Yama: ethical disciplines – the great commandments transcending creed, country, age and time.  These commandments are the rules of morality for society and the individual, which if not obeyed bring chaos, violence, untruth, stealing, dissipation and covetousness.  The root of these evils are the emotions of greed, desire, attachment, which may be mild, medium or excessive.

The above is a definition of Yama provided by B.K.S. Iyengar in his book, ‘Light on Yoga’.  To me, this definition is a great explanation of why Yoga is not religion.  The philosophy of Yoga provides guiding principles for how any human being, regardless of religion, can live a fruitful, meaningful, whole and boundless life.  This concept is very important to me because I get so frustrated at the fact that people shy away from exploring Yoga because of a fear that it clashes with their religious beliefs.

The 5 principles of yama are: 

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury
  • Satya: truthfulness 
  • Brahmacharya: chastity, religious study, self-restraint
  • Asteya: non-stealing, non-covetousness, non-jealousy
  • Aparigraha: to be free from hoarding

These principles guide how you handle your relationship with the world around you.  The idea is to change or enhance your thinking along the five guiding principles of yama. 

For this post, I am exploring Ahimsa.

Ahimsa (opposite of himsa) means non-violence and non-injury.  This is on a physical and emotional level.  It starts within your own self and then translates out into how you treat others.  I think on a physical level, the concept of ahimsa is quite self explanatory.  On an emotional level, it can be interpreted in some pretty interesting ways.  Judging yourself and constantly telling yourself that you are not good enough is very damaging and very violent.  We always fail to recognise that in many cases, we are our own harshest critic.  In this case, practising ahimsa would mean accepting yourself for exactly who you are and recognising that you are good enough simply because you came to be here on earth.  There is no way you can completely accept others if you haven’t first accepted yourself.  There is no way that you can avoid harsh judgement of others if you are busy harshly judging yourself.  Another form of emotional violence is when you try and mould another person according to what suits your own agenda.  Us human beings are great at doing this.  Whenever we decide that we dislike someone, we love to recruit a team of people to also dislike this person.  Whenever we have a certain opinion, we love that everyone else has the same opinion too!  This sort of behaviour is bred from insecurity – we are not comfortable being the only one with a specific idea or opinion, we crave validation from others!

Fear of judgement from others – most times, this is a fear of what you assume someone may be thinking of you.  Rather, it is just a reflection of your own judgement of yourself. There is no fear of judgement when you don’t need others’ approval to feel worthy. Allow others the freedom to judge you, accept that their opinion may be accurate, and move on..

Fear focuses on the past or the future (unknown, unseen).  Let go of fear and live in the present, the now.  What helps is reminding yourself that you are different than your physical body – your body is just a temporary storage space and vehicle for your everlasting spirit.  This encourages you to go deeper and suddenly, the superficial matters that cloud our everyday lives lose significance.

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, this is how we can resolve physical and emotional violence in our lives:

‘Violence comes out of fear, weakness, ignorance or restlessness.  To curb it what is most needed is freedom from fear.  To gain this freedom, what is required is a change of outlook on life and reorientation of the mind.  Violence is bound to decline when men learn to base their faith upon reality and investigation rather than on ignorance and supposition.’