Although yoga has been around for thousands of years, it has evolved in the West to often be nothing more than a form of exercise that incorporates breath. Although this is great for some and is the reason why most people come to the practice, we are missing some of the real magic of the teachings.
One of the most fundamental texts in yoga are the Yoga Sutras. They hold some great wisdom and if you have already embraced the physical aspect of yoga I really recommend exploring the Sutras to gain a deeper wisdom of the meditative aspect of the practice.
In the Sutras there is an eightfold path described, which is known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The limbs basically begin from quite an external standpoint of how you interact with the world and then start to draw in to more subtle aspects like meditation and manipulation of energy in the body. The first of these limbs are the Yamas and they are a fantastic way of looking at your own moral compass and contemplating how to live life in a more life-affirming, kind and authentic way.
Five Yamas are outlined in the Sutras and over time they have been transformed to fit with the lifestyle that we lead in the modern world. I suggest having a read of each of the Yamas and reflecting on how you can explore these aspects in your own life; on and off the mat.
Ahimsa – non-violence
Ahimsa is a term that was embodied by Ghandi. We have so many opportunities to cause harm in life (and just as many opportunities to respond with love instead) and ahimsa asks us to choose love and compassion over hate, violence and negativity.
Contemplation: How do you talk to yourself in your own mind? Are you being kind and compassionate? How often are you judging others? How are your lifestyle choices affecting the environment, yourself, other people and animals?
Satya – truthfulness
To me, Satya affects how I show up in the world. To be truthful, we first need to find our own truth and this requires us to really wake up and take a look around. Then once we understand our own truth, Satya asks us to live that truth through our thoughts, words and actions.
To consider: How much of what you say, believe and do is as a result of your conditioning (of what you’ve simply been taught/told)? How can you be more upfront and honest and really say what you think, feel and need?
Asteya – non-stealing
On the surface, asteya seems easy to follow. I mean, I assume that not many of us are going around stealing bread. However we can steal so much more than just physical things. We steal love when we treat people in a way that we don’t deserve their love, we steal credit and praise, we steal time when we are late… Stealing essentially comes from the attitude of lack so asteya asks us to cultivate an attitude of abundance instead.
To consider: Where in your life are you taking something that you have not earned? Do you always feel like you are lacking something? Do you find yourself saying “I will be happy when…”?
Brahmacharya – non-excess
This is one of the harder ones to interpret and I encourage you to find your own interpretation. Traditionally, brahmacharya was interpreted as sexual celibacy and ancient yogis would refrain from sexual activity in order to preserve the sexual energy, or prana. In modern times however, brahmacharya asks us to live in moderation. Preserve our energy by not indulging in animalistic activities to the excess, for example, overeating, alcohol and drug abuse, etc.
To consider: What is your vice? What do you do that you know is in excess of what you actually need?
Aparigraha – non-coveting / non-collecting
Aparigraha sends the message that we don’t need to hoard and possess. We are instead asked to cultivate gratitude for what we have and happiness for those who have more than us. In a world of consumerism, being aware of aparigraha helps us to be conscious about what we are buying and encourages us to find happiness from the inside rather than needing material things to make us ‘happy’.
To consider: How often do you consider your purchases before you make them? What would you end this sentence with… “I will be happy when….”? Will that actually make you happy, in the long term?
As you can see, the Yamas are a fantastic way to become more conscious in your life and generate kindness, compassion and gratitude. A wonderful guideline for life.