The Yamas

The foundation for a yoga practice. Collectively, the yamas mean “do not harm.” The yama practice is of restraint and avoidance of harmful actions and thoughts. A guide for what not to do.

Sutra 2.30: ahimsâ-satyâsteya-brahmacaryâparigrahâ yamâh
Non-violence, truthfulness, abstention from stealing, non-attachment and non-possessiveness are the codes of self-regulation. The Yamas are the first of the eight steps of yoga.

Ahimsa: Non-Violence

The concept of nonviolence extends far beyond becoming a vegetarian or believing in gun control. Ahimsa is an approach to daily interactions that foster peace, love and compassionate action.

Although the vocabulary sounds like a diatribe only seen in swirling script on candles and doormats, in fact, peace, love and compassion are as timeless as life itself. This first part of the yamas is the challenge to be acutely aware of one’s own actions and contributions.

To live a life of ahimsa takes diligence, restraint and awareness. Furthermore, practicing ahimsa is to avoid violent thoughts; work hard to avoid contempt or ill will. Finally, ahimsa includes practicing compassion towards the self and avoiding negative self-talk and destructive criticism.

“Ahimsa is the highest ideal. It is meant for the brave, never the cowardly”
-Gandhi

Satya: Truthfulness

Literally means to speak the universal truth. Practicing satya equates to speaking the truth as well as possible.

Satya is the separation between judgement and observation. A judgement is an unfiltered observation and, while maybe true, it is not always within the realm of satya to express it.

If you look at a work project and say “this project is a mess,” you are expressing unkind judgement. Instead, if you say, “this project does not meet my expectations for today,” you are expressing your desires in relation to the project rather than judging the project according to an arbitrary self-imposed standard. Both statements are true, but by removing the judgement, you are speaking in a greater truth about your relationship to the project. Practice satya by speaking the truth about yourself and others but understand that judgements, while true, are not always necessary. There is no need to tell your friend that her new haircut is ugly, even if it’s true! Speak with honesty, but be kind and compassionate with your words.

Is it True?

Is it Kind?

Is it Necessary?

Asetya: Non-Stealing

Theft is to take or covet that which does not belong to you.

Practice asetya by refraining from taking that which does not belong to you and also avoid desiring something that is not yours. In the yoga sutras, there is no distinction between thoughts and actions when it comes to theft. Furthermore, stealing also includes violating someone’s trust. Practice asetya by being content with what you have, living in the present moment and respecting the people with whom you come in contact. The practice of yoga is all about removing unnecessary desires. If you truly need something, it will find its way to you. It is not necessary to steal.

What is the difference between a need and a desire?
Bramacharya: Abstinence

Historically, bramacharya meant celibacy. Yogis gave up sexual relations in the quest for pure and devotional energy. The self-restraint that it took to give up sex delivered a clear mind and enhanced commitment to use that energy in a compassionate way.

Giving up sex altogether may or may not be realistic. However, it’s worth examining what type of sexual relations you are engaging in. Are they mutual and loving? Are they bringing joy and ease? Intimate relationships can be extremely distracting. Bramacharya is a suggestion to avoid sexual relations that are distracting from one’s intention, which is compassionate and honest living.

Furthermore, since sexual relations include another person, it’s worth asking whether you are being compassionate to your partner. Practice bramacharya as a technique to avoid stealing someone else’s joy, pride or happiness.

Be happy for those who are happy,
be compassionate toward those who are unhappy,
be delighted for those who are virtuous,
and be indifferent toward the wicked.
-Patanjali
Aparigraha: Non-greed

Aparigraha is to practice being rather than becoming or having. The intention is to remain focused on the present moment.

According to the yoga sutras, attachment to material possessions creates suffering. The problem lies in the wanting of what one cannot have and suffering due to the absence of a thing. Practice aparigraha by gracefully living in the present moment, embracing what exists now and letting go of what does not or cannot exist.

In the end, only three things matter:
how gently you lived
how much you loved
how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you. 
-Buddha