The Yamas comprise the first of eight limbs on the path of Raja yoga, as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Generally, the Yamas are viewed as a guideline for our interactions with the external world. In my recent contemplation of the Yamas, I have taken a more inward approach by examining how they can be applied to the intimate relationship with our self. Since our external relationships are reflections of our inner state of being, it is vital to first apply these concepts to our self.
The first of the Yamas is Ahimsa, defined as non-violence or non-harming. In our current society, we are bombarded with images and advertisements that send messages of all the ways in which we are lacking. This constant barrage of misinformation can easily lead us down the road of negative self-talk. Negative self-talk creates thought patterns that eventually lead to depleting our energy and even causing physical illness. The practice of ahimsa teaches us to work on changing this negative inner chatter into positive. In other words, we learn to be kind to ourselves. The messages that we receive from the external world are blatant; the messages that we offer are ourselves are subtle, yet far more powerful. So, this is the first place to practice ahimsa – in working to create positive, energy-giving, non-harming thoughts toward our self. The beneficial effects of this single practice naturally carry over into all other aspects of one’s life.
The second of the Yamas is Satya, defined as truthfulness. What does it mean to stay true to yourself? Each one of us may have a different answer to this question based on our individual needs and preferences. A universal situation in our current lifestyle in which the practice of Satya can be applied is when we take on more than we can handle. Are we practicing Satya when we take on that one extra project even though we know that we already have too much on our plate? We live in a time when being incredibly busy and over-stimulated is considered the norm, but are we really being true to ourselves in doing so? Are we maximizing our potential for optimal health and well-being? By staying true to our needs, we act in non-harming ways toward ourselves; so, the practice of Satya can also be considered a practice of Ahimsa.
The third and fourth Yamas are Asteya and Aparigraha, non-stealing and non-hoarding. I often discuss these concepts together because the practice of non-hoarding is a practice of non-stealing. When we hold onto memories, images, emotions, and attachments, we steal from ourselves – we take away our own peace, happiness, joy, time, and energy. In hoarding past resentments, regrets, and fears, we steal from our present moment and future potential. As a result, we cause harm to our self and are no longer practicing Ahimsa. Asteya and Aparigraha also require being true to our self and so an understanding of Satya is needed.
The final Yama is Brahmacharya, which is often defined as celibacy and has also been described as moderation. However, my favorite explanation, and perhaps the most accurate, is “to walk with God.” This definition is based on the Sanskrit translation where “Brahma” means God and “Charya” is “to walk with.” These three seemingly different descriptions for Brahmacharya can be combined and interpreted as: In practicing celibacy or moderation with our indulgences, we conserve our energy so that we may walk with God. So, for this Yama, it is important to consider our indulgences. For example, I love vegan chocolate cupcakes (shout out to Sticky Fingers Bakery in DC that supplies these yummy cupcakes to my local Whole Foods Store!). Nothing tastes quite as good after a long, hard day at the office. But, how do I feel after indulging in this chocolaty goodness? Generally, I feel great at first! But, after the sugar rush diminishes, I feel sluggish and as though perhaps I am not able to “walk with God” with my full attention. So, Brahmacharya is practicing moderation so that we may spend more time in our awareness and direct perception of the Divine presence.
There you have it – a brief summary of my personal interpretation of the Yamas. I invite you to consider these concepts yourself. Do these Yamas hold value to you? Do you find utility in applying these concepts in your daily life?
If you are interested in exploring these concepts further while also soaking in the beauty of Costa Rica next summer, then consider registering for our upcoming Disconnect to Reconnect Retreat. Early bird pricing is available through the end of this month.