice, is to make sure your actions and thoughts are helping the growth and well-being of others, of all beings. In my own practice, I stopped eating meat and fish, and I try to act from kindness and compassion towards myself and others. Especially in asana practice, it was an important Yama to learn, leading the way to self-love and with that love for all beings.
Sutra 2:36: To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.
Satya means truthfulness or non-lying, embodying the truth through your life. Understanding the truth about who we are, makes it possible to live from that truth in every present moment. Truthfulness and non-harming should be in balance, we should not make the truth any more beautiful then it is, but also not any harsher then is necessary. We should always keep in mind how our actions or words help other people, and if they are necessary and coming from a loving place. Also, truthfulness means connecting to your values and what you stand for.
Sutra 2:37: To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.
Asteya means non-stealing - not taking that what is not yours, not taking more than you need. Asteya flows into the Niyama of contentment (Santosha) and non-greed (Aparigraha). If we do not look outside ourselves for satisfaction, we can appreciate everything we have and be grateful, instead of wanting more all the time. Asteya also relates to respecting others: we should not take any more than we need. This does not only apply to material goods, but also relates to time or attention that others offer us. By being mindful of yourself and others, our inner world and thoughts, we should try to live modestly and basic, as it is so freeing not to want more all the time.
Sutra 2:38: When vital forces are conserved and transmuted, physical, mental and spiritual strength is experienced.
Brahmacharya is often translated as celibacy, but in my own practice I had to look deeper for a more practical approach. It is one of the Yamas that is difficult to interpret in modern times, because celibacy is so far away from the values in our current societies. To approach it differently and instead of translating it simply as celibacy, we can understand it more in relation to the containment of energy. Brahmacharya means to ‘walk with god’, and relates also to our prana, our vital energy, that should not be weakened by unnecessary activity. Regulating our sensory pleasures, or our containment of energy, is a practice that is more accessible in these modern times. By being faithful and by handling our vital energy responsibly, Brahmacharya is an important part of our practice as a modern yogi.
Sutra 2:39: When non-greed is confirmed, a thorough illumination of the how and why of one’s birth comes.
Aparigraha is translated as non-attachment, non-greediness or impermanence. When we live with non-attachment, we free ourselves from greediness. Greed is not only related to material goods, but can also create ‘spiritual materialism’, which can include a seeking towards enlightenment or wanting more in asana practice by striving towards advanced yoga postures. When we practice Aparigraha, we should try to be truly content with where we are and what we have. We should try to live from the awareness that we do not have to improve ourselves, we are already complete. Instead of trying to control, surrender to the larger force of life and trust that everything we need is already present. It is one of the hardest Yamas, because attachment will always be ingrained within our human condition, but non-attachment is necessary because in the end we will not take anything with us. By practicing these five Yamas, we can truly live yoga and take the same good vibe from our practice on our yoga mat into the world.