The Yamas – guides for living well

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Yoga begins for almost everyone with the physical practice of postures.. we’re drawn to feel better in some way and using movement and breath are very powerful ways to do that. I love watching people transform themselves as they start to practice more consistently….. building self confidence, finding focus, lightening up and creating more balance internally. Rebuilding themselves from the outside in, with the physical practice.

After a while as the practice starts to get deeper into you, other things start to change. As your awareness starts to grow, you notice ways you are thinking and behaving and ways you are treating yourself and others that might be less than healthy. Now the practice is more from the inside out, where the real yoga is.

This is another side of yoga which isn’t really talked about so much. When yoga was first conceived the way we relate to the world and how we treat others and ourselves was one of the foundations on which it was built. Last month we talked about Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga – a roadmap for a balanced life and finding purpose and self mastery which also gives us tools for managing and transforming the busy chaos of the mind and moving consciousness from being outwardly focused to exploring the inner landscape.

The first of the 8 limbs is the Yamas – 5 ethical principles to helps us find greater harmony and wellbeing in our relationship to people in our lives and the world that we live in. Rather than moral do’s and don’ts they are more guidelines, which if you follow them will improve the environment you live in, all your relationships and free up your energy.

Ahimsa -Non Violence
The path of non-violence is to reduce suffering. We only need to watch the news to see the impact and suffering that violence creates. Physical violence has a very tangible effect but words, actions and attitude also have great power with lasting ramifications. The effect might not be so visible but creates ripples through our lives and those of others perpetuating more violence with its energy.
Non violence is about compassion and kindness and looking for a place of neutrality while being truthful. Its having courage to be with our mind when its agitated or controlling, and not reacting and passing it on… having the integrity not to manipulate others to get our way and not to take the things that aren’t rightfully ours.
It starts with us – being kind and compassionate and forgiving ourselves first creates room for us to do it with others. Creating more peace in our world and peace within ourselves is really the highest goal.

Satya- Truth
Being honest requires us to be our true selves even when its uncomfortable or inconvenient. It makes us more present to our values, our true feelings and keeps tuned into our inner guidance. It creates boundaries so that others know where we stand. Being real with ourselves and others creates more clarity, less noise, better relationships and ground for us to stand on.
Being with things as they are requires courage and faith in ourselves because we have to remove the mask of how we want to be seen. Looking someone in the eyes and being true takes real vulnerability because we don’t know what the outcome is going to be!
Satya goes hand in hand with Ahimsa because deceit and lies are ways we manipulate others which is a subtle way we violate them. Equally we can use our truth as a weapon if we don’t discern whether we are being honest or simply harsh.

Asteya – Non Stealing
This refers to the ways we take from others, from ourselves and from our world.
We can see by the degradation of our planet how crucial this Yama is in our lives today. Humans are extracting and over-consuming the earth’s resources, stealing them as if they belong to us and without returning or preserving anything for future generations. The scarcity of resources and climate change leads to much bigger problems such as famine and war creating suffering on a huge scale – not only for humans but so many living beings.
Unhappiness and dissatisfaction within ourselves, causes us to shift our focus outwards. We compare ourselves with others where we might find ourselves lacking, which make us needy and produces craving or superior, which makes us arrogant and imposing. In this outward looking position we can inflict ourselves on others in ways that aren’t too healthy… unfairly stealing their energy, time, attention, peace, enjoyment, sense of equilibrium. By looking outwardly we want things, more than we need.
Asteya requires us to bring awareness back to ourselves and look for self fulfilment not by filling from the outside – which is never fulfilling anyway! – but by finding our sense of purpose and appreciation for what we have already.

Bramacharya – Abstinence, moderating the senses/energy
Interpreted as celibacy in older times, Bramacharya in modern understanding also means not doing anything in excess – sex, shopping, food, drinking, thinking, working, exercising or anything that gives us pleasure which can become a problem when done too much. Its about noticing than place of just right-ness, when something is just enough and honouring that. Too much of any thing dulls our system and drains our life-force of its vitality.
Keeping our sensory pleasures under control gives us more freedom and peace, keeps our energy light and vibrant, makes us less chaotic and less likely to cause harm to ourselves and others. Maintaining steady and stable energy frees up our creativity, helps feel balanced and gives us the power to make choices rather than being imprisoned by our impulses.

Aparigraha – non possessiveness
What we possess ends up possessing us. Our attachments keep us feeling trapped, bored and often repeating the same cycles again and again. This could be with our experiences, creating stories out of them, so that we judge the present by what happened in the past.. by clinging onto our self image so tightly we can’t allow ourselves to change or show any vulnerability… in hoarding loads of material stuff which drains our energy…by holding on rigidly to our point of view..
Aparigraha is about allowing things, experiences, situations, people to come and go without attaching ourselves to them. Its reducing our expectation of life to be exactly as we want it, giving it space to be as it really is. Its asking us to observe our patterns and notice ways we keep ourselves rigid and unable to accept change. Whatever we are not willing to let go of in order to be free causes disturbance in our minds, our awareness and our relationships.

Patanjali’s path isn’t just wise its practical, providing us with tools we need to become more conscious and get the most out of life.

Live well 🙂

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