You may already know from taking classes, but yoga itself isn’t just the shapes and poses we make with our bodies, but an entire system–an 8-limbed system, or path.
The poses, or asanas, that we practice in yoga classes are just one of the eight limbs, and sometimes you may hear about the other seven, but most of the time we don’t get very much explanation about them! Here, we’ll break down the first limb for you, The Yamas.
Out of the 8 petals, or limbs, the Yamas are the first. The word yama itself means restraint–basically, it’s some actions we should avoid doing. Yamas exist to describe the way we should act towards others and the world around us. There are five of these restraints:
Ahimsa is the sanskrit word for non-violence. In other words, we should practice kindness, compassion, and consideration for the world around us. We should aim to do our best to not cause harm towards people, animals, and all things. You may even chose to think about ahimsa as non-harming–because although we do not want to be physically violent towards anyone or anything, we want to make sure our words and actions are not causing harm of any kind to others (emotionally and mentally as well as physically).
Satya, or restraint from falsehoods and lying, is there to remind us to be truthful when we are interacting with others. We want to make sure that we are being truthful in our words and actions–this also helps us practice ahimsa and limit doing any harm. All of the yamas are connected to one another, just like all of the limbs are interconnected too!
Sometimes living with satya can be confusing when we know that the truth will cause harm, and we also know that we need to be practicing ahimsa. Here, it’s important for us to practice telling the truth in a way that is kind, compassionate, and constructive.
Asteya, or non-stealing, seems simple at first–we want to make sure that we are not stealing anything from others that is not being freely given to us. However, this goes beyond the physical too! We want to make sure that we are also being mindful not to steal ideas, energy, and time from others too. We can practice asteya by giving credit when we get ideas from others, by arriving to work and appointments on time, and trying not to take/keep more than what we actually need.
Bramacharya, is commonly translated to either mean celibacy, or moderation. Essentially, we want to make sure that we are not living in a way that is overindulgent to our senses. The explanation for this restraint, is that the more energy we spend on indulging our senses–whether that is sexual energy, overindulging in eating, in shopping, in sleeping,etc.–the less energy we have left for bettering our lives and growing on our journey.
The last yama, aparigraha, or non-greediness, is very related to all of the others! We want to make sure that we are not taking more than we need, not hoarding, and that we are giving what we don’t need to others. Much of yoga philosophy encourages us to let go of unnecessary attachments–because nothing in life is truly permanent, so why hold on to what we do not need? Practicing aparigraha forces us to truly distinguish between what we need, and what we want.
Something that often helps us practice aparigraha, is realizing that we have enough, that we are enough, and that maybe, just maybe, we don’t need more of anything right now.
So, do you need more clothes, or do you actually have enough? Do you need more money? More of that thing that you really really want? Or could you maybe give to someone or something else?
Stay tuned to learn more about the yoga sutras and how you can apply them to your life, living your yoga practice off of your mat, and in the rest of the world!