In the simplest of terms, yoga is like a tree comprised of eight limbs. Each one of these limbs represents a different level of the practice.
The yamas and niyamas comprise the first and second limbs respectively and are ethical precepts that apply to how one relates to oneself and to society. By the most essential definition, the yamas are restraints while the niyamas are observances.
In a nutshell, the yamas are as listed below :
- Ahimsa – non-violence
- Satya – truth
- Asteya – non-stealing
- Brahmacharya – continence
- Aparigraha – non-attachment
Seems pretty cut an dry, right? Avoid these things, behave yourself and you’re golden.
Except we all know that it’s not that easy. If it were, we’d live in a world free of horrible things like assault rifles, child brides and TMZ.
Let me explain them as I understand them. I’ll keep it simple.
Violence means more than just punching someone in the face or stepping on kittens.
Examples of violence include:
- Reacting to an event without compassion, thus creating judgment, criticism and/or anger.
- Eating a mountain of whipped cream if you’re lactose intolerant.
- Pushing so hard into a yoga pose that you blow out a patella.
Practicing truth also means speaking truth. Unless it is hurtful to others.
Examples of untruth include:
- Speaking in any way that doesn’t create integrity, honor or respect.
- Wielding insults such as “you’re stupid” or “you’re Donald Trump” under the guise of honesty.
- Just flat-out lying through your teeth.
Stealing will mess with your karma. But so too will not saying anything when you see others thieving.
Examples of stealing:
- Supporting any sort of social injustice, exploitation or oppression of others.
- Turning the other cheek when someone steals a candy bar. Or a lawn mower.
- Taking a roll of toilet paper from the yoga studio because you ran out. Again.
Continence in this case means having control over physical impulses of excess.
Examples of excessive behavior:
- Any sort of action that does not lend to the longterm goal of balance, vigor and self-knowledge.
- Eating an entire White Castle Crave Crate.
- Professing to be a guru to have sex with students.
It’s a good idea to look at your attachments to determine which are healthy and which are not.
Examples of unhealthy attachment:
- Clinging so steadfast to some object that the ability to receive what you need is banished.
- Carrying your sweater-clad Yorkie every where tucked in your purse because you can’t bear to part with it.
- Telling a fellow yoga student that he or she is in “your spot” and needs to move.
So maybe you’re saying, aren’t some of these just minor infractions? I mean, aren’t we all guilty of some of these?
Yeah, I know. Whipped cream is delicious.
Still, isn’t there always room to be a little more mindful? To not spit out the first thing that comes to mind? To be more generous, compassionate, truthful? And then to build a foundation upon these ideas?
If you said yes, you win. Keep in mind that you don’t win any thing though.