Yamas (Rhymes With Llamas) and all that ethical schizz
The Yamas (Conduct and Restraints) are considered the foundation for those following the path of yoga. They are universal enough to be attempted by anyone, yoga practitioner or not. Just as parents set rules and consequences for young children, Patanjali offers the Yamas as basic rules of living. The consequence of not incorporating the Yamas into one’s life is simply that you will continue to suffer. The Yamas are: ahimsa (non-violence); satya (truth); asteya (non-stealing); brachmacharya (moderation); and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
In the classical teaching of yoga, the student begins with how to live in the world. The study of yoga is about more than the beautiful tapestry of postures and physical practices; it is also greatly concerned with the whole fabric of our lives. The study of yoga begins with the first step on the 8-runged ladder with the Yamas, a guide to living in the world with others, not just about physical health or a withdrawn spiritual life. The Yamas, along with the Niyamas, represent a series of "right living" or ethical rules within Hinduism and within Yoga. They are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals.
Every religion has a code of conduct, or a series of "do's and don'ts". In Christianity, we are very familiar with the 10 Commandments. The Yamas represent one of the "don't" lists within Hinduism, and specifically within Raja Yoga.
The word Yama in Sanskrit, means self-restraint, self-control and discipline. The Yamas comprise the "shall-not" in our dealings with the external world just as the Niyamas comprise the "shall-do" in our dealings with the inner world.
The observance or practice of the yamas is important not only to living a peaceful coexistence in the world, but the observance of these abstinences will help the practitioner achieve a healthy mind and body, and lead them on the path to enlightenment.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice what you preach.” This is not a call for perfection. The word practice means to move forth, and to try with conviction to adhere to what you preach. There will be times in your life when you will fall out of integrity with your beliefs and your ideals and you will feel and behave inauthentically. The real test to see if you are practicing what you preach is whether you recognize that you are out of integrity, and if you restore it.
Every moment is a blank canvas and a chance to begin again. When faced with being out of alignment with the Yamas, do not fall into the fears of not being good enough. Forgive yourself and others and accept that this path is a daily practice– not daily perfection. Your failings of these principles can provide as much inspiration, learning and motivation as your successes can. To paraphrase an old famous Turkish proverb, “No matter how far down the wrong road you have traveled, you can always turn back.
In my next few blog posts, we will dive into each Yama individually as we explore the deep well of yoga philosophy.