Yamas in a material and results-oriented society

Living in Singapore where we pride ourselves in our fast-paced, efficient culture, it is honestly not easy to resist being caught up in the rat race and material achievements. Since a young age, comparisons and competition are encouraged such that we will be motivated to work harder, achieve more and ‘do well’ in the future. The notion of being ‘successful’ spurs us to participate in things that we don’t truly enjoy or see meaning in. But what does being successful really mean?


I think many of us are (or have experienced being) largely motivated by comparisons, as well as the fear of not being ‘successful’ – whatever this means to us. In large part, me too. Yet, before this course, I don’t think I’ve actually considered what success actually means to me. Instead I’ve let society define my idea of success – having a good-paying or high-ranking job, maybe a nice house, nice clothes, being able to afford various material things. As a result, we wind up in the hustle culture and partake in various behaviour that do not actually serve us.


Learning more about yoga philosophy through this teacher training course has helped me reflect more about my desires and how I lead my life. In particular, the introduction to yamas – a guide/diplomatic management of how we can best act towards ourselves and others – reminds me to be more in tuned with myself, what my body needs and don’t let comparisons/greed/ego drive my actions. In particular, the concept of Aparigraha which translates to ‘non-possesiveness’ reminds us that we should be content with what we have and have a non-grasping attitude towards the things in life. This yama conveys that we should be aware of what serves us in the moment, to not be concerned or possessive over the outcomes and to let go of things when the time is right. As Krishna states:

Let your concern be with action alone, and never with the fruits of action. Do not let the results of action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction’. 


Reflecting on my daily life, it dawned upon me that a lot of the accomplishments that I strive for are partially due to the ego of wanting to appear accomplished. Similarly in yoga practice, I often find my mind being distracted by the final outcome of a beautiful posture.  Keeping Aparigraha in mind allows me to realign my thoughts and focus on the joys of the present – to appreciate and be content with the current moment, be it in yoga practice, dance, studying or teaching. To not be possessive of the outcomes and material achievements, but to simply let the enjoyment of the current moment lead me forward.  


Furthermore, as someone who sets quite high expectations for myself, I can often be rather critical of my performance and easily stressed. Learning about Ahimsa, which refers to ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’, I am reminded to not let negative thoughts takeover, and to be kind to my body and my mind. Negative thoughts are said to be harmful not only for the mind, but also for the body as the secretion of cortisol (stress hormone) lowers the immune system, making us more susceptible to illness and pain. Remembering Ahimsa in daily life for me, means respecting my boundaries and listening to my body – while challenging myself to grow, I should never push myself to harm. Applying this to school, this could mean taking care of my mental health and not overworking or partaking in too many side projects. In yoga practice, this could be knowing my limits when performing challenging asanas as well as taking care of injuries instead of aggravating them for the sake of practice. 


Integrating these yamas in my daily life and practice will be a continuous journey and a process of unlearning different cultural ideals that has been ingrained in my system. Common notions such as ‘no pain, no gain’ often push us to neglect the well-being of our body and keeping pushing, keep grasping for more. For example, in my past dance training, instructors and dancers often push their bodies beyond their limits, encouraging hyperextension for the sake of aesthetic appeal and training rigorously even with injuries, leading to unsustainable practices. In university, it is a norm for students to have all-nighters, rely on caffeine and unhealthy foods and overwork themselves such that they will have a good portfolio. 


Undeniably, it might take a while for me to be more in tuned with the present in this fast-paced and results-oriented society. But through yoga, I find myself slowly learning to be more present, focused and accepting. The practice on the mat provides me with respite from negative thoughts and comparisons as I take the time to listen to my body. While I can’t say that I can entirely escape from social pressures and comparison, I definitely find myself being clearer in what serves me and negative criticism and distractions hold much lesser space in my mind. Studying yoga philosophy has definitely provided apt reminders and lessons applicable to my daily life, and I’m keen to see where this journey takes me!