This past week was filled with challenges… making me grateful for the tools of yoga that I have honed over the years. The ups and downs – I will spare you with the details as we all have challenges – left me feeling negative and imbalanced.
What really helped me get through it all was one simple statement that my father used to say to me while I was growing up: “everything will be okay – things always work out in the end.”
Over the years, I have found his words to be a comfort. Even when times got super tough, I realized that life does always straighten out and get better and without fail there is light at the end of the tunnel.
As I have incorporated more yoga into my life, that message has expanded for me. I now know that the universal energy is positive and (if you are open and receptive) illumination and joy are there/here for the taking.
The system of yoga teaches us, through the Samkhya Philosophy, that the world is made for real experiences through which we gain knowledge of our authentic being. And, that there is a life force (prana) that flows through us which feeds us this greater self-consciousness and balance.
To create powerful life force, we need to balance our functional energies. One of the primary ways of doing this is through the practice of yoga and its eight-limb system.
In this post, I will introduce the first limb called Yamas.
The Yamas are the foundational step to balancing the life force. I define the Yamas as the ethics of yoga or the cleansers of the mind state. When practiced, they produce a calm, serene and harmonious being. With the daily application of the Yamas, we are less influenced by “bad days” or “difficult challenges.”
There are five Yamas for us to explore and practice.
The first yama is ahimsa which is the Sanskrit word for non-violence. The obvious definition for non-violence is to do no physical harm onto others. However, ahimsa goes way beyond the obvious. It’s important to recognize that when you practice ahimsa, you are pledging to do no harm in deed, word or thought. It is fairly evident that violent actions and words can cause damage and we must refrain from these behaviors. However, it is our thoughts that can be the most harmful and the most difficult to regulate.
Ahimsa is an important first level to construct because it asks us to pay attention to the way we are treating ourselves and each other. The word violence can appear to be harsh but hurtful behavior, talk and thoughts are part of everyday life. It is only when we closely observe our patterns that we can truly understand the agitation we live with each day.
Try taking a short opportunity each morning to refresh your viewpoint by asking yourself: How did my thoughts, words and actions communicate kindness yesterday and how can I extend my light today?
In Sanskrit, the word for truth is Satya. But more than fact or reality, satya is about being virtuous or having high moral standards. The word “sat” translates to “true essence.”
Like the yama non-violence, we should consider truthfulness in thought, speech and action. Accepting what your truth is will lead you to acting, speaking and thinking more authentically. We should apply our wisdom here so that we neither under or over act. That way we gain a steady and more true self. Our genuineness will be uplifting, supportive and allow us to feel more purposeful.
As a moral principle, truthfulness also asks us to receive truth responsibly. That includes the manner in which we listen.
Attempt to be true and clear in communication by really hearing what someone is saying the next time you have a conversation.
Our next yama, non-stealing or asteya, means to value what you have.
Being grateful for your gifts is important. Avoid thinking about what you wish you could be or possess. Try to be happy with what you have. You should not be wanting to take what belongs to others without having earned it. Avoid ruminating on too many material possessions or looking to “steal” resources or objects. I don’t mean steal in the literal sense of the word. Covet is a better interpretation for this yama. When we covet, we yearn to possess or control something or someone.
Living by the concept of asteya or non-stealing is important for creating a peaceful and generous foundation. When you practice asteya, your thoughts become quieter, and, ultimately, you find that your emotions are pacified and your personality softens.
Find one attribute each day that you are thankful for and celebrate it on your mat.
One of the most difficult Yamas to define is brahmacharya.
Literally, it means celibacy. However, it can also be defined as non-sensuality, which is the detachment from fulfilling the senses. I define it as moderation.
I believe moderation is the key to balance and the answer to many of the everyday choices we have in life. How much do you eat? How often do you practice yoga and for how long? What is the correct amount of sleep? sun? or even sex?
What do you find most difficult to moderate?
If you seek to balance your tendencies, you will definitely honor your life force. Excess is almost always harmful. Even if it is something that is “good” for you.
In all things be moderate. Choose the middle. A little of this and a little of that.
Another way to practice brahmacharya is to avoid overloading the senses. While practicing, direct your energy to the activity at hand.
To reduce overloading the senses, spend time just focusing on your breath. This will allow you to strengthen your life force and become more centered.
Aparigraha is the last yama in the 8 limb system of yoga. In Sanskrit, the word aparigraha is broken down into graha = to take/grab, pari=all sides and a=against. So, aparigraha means “against taking all” or non-greed. While we can certainly have attachments to physical things, we can also be possessive on an intellectual or verbal level as well.
When you hunger for something, you want it, you need it, in fact you may not be able to function without it. Your mind becomes attached to that “thing.” You may think that you want it with all your heart, but you really want it with all your intellect. Your mind is the possessor here, not your eyes nor your ears. In the end, this can make you scattered, obsessed, and completely unaware that others may be affected by your desires.
When we practice non-attachment, we are learning to clear the mind so that the act of possessiveness does not occlude our life force. We can (and should) still enjoy “things” in life. But, not to the detriment of others or at the risk of becoming unbalanced.
Only possess what you need. Some objects such as excess clothing, gadgets for the home and collections are only cluttering your space and take up time to maintain. Go through a closet or even a drawer and begin to discard.
Non-attachment opens the way to freedom for the soul.
To sum it up, employing the Yamas will release your negative energy. Through steady practice you can instill the qualities of the Yamas within yourself. It takes awareness, diligence and tenderness. Once your rhythm is established, however, your energy will flow harmoniously and in tune with that universal positivity.
Wow! That could be my biggest post ever. Although I found it important to introduce all of the Yamas in one go, I recommend that you adhere to a single Yama each day in order to practice with intention and greater understanding.
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