Yoga ethics - yamas - restraints

Patanjali was an Indian mystic who first wrote down the ancient wisdom of the Himalayan yogis into the Yoga Sutras, concise threads of knowledge on how to live a life in union with God or Cosmic Consciousness. It amazes me how this ancient knowledge is so relevant in our world, society, families, and individuals today. Patanjali outlined an eight-fold path to living skillfully, and only one of these paths relate to asana practice - the classes I teach about the physical postures we take to strengthen and ease our bodies. Patanjali offers the physical asana practice as a tool to settle our bodies so we can sit comfortably for long meditations!

Of the eight-fold path, or Ashtang system of yoga, the first path towards a direct relationship with the Divine is Yama, or restraints. I consider the Yamas to be how we relate to the world. There are 5 Yamas, and the first is Ahimsa - or non-violence.

Ahimsa, or non-violence, is the practice by which Ghandi liberated India from British rule in the 1950's, and was his guiding principle. Ahimsa can be observed by taking a cruelty free approach to life, in your consumer choices or eating a more plant-based diet. On the yoga mat, Ahimsa relates to creating no harm in your practice, not pushing yourself, nor holding yourself back. As your yog practice unfolds, you'll find a better presence and awareness as you relate to daily frustrations - a pause that enables you to choose to react in a non-harming way in thought, word and deed. This might be easy to say, but I understand the frustrations of family, a rushed society, deadlines, work pressures, etc. Yoga's simple lifeskills, starting with ahimsa - non-harm, can deeply change the way you relate to your world with a peaceful awareness.

Satya - Satya is the second yama, and is the practice of non-lying. More than that, it is knowing and expressing your own truth, your authentic self. On the mat, that means honouring your present state of health, considering all the factors that affect you - how you've eaten lately, how you slept the night before, your emotional state. Your intuition should always guide your yoga practice. Off the mat, practicing non-lying is obvious at first glance - but authenticy and truthfulness is not something you learn from a book, or from watching Oprah, which is knowledge. Your personal inner truth is revealed to you through deep listening, and it becomes wisdom. "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." - R. W. Emerson. Why be normal, when you can be yourself?

Asteya - Asteya is the ethic of non-stealing. Non-stealing as it relates to others is a simple kindergarten rule, but as it relates to non-stealing towards yourself, asteya is more complex. Stealing as it relates to Self manifests as a scattering of energy, distractedness, and even multi-tasking in its compulsive state. When we are scattered in thoughts, we steal away strength and energy necessary to become the person we wish to be - meeting our goals and becoming whole, one with the Divine. When we can concentrate on our intentions, without submitting to distractions, we become what we think upon, what we wish to be. Focus!

Aparigraha - the ethic of non-grasping, non-clinging. Letting go of fear and clinging is associated with protecting what we think we own, or protecting ourselves against loss. This yama has a profound effect on our moment to moment suffering and happiness. All suffering is caused by a resistance to real or imagined loss. When we cling, we suffer. Aparigraha is giving up the belief that your happiness depends on your ability to hold onto what you think you own - possessions, people, roles. Openness comes from within, and letting go gives you freedom to receive grace and blessings, and ultimately happiness without attachment.

Brahmacharya - the ethic of celibacy! This ethic reminds us to be in control of our desires, so they don't control us. Whether it's desire for sex, chocolate, television, or any number of indulgences, the time our minds spend thinking about desires are actually tearing us away from our connection to the moment and consciousness. As I read in Yoga of the Heart, "when you are having sex, think about sex. When you are not, don't'. Another simple truth that hold profound wisdom.


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