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Through the Lens of Yoga: The Yamas

Something magnificent about the Yoga practice is that is sparks the inquiring mind. In fact, the very first line of the ancient text, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads:

Yoga Sutra 1.1.

Atha Yoganushasanam.

And now, the Discipline of Yoga.

The word discipline is often swapped with practice, study, or inquiry.

Self-inquiry, self-study--in Sanskrit, svadyaya--is the initiation of Yoga.

Is likely that you first came across Yoga with some kind of inquiring mind, wondering if the benefits you heard about may work for you.

If you are months or years into your practice, you are continuing to inquire. Each time you practice, you learn about yourself.

Yogis inquire how we can continue to improve ourselves and how we show up in the world. The Yoga Sutras defines 10 guidelines for a student on their Yoga journey. These are called the Yamas and Niyamas.

Today we will examine the Yamas and prompt questions on how you can strive toward each of these in your life.

Yamas are the first limb of the eightfold path, ethical guidelines or moral principles that yogis are encouraged to follow in their daily lives in order to create a more harmonious and balanced life. There are 5 Yamas:

  1. Ahimsa, Non-Violence: Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, both in actions and thoughts. It encourages yogis to avoid causing harm to oneself or others and to cultivate compassion and kindness.

    1. How do my actions avoid or prevent harm?

    2. How can I respond to a challenging situation with compassion?

    3. Are the posts I share online hurting or helping others?

  2. Satya, Truthfulness: Satya means speaking and living in truth. It encourages honesty in words and actions, as well as being true to oneself. Yogis are advised to speak the truth, but also to do so with compassion and sensitivity.

    1. Are the words I'm speaking or posting online true?

    2. What is truth?

    3. What is my truth? - examine your deeply held beliefs and principles. Inquire into what you genuinely think and feel about various aspects of life, such as morality, spirituality, relationships, and purpose.

  3. Asteya, Non-Stealing: Asteya means not stealing or taking what does not belong to you, both in a physical and metaphorical sense. It encourages contentment with what one has and avoiding coveting or taking what rightfully belongs to others.

    1. Beyond straight up theft of physical property, we can also considering timeliness a way to honor the practice of Asteya, by not stealing time from others.

    2. Why do I feel envious about something someone else has? How can I practice gratitude for what I do have and contentedness for my current point in life?

  4. Brahmacharya, Moderation: Brahmacharya traditionally may imply celibacy for those on a spiritual path. In a broader sense, it encourages the moderation of all desires and urges, allowing one to focus on higher pursuits.

    1. In Yoga we are working to control our mind and our actions. This means first awareness of intrusive or otherwise distracting thoughts or desires.

    2. Practice observing thoughts without attachment or judgement around those thoughts. Bramacharya is the relentless practice of not allowing our urges to take over and our mind to lose its focus.

    3. Why does this thought consume me? Do I need to respond to these earthly desires? I am not defined by my thoughts.

  5. Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness: Aparigraha encourages non-attachment and non-possessiveness. It advises letting go of materialism and the desire to accumulate wealth or possessions beyond one's basic needs.

    1. Why am I so attached to this material thing?

    2. Why am I attached to a past version of myself?

    3. Why is it so hard to let go of someone I love? - Arguably one of the hardest, especially when we are faced with the excruciating pain of loss. It is so hard to say goodbye and so hard to accept that loss and death are a part of life, a necessary and never ending cycle. Time persists on.

    4. How can I find peace in the present moment, not mourning the past or grasping for the future?

I hope these ideas have spurred further inquiry in your practice. Keep learning, keep studying. Read, learn from teachers, and then turn inward, breathe deeply, and start inquiring inward.



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