Have you heard of the term Yama in the context of Yoga? What is your understanding of the word and the concept of Yama? Do you think Yama is important for a more effective Yoga practice? Do you know what is included with Yama? Let’s dive into the basics of this Yogic concept!
What is Yama?
In Classical Ashtānga Yoga (find out what that is here), the eight-fold path enumerated by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutra, Yama is the first of the eight steps in the spiritual journey. Often, when Sanskrit words are translated into English, the meaning may not be adequately and effectively conveyed. For the sake of understanding, though, we translate Yama as restraints.
What does restraints mean in this context? Yama gives us ways to interact with the world around us as well as with ourselves. In doing so, it gives us a few guidelines on how to interact in a way that is kind, non-divisive, fair, and equitable.
There are five Yama listed by Sage Patanjali:
- Ahimsa or non-violence
- Satya or truthfulness
- Astéya or non-stealing
- Brahmacharya or control over sensual pleasure
- Aparigraha or non-hoarding
Each of these apply at the level of actions, words, and thoughts. What does that mean? Take the example of Ahimsa. We should not behave violently towards ourselves or others – no self-harm or physical harm to others (actions), no harsh words or abusive language (words), no destructive thoughts or ideas (thoughts). Let’s take another example of Aparigraha. We should not hoard – accumulating excessive worldly material possessions (actions), dominating conversations or talking excessively (words), holding on to negative emotions and experiences (thoughts).
In my experience of applying these principles to my own life, I believe that it is impossible to practise the other steps of Ashtanga Yoga without incorporating these principles at least to some extent into life. To put this thought more practically, let’s apply these principles to Āsana practice.
- Ahimsa – not forcing yourself or others into postures that cause pain and injury
- Satya – not posting photos of yourself in postures that are not part of your practice at all
- Astéya – giving credit to those who inspire you and give you right knowledge
- Brahmacharya – not practising just to post videos and photos on social media
- Aparigraha – letting go of thoughts and ideas of perfection and working towards progress instead
We live in an age where social media forms a very big part of life. For many, it defines the way we think and act. It is a time when people are encouraged to look outward for happiness and companionship and validation rather than seeking these from within.
But if our Yoga practice is guided by such trends, it can take the focus away from the real goals of Yoga – quieting the mind, building focus, and looking within. Yoga teaches us to love, respect, and be kind to ourselves, ideas that are often contradicted by the world around us.
It is crucial to keep our practice authentic for our own sake, and incorporating Yama into our life can help us consistently towards this goal of authenticity, kindness, and genuineness. These are also principles that have become increasingly important to life today; there is too much hate, violence, and intolerance in the world and we need to protect ourselves from the repercussions so we can then help others.
What are your thoughts on the concept of Yama and the principles it discusses? Leave a comment and let me know!