yoga philosophy

The Yamas: Strategies for Living Your Yoga

"What matters is how well you have participated in your own life... "

Deborah Adele, the Yamas & Niyamas

Hey Yogis! During the Spring Semester of Yoga Club we studied the Yamas. These are powerful principles for living your yoga. Below I've compiled some highlights and high-levels teachings to share with you. 


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What are the Yamas? 

The Yamas are the ethical principles given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. At first glance, the Yamas seem straight forward. When you actually apply them, you understand why they are considered "Great Vows". 

 Yama can be translated to "restaint" which also communicates that these principles will not be easy. They require a reigning in of energy and impulses. And while these principles seem like common sense, they are far from common practice. 

Yoga asks us to make these principles a DAILY PRACTICE - just like meditation or asana (postures) -  and then each interaction, conversation, and moment exercises the muscles of the spirit and reduces suffering. If you can commit to these great vows, the Yamas bestow the treasures of peace, honesty, satisfaction, abundant energy, and self-sufficiency.

This moral code for yoga practitioners is not unique to Patanjali. Following principles like the Yamas & the Niyamas were a prerequisite to practice in traditional yoga schools because they imprint a way of being before a practitioner starts doing. In Modern Yoga (and a culture obsessed with doing rather than being), these teachings can fall by the wayside even though they are perhaps more important than ever. On and off the mat, the Yamas bring depth, direction, and wisdom. 

The Yamas of Patanjali: 
1. Ahimsa - non-violence, non-harming, non-injury
2. Satya - truthtelling, truthfulnees
3. Asteya - non-stealing
4. Brahmacharya - respect for life
5. Aparigraha - non-grasping

Notice the order of the Yamas because they always refer back to one another. For example, Ahimsa is the foundation and first ingredient for living in yoga. So when you practice Satya, truthtelling, Ahimsa must be taken into consideration. Even if it's a tough-love, potentially-painful-to-hear-type of truth, you practice ahimsa by delivering the message with compassion, calm, and courage. 

Ahimsa

Ahimsa is non-violence, non-harming, non-injury. This sounds simple at first - don’t hurt people -  however yoga wants you to go deeper than that. For example, do you ever say things that unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt others? Do you have thoughts that are injurious or violent? The yoga tradition sees no difference between thoughts, words and actions. As Krisnamurti said, “the war outside is the war inside”.  Ever have a war going on in your head? 

Ahimsa is the antidote to this war and you can start practicing in your poses. I think of my mat as "the microscope" where I can focus, examine, and transform my inner landscape. For example, when you practice, what is your inner voice like? Is it compassionate and kind? Or aggressive and intense? Is it resigned or discouraging? Inner listening expands your awareness and turns your physical practice into a meditative endeavor that increases your capacity for Ahimsa off the mat. 

In the outer world, practicing Ahimsa is how you treat others, including the long-range ripples of your actions into the greater ecosystem of life. The practice of Ahimsa can be a reason for becoming vegetarian or choosing ethically-raised and environmentally-sustainable sources of protein. Everyone has to decide for themselves what is appropriate and ethical to consume. In my opinion, just as important as food, is how and what you choose to consume as commercial goods and media. For example, are your clothes, shoes, and furniture produced under ethical circumstances? What about your cell phone? Are you consuming violent news or entertainment? Do you read or watch things that generate feelings of anger, chronic frustration or despair? 

Ahimsa is the recognition of  interconnectedness. It is a visceral understanding that your thoughts, words, and actions have an impact. Ahimsa not something you perfect, it's a practice, and Yoga says that when you truly practice Ahimsa, you become a vortex for peace. Great leaders like Mahatma Ghandi and Martin Luther King are examples of creating powerful and positive change with this principle.

More coming soon!

Below is a lecture on the 5 Yamas given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. 

To Download the Summary - Click Here

Or Listen Below. 

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Listen, are you breathing just a little and calling it a life? 
~Mary Oliver


I feel like I was a walking head before yoga.

Even though I played competitive sports and was active, I wasn't really communicating with my body. Oh, there were plenty of commands - run faster, you can do it, no pain, no gain -  but very little conversation.

When I first started yoga, it was like I had to translate everything - put your left foot forward... okay....left.... foot... where is my left foot?... now, forward... more forward... come on left foot! ..... why doesn't it get to the top of the mat? ... -  Anyone else have that in their head? Progress was slow, but progress came, and it came more quickly once I understood the role of the breath and the bandhas. 

It's like you come to yoga with a "flat tire" for a body - even if you're active, there is rarely awareness. The yoga postures and alignment start the conversation. You begin to feel -  which can be as simple as equal weight on your feet, as subtle as the stacking of your bones, or as complex as the emotions that arise when a pose is challenging, unfamiliar, or uncomfortable.
 
And as you begin to feel, your inner awareness unfolds, reaching ever deeper, to subtle concepts like the bandhas.  As seals, the bandhas patch up "leaks" - weaknesses, sleepy deep core muscles, underutilized stabilizers - and strengthen you from the inside out. The bandhas also create more of a container inside of your body. Which is why they are a prerequisite for pranayama - breath expansion practices.

Pranayama comes from two words. Prana which is life force, vitality, eternal energy. It's like Qi in other Eastern Traditions or Mana in the Hawaiian Tradition. Ayama means to liberate or remove restraints. When you dissect the word, you see that pranayama is designed to invigorate, expand, and liberate the life force and energy inside of you. 
 
Once the breath has a strong container, a solid vessel, it gains momentum. Then you pump prana into the body.  Prana creates space and potential for something new to arise, for transformation to occur. It inflates and enlivens your body with awareness. 

Instead of clunking along with a flat tire, you cruise, glide, and really ride the vibrancy of being in-body. 
 
This is how yoga makes you more youthful and vital. This is what sustains your practice for a lifetime. This is the alignment of feeling uplifted inside and out. 


"Without full awareness of breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding."
~Thich Nhat Hanh