The Yamas: A Modern Look at Living a Life of Harmony
Ask anyone why they practice yoga and the answer will always come back to one thing. It makes us feel better.
On the physical level, we practice to relieve pain and increase vitality. But a funny thing happens when we leave our mats, we feel better in mind and spirit, too.
I’ve always thought proof that our practice is working is when our relationships begin to improve. In the industry, we might call this the yoga we do “off the mat.” Because we feel better, we’re nicer to be around. We’re less reactive, more compassionate and more able to acknowledge the good in others. We begin to have more courage to face difficult situations and uncomfortable emotions and we gather more strength to stand in integrity and make a positive impact in the world.
The part of yoga that helps us learn to better relate to the world is called the Yamas. These ethical guidelines help us create harmony with others. It’s a continuation of feeling good and living a happier more peaceful life.
The 5 Yamas
Non-violence is the classical definition of the first Yama. While the obvious is to do no harm to ourselves and others, looked at another way, ahimsa is about living life from a place of love and compassion.
As humans, we look and sound different, and have very diverse backgrounds. It’s easy to see sepration and isolation, which can lead to violence. Ahimsa encourages us to find the similarities and connection to all of humanity. When we remember that everyone wants to feel safe, know they’re loved and have food in their belly, it’s easier to be compassionate and love one another.
Sat in Sanskrit means truth. Satya, in its most simple form is honesty. Beyond the obvious “don’t lie,” satya is about being in integrity with who we are, what we say and what we do. It’s a reminder to be real, genuine and true.
Putting on a front or a mask to ensure people like us requires a tremendous amount of energy and keeps us trapped in a life of lies. We can’t expect to be loved for who we are if we aren’t showing the truth. People will either like us or they won’t; true liberation comes when we can accept that.
To have something stolen is an utter violation. That’s why ashteya, or non-stealing, is included in the yamas. Stealing isn’t always about valuable items. Sometimes people steal in less obvious ways: they waste our precious time or they take credit for something they didn’t do.
To really embody ashteya, we actually turn the yama on its head and we become more giving. What most people want is more time, more connection, more love. We can give ourselves fully to the person we’re with by looking them in the eye, showing up when we say we’re going to be there and listening when they talk.
Brahmacharya is classically interpreted as chastity. Looking beyond the sexual connotation, this means to live simply. To live a life of moderation and balance means we’re willing to accept the ups and downs of life, not just seek pleasure. To practice this, let go of resistance to the moment and go with the flow of life, or “walk with God,” the literal translation of brahmacharya.
One way to better understand non-jealousy, or aparigraha, is to look beneath the surface. When we covet what someone else has it’s because we feel we’re lacking. Lack usually stems from an inner misalignment, perhaps believing we’re unworthy of love, or that we’re unequal to the tasks at hand.
Instead of focusing on what’s missing and thinking everyone else has it better than us, aparigraha suggests we be grateful for the blessings and gifts in our lives. If we’re happy with who we are and what we have, we become happy for others instead of being jealous of them.