A couple of weeks ago, I touched on the very, very tip of the massive, enormous, gigantic, un-melting iceberg that is yogic philosophy.
Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, to be precise. An eight-fold path to achieving yoga. First on this path is the ‘yamas’. Loosely translated as our very own code of ethics and morals, the yamas refer to the attitude we hold towards things and people outside of ourselves, our code of ethics and morals, our send of integrity and how we behave in life. There are five yamas, detailed below.
1. Non Harming (Ahimsa)
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence towards the self or towards others. This includes not only physical violence but also the mental and emotional kind we sometimes cast upon others and ourselves. Think about the old saying ‘treat others as you would yourself’.
The saying still stands however, how do you treat yourself? Are you unnecessarily harsh on yourself? Take on too many projects? Fail to acknowledge your achievements?
How many times have you called yourself an ‘idiot’ for dropping your phone or been ‘kicking yourself’ for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Isn’t that all a little harsh? You’re only human.
When we begin to practice ahimsa towards ourselves, we soon begin to look at our behaviour towards others too. Are you sometimes too quick to judge or criticise? Do you get angry or irritated easily at yourself, others or at situations? If you begin to become aware of your reactions to yourself and others, that is the first step.
If you can let go of the negative reaction and replace it with a sense of peacefulness and acceptance, that is ahimsa. Don’t get me wrong! It’s not easy. However, having compassion for yourself when you happen to slip back into old habits, well, that’s also ahimsa!
2. Truthfulness (Satya)
It is important to learn that everything you see and experience is your reality. Your own personal perception of a situation may be completely different to that of others.
Sometimes we can interpret things differently to how they were originally intended. We can be guilty of twisting reality depending on how we are feeling at a particular time. Maybe picking up on a tone of voice or a facial expression that propels you to take offence, for example.To practice Satya, try to recognise reactions such as this and analyse, is this the truth or is this your truth?
As you take a moment to process the situation, you can begin to align your thoughts and reactions more closely to the truth.
Then you can begin to ‘live’ your truth.
Get to know who you really are and be true to yourself. However, sometimes being true to yourself and practicing truthfulness to others can cause pain. Balancing Satya with ahimsa (non-violence) can be quite the feat but needs to be taken into account.
3. Non-Theft (Asteya)
The non-stealing Yama, asteya, not only refers to the non-stealing of physical objects but also intangible things such as time, information, energy, freedom.
For example, when you turn up late for an appointment or take up two parking spaces in a busy car park, you’re stealing from others and rendering their time or need for a parking space, for example, less important.
The need to behave in this way often stems from feelings of unhappiness, jealousy or a sense of being incomplete.
If you practice generosity, consideration and kindness to yourself and others rather than possessiveness, you will find people react differently to you and you will begin to foster happier and better relationships in the outside world.
4. Moderation of the Senses (Brahmacharya)
The practice of brahmacharya is closely associated with modern day practices of ‘mindfulness’ and the effects of meditation. Turning your focus inwards brings a heightened awareness to impulses, cravings and dependencies. Brahmacharya refers to the courage and will to free yourself of these dependencies.
The most obvious being junk food, alcohol, smoking but more subtly, the books you read, TV you watch, relationships you crave.
When the mind is free from these urges that fail to nourish the body and soul, we attain increased energy and wisdom.
I’m not saying cut out junk food, booze, trash TV. Eat the cream cake now and then, enjoy the tipple while watching the Kardashians. Cultivate good relationships without need or dependency on the other person. It’s about balance. It’s about moderation. Conserve your energy for the more important things in life.
5. Non Possessiveness (Aparigraha)
The practice of letting go. Letting go of that which you do not need. That’s not to say, sell your house and car! Leave your family...now - you’re not a yogi if you don’t!
It’s more about letting go of the attachment to these things. We can never truly, infinitely possess a person, place or object. Everything is subject to change and will not last forever.
When we try to hold on and become emotionally dependent, we manifest fear of losing the item or loss of ‘control’.
When you are constantly thinking about the things you need to do in order to keep or gain more possessions, it is difficult for the mind to remain calm and focused. Letting go of the attachment, the need, the desire for more, creates space and openness to receive that which we do need. Enjoy the things you have in your life but learn to understand that you can also be content without them.
Practicing the yamas brings about a great degree of self-awareness. Start by choosing one, reading up on it and seeing how you might integrate it into your daily living and/or your yoga practice. There is no expectation to live by the yamas immediately, consistently and perfectly.
We are human, after all. However, gaining a level of awareness so that you can ‘check yourself’ when a challenge arises is the first step to naturally integrating the yamas into your life.