Yoga philosophy: The yamas
The yamas are the the first limb of the eight limb path described by Pathanjali in the Yoga Sutras. They describe the five qualities and principles one should follow in everyday life to guide one’s interactions with the outside world.
There are many interpretations of these principles depending on the lenses, be it cultural, religious or spiritual, through which they are interpreted.
After hearing and reading a few commentaries, it struck me that the interpretations of the yamas can vary greatly and a few points grabbed my attention.
One is a tendency to focus on a negative, constraining interpretation of the yamas, eg. You shall not be violent, lie, steal, engage in sexual relations, be greedy – which undermines the positive essence of yoga and its ability to uplift and transform.
The other, which is sometimes linked to the former, is to be dogmatic and controlling in their interpretation.
As an example, Bramacharya is often interpreted as promoting abstinence and the repression of sexual urges. However when focusing on an energy based lense this yama rather encourages us to manage our energy mindfully and to lift our energy up the spine -from the base chakra to the top one- and therefore transcend the sexual urges.
Bramacharya is the way of life of enlightened beings who transcend their root energy for creativity and spiritual purpose. When understood dogmatically there is a real risk that repression of the powerful sexual urge will create tension and lead to attachment rather than freedom.
Focusing on positive, energy based interpretation of the yamas has definetely brought a new light on these five qualities, highlighting their liberating rather than constraining aspects and I can only encourage you to do the same and consider them through that lense.