What are the Yamas?

Like any deep-rooted tradition, the eight limbs of yoga begin with the philosophy that in order to reach enlightenment or a connection with the Divine, one must live by a certain set of guidelines.

Just as the Ten Commandments shape Judaism and Christianity, the yamas and niyamas shape the yogic lifestyle. Note: yoga is not a religion, I’m simply drawing a comparison that helped me understand how these principles are used.

Directly translated from Sanskrit, “yama” means “self-restraint”. Consider these five guidelines “universal ethics” of the yoga world. They are basically the “don’ts”. Here are the very basic definitions of each one, with my personal experience as an example of how I attempt to follow the ethic on and off the mat:

1. Ahimsa – do not harm
On the mat: If something hurts, I don’t do it. Simple as that. This requires a constant re-evaluation of how I feel in each pose.
Off the mat:​ Ahimsa speaks to my soul – I don’t do well with violence or aggression. I try my best to eat as vegan as possible, shop for ethically sourced clothing, and speak with kindness to others ​🦋

​2. Satya – do not lie
On the mat: Knowing whether I’m doing poses to prove something to myself or someone, or whether I’m doing poses to stretch, strengthen, and heal my body. Proceed accordingly.
Off the mat: No lying, manipulating, or hiding the truth ❌​ To others or myself.

3. Asteya – do not steal
On the mat: Giving myself time to practice every day (not “stealing” from my own yoga practice). 
Off the mat: Not taking what is not given to me freely, including objects, time, and energy 🧛‍♀️

4. Brahmacharya – do not overindulge
On the mat: Using my energy correctly. Adjusting the intensity of my asana to my energy level.
Off the mat: Not consuming food and drink in excess. Also, binge-watching Netflix definitely falls under this umbrella, and I’m definitely struggling with that 😅

​5. Aparigraha – do not hoard
On the mat: Sharing my yoga practice with others. Social media has its problems, but I believe there is benefit to sharing my practice and what I’ve learned from it.
Off the mat: Regularly cleaning out my closet/home to donate what I no longer use. Also, not accumulating what I don’t need in the first place. 

This is, obviously, a very simplified list and explanation. I’ll be the first to say that I’m not perfect, and I’ve messed up in all of these categories. The cool thing is that I can wake up the next day and try again 😉

​I’m curious, though – do you find yourself following the yamas in your own life? Do you see similarities with the religion or philosophy of life that you are familiar with?


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