The physical practice (asana) which we practice in a studio or at home is such a small part of the behemoth that is ‘yoga’, yet we often place all our attention on the postures. In this series of blog posts I’m going to be covering some of the foundations of yogic philosophy to give you more insight into yoga off the mat.
In today’s post we’re going to cover off on what the Yoga Sutras are and delve into the Yamas.
When we’re talking yoga philosophy, we naturally must begin with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
What are the Yoga Sutras?
The great sage Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras before 400 CE (a long, long time ago) and they outline the science of yoga for self-realisation. They are a logical pathway to live your life – methodically exploring and transcending obstacles between us and our true Selves. Within the Sutras, Patanjali shares many yogic principles including the Yamas.
The Yamas are the first limb of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga which she/he shares in the Sutras. Yamas is a Sanskrit word which translates as ‘restraints’, and they are primarily our attitudes towards others and our surroundings.
As yogis, these are our core ethical standards and golden rules to live by. Living by these principles is our first step on the true path of yoga.
Let’s break it down.
Ahimsa – non-violence/kindness
Ahimsa is the first Yama and is probably also one of the most well known – we’ve all heard of Gandhi, right?
It’s also the top priority when it comes to the Yamas. We practice ahimsa first above all others as it takes precedence over the other yamas, niyamas and the remaining limbs of the eightfold path.
Satya – truthfulness / be authentic
At first glance, Satya appears simple: Tell the truth. But in truth, it’s a lot more complex (excuse the pun).
Living Satya means we are living in alignment with our deepest, most authentic values. It expects we are faithful to our words and with our actions. Consider where in your life you are not living with Satya.
Asteya – non-theft/giving
As with Satya, on the surface, Asteya is seemingly simple: Do not steal. But underneath things get a little more complicated.
It is not only ‘things’ we can steal. Are you taking someone’s time or energy? Are you thieving another person’s intellectual property? Are you stealing someone’s potential by not supporting them?
Brahmacharya – sexual integrity/honour sacred
Traditionally Brahmacharya means to walk with God & often is the practice of celibacy, but in our modern and Western world, we’ve stripped this Yama back to its roots.
When we look deeper, Brahmacharya is about keeping our sexual integrity, protecting our energy, honouring the sacredness of intimacy and living with a deep connection with the divine at all times.
Aparigraha – non-hoarding/minimalism
I don’t believe there has been another time that demanded us to live the principle of Aparigraha. With slick marketing campaigns telling us to buy, shopping centres full of unwanted and unneeded things and Google Ads reminding us of the things we left in our online shopping carts… we need to look carefully at our buying and hoarding habits.
What can you let go of? It might be physical possessions, or maybe you’re hoarding your wisdom or knowledge?
Are you feeling overwhelmed already? Let’s focus on one at a time at this stage!
Sit with one principle a week. Feel it. Research it. Talk about it. Question it.
Some things that might come up for you:
- How can I change my thoughts and actions to embody the yamas better?
- Can I be kinder to myself and others (ahimsa)?
- Can I avoid taking credit for other’s work (asteya)?
- Can I quit buying things for momentary satisfaction (aparigraha)?
I’d love to hear from you – let me know your thoughts, revelations and insights on Instagram!
Look out: In the next post in this series we will be exploring the Niyamas (the second limb).