The 5 Yamas of Yoga
At the beginning of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga lays the yamas: the moral, ethical, and societal guidelines for the yoga practitioner.
These guidelines are all expressed in the positive, and thus become emphatic descriptions of how a yogi behaves and relates to his or her world when truly immersed in the intuitive state of yoga.
While we may not strive to reach such a pure state ourselves, the 5 yamas of yoga are still highly relevant and valued guides to lead a conscious, honest, and ethical life.
Patanjali considered the 5 yamas of yoga the great, mighty and universal vows. They should be practiced on all levels (actions, words, and thoughts) and they are not confined to class, place, time or concept of duty (YS 2.31)
What Are The 5 Yamas of Yoga?
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, which includes physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and Self. We create violence most often in our reactions to events and others, habitually creating judgement, criticism, anger, or irritation.
Compassion is the ability to accept events as they are with an open and loving heart. It is a letting go of reacting to a situation in a conditional and negative way, and replaces those feelings or thoughts with kindness, acceptance, and love.
When you first begin practicing compassion it can be hard, and even frustrating. The key is to have compassion for oneself for not having compassion, and to smile at this contradiction.
Satya (truthfulness) urges us to live and speak our truth at all times. Live authentically according to our soul. Walking the path of truth is hard, especially while respecting the first yama, Ahimsa.
Since Ahimsa must be practiced first, we must be careful not to speak a respect, honor, and integrity, but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path.
Asteya (non-stealing) is defined as not taking what is not freely given. While this may seem easy to accomplish, it can actually be more challenging to practice.
On a personal level the practice of Asteya entails not committing theft physically and/or not causing or approving of anyone else doing it- in mind, words, or actions. On a level of society, Asteya is in opposition to exploitation, social injustice, and oppression.
Practicing Asteya encourages generosity and overcomes Lobha (greed). When Asteya is firmly established in a yogi, all jewels will become present to him or her. (YS 2.37)
Brahmacharya (continence) states that when we have control over our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will.
Each time we overcome these impulses of excess we become stronger, healthier, and wiser.
One of the main goals in yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the simplest method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can be applied for higher spiritual purposes.
Aparigraha (non-coveting) urges us to let go of everything that we don’t need, possessing only as much as is necessary. Worldly objects cannot be subject to change and will be ultimately destroyed.
When we become greedy and covetous, we lose the ability to see our one eternal possession, the Atman, our true Self. And when we cling to what we have, we lose the ability to be open to receive what we need.
The practicing of the 5 yamas eliminates or reduces the accumulation of bad karma, as well as prevents the draining of our energy when we lead a false and/or unconscious life.
When we practice the 5 yamas we are striving towards living a healthier, holier, and more peaceful life, while at the same time, we strengthen our powers of awareness, will and discernment. By engaging in these practices we fortify our character, improve our relationships with others, and further our progress along the path of yoga.