Yamas

In my monthly “Yoga 101” class this past Sunday we were discussing yamas, or the ethical rules of living for Raja Yoga. I’ve been thinking about them ever since. It’s impossible to truly discover the meaning of each yama without studying, searching, questioning and discovering what they mean within your own life, but here’s a start.

I truly believe everyone needs something to hold to. Dogma of their choice. I’ve never found one I can relate to, one I can believe in. The yama, much like the 10 Commandments, are guidelines to keep you on the true path. I don’t claim to know anything about them [yet] but they have piqued my interest.

Five yamas of Patañjali

In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, the yamas are the first limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.

1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-harming

2. Satya (सत्य): absence of falsehood

3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing

4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): appropriate use of vital essence

5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice

As I consider them in regards to my life, I know I have a lot of work to do.

1. Ahimsa: While I’m not a violent person and you may even say a pacifist, there are other ways to be harming. Physical pain is not the only meaning. I know I need to stop being critical of others, jumping to judgment, and even worse…gossip J Growing up in a household that yelled, called names and said painful things, I know better than some the pain words can cause. Consider this anonymous story that is posted everywhere from Christian sites to parenting sites. It floats around everywhere as it should. It’s a good lesson!

Hole in the Fence

There once was a little girl who had a bad temper. Her mother gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper, she must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the girl had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper. The day passed and the young girl was finally able to tell her mother that all the nails were gone. The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the fence.

She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.” You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It won’ t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

Friends are very rare jewels, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us.

2. Satya: Who hasn’t told a lie here and there? We discussed white lies to make life easier (specifically with children) or to perpetuate a myth (Santa for one). It makes you think about honesty in general. It means so much more than to tell a lie. Are you honest with yourself about your dreams, desires and hopes? Are you honest with friends when they ask you to do something you really don’t feel like doing (oh, sorry, don’t have a sitter!)? I will say, I’m a bit too honest at times. If I don’t want to do something I’m more apt to just say no than to subject myself to doing it. I don’t make excuses for things anymore. I’m a loner. I like hiking by myself but sure, some group trips are great…no worries, I’ll let you know if I want to be alone. But it’s not all about not doing something. Being honest makes me also ask myself WHY I don’t want to do something. Why do I prefer to be alone when hiking? Some reasons are good, some are just because it’s easier than dealing with the consequences. It’s easier to be a loner than to spend the energy on a friendship only to have the rug pulled out from beneath you. So honestly, I’m a bit nervous about having real friendships. Perhaps this comes from years of moving and having to make new friends over and over. But I’m getting too deep for this post J

3. Asteya: Ah, the non-stealing one. This is the one I’ve been thinking about more than the others. There are truly so many areas in everyone’s life where this fits. Stealing…taking something that isn’t yours to take. The straight forward stealing of possessions or of time are probably the first thing people think of, but what about the more minute areas? Stealing from your boss when you’re surfing the net; stealing resources when you don’t recycle; stealing food from those who truly need it when you are gluttonous or wasteful, stealing from your family budget when you buy things you know you can’t afford; adultery—stealing someone else’s love way…there are so many aspects of stealing that go far deeper than just the surface.

4. Brahmacharya: I admit, this one is going to really take a bit more delving. I’m not quite sure what it means and it even confused the yogi. But it has to do with taking all that “essence” and putting it where it belongs. I saw somewhere that it means (basically): celibate when single, faithful when married. Nothing is ever that clean cut. That essence is far deeper than physical energy. Does this means you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s wife? Don’t think about others? Is this really all about sexual energy? Hmmm. More research necessary.

5. Aparigraha: Ah, if I could manage this one life would be good. Less is more. Minimalistic lifestyle having only what you need, not what you WANT. I’m working on it. It’s tough J Again, gluttony seems to make its mark here. We scaled down our television channels (wish we could just get rid of them but…) and we’ve been watching more of the Travel Channel and Food Channels. WOW. Talk about wasteful gluttony! Man vs. Food…does any one person need to attempt to eat a 15 pound hamburger just because it would be free? How many people that would feed, people who haven’t seen that much food in months, if not longer. And here we are, sitting down to devour it just for fun. That is gluttony. That is wasteful. It’s maddening as hell. [Where’s my hammer and nail? I’m heading to the fence.]

As yama means “death” I can’t help but aquaint these with the seven deadly sins:

1. Pride

2. Envy

3. Gluttony

4. Lust

5. Anger

6. Greed

7. Sloth

And then there are those 10 Commandments:

1. Have no other gods before me

2. Don’t worship icons

3. Don’t take his name in vain

4. Keep the Sabbath day holy

5. Honor your father and your mother

6. You shall not murder

7. You shall not commit adultery

8. You shall not steal

9. You shall not bear false witness (lie)

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife…or anything of your neighbors.

The last 5 of the Commandments look identical to the yamas. They truly are universal. No matter your dogma, the general consensus is really the same. Live a true, peaceful and blessed life (no matter your religion) and you will be a true, peaceful and blessed person.

Namaste!

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