Yama! How do we conduct ourselves?

In my previous blog post I wrote about the eight-fold path of yoga. The first limb, Yama, is often seen as the most important of all eight limbs and was deliberately placed first to emphasise it's importance. There are five separate aspects to the Yamas, focused on our behaviours and how we conduct ourselves in our social interactions with others. This is important not just on the yoga mat but in life generally. Below I provide further detail on each of these five:

(1) Ahimsa: Translated from Sanskrit to mean non-violence or non-harming, it can also be thought of as not intentionally harming. From a yoga perspective it’s really important to listen to your inner teacher during practice and ensure that you practice in such a way as not to inflict harm or injury – accepting the body as it is in the posture at this moment, respecting boundaries and listening to what our bodies are telling us. You may also think of it as not thinking negative or harmful thoughts about ourselves – giving yourself a kinder inner dialogue.

(2) Satya: Translated from Sanskrit to mean truthfulness, it covers a range of perspectives in terms of whether we are being truthful with ourselves and others. Is it possible to be honest in our communications and actions and interactions within others? Again, from a yoga perspective I see it as only teaching postures that I feel comfortable with inside my own practice and being honest about my own limitations and experiences. Yoga teacher Donna Farhi considers whether we are able to take longer to work within our limits to be honest with ourselves on what our bodies can do right now.

(3) Asteya: Translated from Sanskrit to mean non-stealing or non-coveting, it relates to not taking that which is not yours or having an attachment to something that is not ours. From a yogic point of view it is being able to let go of things and recognising healthy and non-healthy attachments. One way of looking at this whilst on the yoga mat is to not worry about what’s going on on the mat next to you or becoming attached to being able to practice a certain posture or look a certain way in a posture. Off the mat, B.K.S. Iyengar raises the inquiry of whether consuming more than our share may be stealing. I like to consider that there is usually an abundance of things to go around and so being content with what we already have is a good approach.

(4) Brahmacharya: translates from Sanskrit as non-excess or moderation and can also be considered as investing energy wisely. From a yoga perspective it is sometimes viewed as not overdoing certain postures that you may not be ready for or staying in them for too long, or things such as moderation in diet and lifestyle.

(5) Aparigraha: translates from Sanskrit as non-coveting or an absence of greed or grasping. It can also be looked at as not getting attached to things – and from a yoga perspective this may be not being attached to a particular posture or way of doing it. In life it may be accepting that things are not permanent and becoming more resilient at accepting change.

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