Yoga and some of the Yogic texts may be old. But they are certainly not outdated. We've previously introduced Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Often called one of the Yoga classics it has wisdom that we use in our modern life too. Part of that is the concept of the eight limbs of Yoga.
The first limb of Yoga is called Yama. This can be translated as abstinence, or simply guidelines for an ethical way of living. Yama consists of five concepts: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-greed. They may have been translated or interpreted differently by different authors or commentators on the text. In Sanskrit, they are referred to as Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.
These are big ideas to contemplate. This time of year may be the perfect time to do just that.
So get a pen and paper out, or simply sit and meditate on these concepts. To get grounded and focused apply your ground roll-on onto your pulse points. Breathe and get ready for your philosophic Yoga class:
The Yamas of ethical living
Let’s start with the first Yama which is Ahimsa, or non-violence, and not causing pain. This may be one that you actually do hear about in your Yoga class. Because certainly one of the main principles of life must be to not cause any harm. No injuries in our Yoga classes! But it obviously has a deeper meaning than physical injuries.
How might your choices, your thoughts, speech and actions cause pain? To yourself or others? Even to the animal kingdom, environment, nature and society?
By practising Ahimsa we start to observe our Self and how we interact in the world. We take responsibility for our behaviour and the potential consequences.
Satya or truthfulness. Sometimes the truth hurts so we will also remind ourselves that we still want to practise non-violence. The actual meaning of the Sanskrit word Satya can also be translated as "actively expressing and being in harmony with the ultimate truth.” So, we are looking at being completely honest and truthful in our daily life but also in relation to the ultimate spiritual truth.
Asteya or non-stealing. In Sri Swami Satchidananda’s commentary of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras he says: “To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.” Again there are many levels to this statement. For most people, this seems to be a decent moral code. We generally do not steal and we don’t take what is not ours to take. But using the concepts of Ahimsa and Satya can we honestly say that we don’t take more than what we give? Are we greedy? Or perhaps we are holding back? Are we stealing from ourselves and the world by not living truthfully and sharing our gifts?
Brahmacharya or continence is also translated as celibacy. Brahma is a name for God and Char is to walk. The Ya is about being active. So it could also be translated as “walking with God”. This is about conserving our energy. And perhaps use this energy to develop more spiritually.
Aparigraha or non-greed. This is about abstention from greed or hoarding. We are in a consumer society and it’s difficult not to get caught up in “needing” more, buying more and accumulating. Society is also about attaining more power or perhaps becoming more advanced in our Yoga poses or in our work life. The common thread here is more. How can we be happy in the present with what we have? How can you find contentment without more and without greed?
They seem old concepts - but do you think that the Yamas can relate to your modern living? Is there something in them that you can you take away and use in your daily life?