Our fifth workshop dove deep into the Yamas, the first limb of yoga. Paralleling the Ten Commandments, the Yamas provide a framework for proper conduct with oneself but also with others. The five parts, listed below, can been interpreted as reining in ones’ behaviour but also living with restraint and control. Our social and cultural beliefs can help shape our perspective on the world. Let me share my take aways…
1. Ahimsa – Non-harm, Non-violence
As a person who cannot stand violence, the first Yama aligns very well with my values. Don’t get me started on fighting in hockey! But in some regard this is a superficial perspective. Of course, harming another is an obvious part of this Yama but we took it much further in our discussions in the workshop.
Possibly intuitive, the idea to cause no harm to oneself was one angle I hadn’t really considered. I’m well aware of the power of your own thoughts, yet coming from a Catholic upbringing addressing one’s violent thoughts against self wasn’t necessarily something discussed. Essentially, just don’t kill anybody. I appreciated the discussion about violence towards self, particularly through fear - instinctual fears and unfamiliar fears (fears in our imagination). Facing our fears and acknowledging them is the first step to desensitize harm to oneself. By finding courage, we can shift the balance away from fear and decrease risks to self. When we sit in fear, we move away from love. So this little gem of a quote from Mary “Non-violence is woven with love” really holds true.
Still important, non-harm to others, we reviewed some example of scenarios that I might not have considered in the past. Two really stood out. 1) trying to change someone and 2) providing unasked for advice.
2. Satya – Truthfulness
The best way to describe this second Yama was “making the heart and lips say the same thing”. That statement gave me goose bumps and really helped me summarizes this Yama. Truly, being truthful is doing what is right the first time, both spoken and unspoken actions. Or even the cliché saying, ‘honesty is the best policy”. I can stand up for that!
3. Asetya – Non-stealing, Non-coveting
Again, I reflect on my upbringing and the Ten Commandments. It is obvious that stealing is not a good behaviour. Yet again, it seems to be the surface level of understanding. We dug a bit deeper and looked at where we focus our attention. If the ego WANTS something how do we direct our focus elsewhere. Furthermore, it is not just the deed of stealing but also the non-stealing of words and thoughts. For example, not doing things we say we are going to do is stealing.
4. Brahmacharya – Non-excess
Minimalism is a hot topic right now. The Yamas position the idea of ‘less is more’ well in Brahmacharya. Excess is often a result of forgetting the sacred life. How do we leave greed behind and attachment to things? Focusing on the experience with the divine is truly leaving what no longer serves you. Almost the message from the Gita. Brahmacharya reminds me to look at what the body needs as well as what the mind needs. And ultimately, it really isn’t very much. Challenging in this day and age but something worth striving for.
5. Aparigraha –Non-possessiveness
Similarly to Brahmacharya, Aparigraha is leaving attachment behind. How much stuff in our lives can truly be let go? I’d hazard a guess that a lot can be. If we really reflect on Aparigraha, how much ‘stuff’ are we lugging around every.single.day? In the end we can choose our attachments instead of freedom. Because the more we have, the more we are tied to our things and how much time we need to take care of it all.
These five simple yet very complex guidelines in the Yamas are intriguing and exhausting all in the same. In some ways counter to our current culture. The workshop discussion was enlightening and lifting. The Yamas are perfect to pause and reflect on not only on the mat but also in everyday life.
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.