Yama is the first of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. There are 5 Yamas: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. In this blog post, I will share my understanding of each of the Yama along with how it relates to my experiences.
Non-violence. a: no, himsa: violence
Violence comes in different forms. To practice ahimsa, we have to be mindful of our words, thoughts, and actions to prevent hurting ourselves and others. Understanding our boundaries and respecting our body is a form of self-love that can be applied in both yoga and life.
When Master Sree shared some examples of “Himsa” things we do to our body, I instantly recognized them and realized that I have been treating myself poorly. It’s unhealthy to keep increasing the expectations of what my body “should” do when I’m always neglecting its need for rest and recovery. However, I find it difficult to come to terms with the sense of guilt whenever I choose to rest because I feel like I’m under-performing/being lazy. One way I try to cope with it is to tell myself that resting will allow me to come back stronger the next day!
Truthfulness. sat: true essence/nature
To be honest with ourselves and others in our words, thoughts and actions, regardless of the situation. We should always seek to maintain honesty even in disagreements, but if saying the truth will do more harm than good, we are advised to act compassionately instead of pushing to be “right”. Recognizing the situation we are in at the moment can help us to decide between benefitting the other party or proving our ego, which is important as words are powerful. What we perceive as a “casual statement” may carry a different meaning for another person and hurt their feelings.
Referencing this to our practice on the mat, we have to be honest with ourselves when it comes to our bodies’ abilities. Perhaps we weren’t able to do a certain asana today in class, but it is okay because we know that it will come with practice. The ability to see the truth and accept it with grace allows us to put our ego aside and focus on what really matters— the practice.
Non-stealing. a: no, steya: stealing
Did you know that you can steal things from yourself?
Practising yoga is a journey of self-discovery and growth; it should never be treated like a competition. When comparison starts to happen, we begin to envy and unhealthy desires arise. Asteya reminds us that we should appreciate our experiences, regardless of how “good” or “bad”. We do not want to steal these precious moments away from ourselves just because we were busy trying to be someone else and denying our feelings.
Learning about Asteya has made me more conscious of how I want to develop myself as a dancer. Back then in school, I was constantly trying to be like someone else; I never stopped to take look at who I really am or how much progress I’ve made. This Yama has taught me that I am enough as a person, and that desire to improve should not come from a place of insecurity but an open heart and mind.
Celibacy, appropriate use of our energies
“In order to be the best version of ourselves and to use our energy in the right way, we need first of all to listen to what our bodies need.” 1
Diverting our energy from external desires to inner peace and happiness is one way of using our energy in the right way. Chasing external desires can bring joy and pleasure at the moment, but these moments are ultimately fleeting and can leave you feeling empty once it is over. Our happiness is within us, we can find it using the same energy that we put in to search for it externally.
Listening to what our bodies need is a common message that appears throughout the 5 Yamas. If our body is feeling tired and not ready for an Ashtanga Vinyasa class today, forcing our way through would not be the best use of our energies. We want to make sure what we do is helpful and will bring us to become the best version of ourselves.
Applying this to our daily life, we are often overwhelmed with so many things in a day that they can drain us physically and mentally. To make full use of our energy, take breaks in between and notice if there are tasks or people that leave you feeling empty. If we can amicably resolve these issues, we can put our energy and attention on other things that serve us better.
Non-attachment. a: no, pari: on all sides, graha: take/grab/seize
Aparigraha teaches us a few things:
– To be detached from the outcomes of our efforts, in the workplace and during yoga practice
– To be independent of material things and seek happiness internally
– To embrace the ups and downs of life and let go of the things we cannot control
I find Aparigraha the hardest Yama to practise. When the pandemic broke out, I had to let go of all the plans I had and live day by day without knowing what was going to happen next. The uncertainty was scary, but I also discovered a lot of things about myself when living my life unplanned. For example, I am now more comfortable with adapting to changes than I was before. Although forced into the situation, I felt like that period was necessary to help me learn about the uncontrollable things in life and how to see the good in everything.
This main takeaway is that we should focus on our journey instead of the destination so that we do not attach ourselves to “what may be”, but do the best in our current situation and see where it takes us!
Researching more on the Yamas has helped me to see things clearer in my life and I hope that this post can inspire you to start your journey on practising these Yamas in your life! ☺
— Mandy, 3 May YTT 2021