The Yamas

The pages on 10 yamas and niyamas (restraints and observances) give an impression how they show up in our lives. They are not harsh rules, but are ways to live a life of deeper consciousness. Swami Sri Kripalvanandaji (called Bapuji) gives a suggestion of how to practice the yamas and niyamas. He said "Practice the yamas and niyamas ... When you pick one petal from the garland of yamas and niyamas the entire garland will follow."

The yoga postures that I am suggesting for each yama and niyama are shared with love from my yoga teacher, Helen Heffer. They are not harsh rules, either, merely suggestions. And I thank her for the class that she designed to support the study of the yamas and niyamas.

Non-violence, truthfullness, non-stealing, moderation, non-possessiveness, purity, contentment, discipline, study, surrender.

The yamas are:

Ahimsa - Non-Violence

The first yama is Ahimsa or non-violence. How do we practice non-violence? Towards insects perhaps...instead of killing them, taking them outside. Or towards ourselves when we treat ourselves kindly. How we might treat ourselves kindly? Check out my page on Taking Care of Ourselves for some suggestions. Or do some yoga postures in a way so we are being kind to ourselves. Perhaps being a vegetarian as a way of practicing non-violence. Or bringing peace into others lives by treating them kindly in business.

I think my challenge with non-violence is to be non-violent with myself. I don't physically abuse myself, but I am usually kinder to others and don't treat myself lovingly.

In yoga, I am less violent with myself because I don't force my body into postures that hurt me. I lovingly direct my body to do the posture as best I can and in a way that I get benefit from it.

A yoga posture for Ahimsa might be Tadasana or Mountain Posture. This is a posture of alignment and the basis for all yoga postures.

Satya - Truth

The second yama is Satya which means truthfulness. How do you live truthfulness in your life? How does truthfulness show up in your life?

The yogis do not judge you as good or bad for being truthful or not. This is an individual thing. It is something that each of us has to learn in our own way and our own time. And for some, the fastest way to learn truthfulness is through untruths.

There are some things that I personally have with truthfulness. I am always concerned about hurting other people and I worry that my blunt truthfulness might be hurtful to someone I love. I sometimes fight with myself over that. What is the best way for me personally to live my life? Is truthfulness best if it hurts someone I care about? For me, I often say no.

The way I live truthfulness in my life is to be truthful to myself and to my heart. I need to do that first before I can open the truth to everyone else. So, that is how satya shows up for me at this time in my life. Just as with ahimsa, I need to be non-violent towards myself. With Satya, I need to be truthful with myself.

A yoga posture for Satya might be Virabhadrasana 1 or Warrior 1 Posture. This is a posture of standing forward and being forward in your truth.

Asteya - Non-Stealing

The next yama (observance) is that of Asteya which translates into non- stealing. This is not exactly the same as "Thou Shalt Not Steal". It also has aspects of "Thou shalt not covet" as well.

How does "non-stealing" appear in your life? What I find is if someone has something really nice in his or her life and that person is someone who I like, I can be happy for them and not covet what they have and not want to steal it for myself. I can be at peace with the fact that they have something desireable. BUT....if it's a person who I don't like, I find it very difficult to not want the good things that they have.

I think since we are fortunate to have most (if not all) of our physical needs met, stealing isn't a big issue. Stealing in the real sense isn't worth the punishment to me.

Anyway, my work with asteya is to not want what someone who I don't like seems to own.

A yoga posture for Asteya might be Natrajasana or the Dancer Posture. This is a posture of that looks lovely when it is done perfect by the book, but is often difficult to get to that place. So, when I see someone doing this posture, it takes asteya for me to not what what someone else has or can do.

Bramacharya - Moderation

The 4th of the yamas is Brahmacharya which usually translates to mean moderation and moderation in all things. The root of the word is actually Brahma which refers to creation.

When I was first introduced to the concept of Brahmacharya, it had to do with having sex and not being indescrimanate and promiscuous. But, that has since been expanded in my definition to include moderation in all things or allowing one activity overtake your whole life.

For me, I would like to allow it to come into my life in how I eat. I would also like to practice it with what I ask of myself and to try to moderate the demands I put on myself.

A yoga posture for Brahmacharya might be the Janu Shirshasana or head to knee posture. In this posture, you might go to a moderate expression of the posture instead of forcing the posture to have your head totally on your knee.

Aparagraha - Non-Possessiveness

The last of the yamas is Aparagraha which is translated as either Non- possesiveness or non-attachement.

To me, this is a heavy-duty one. To work towards non-attachment to things or people or situations is so difficult. Look at this society and how we cherish our possessions. And even if it isn't a physical possession, look how we want to hold dearly to people or ideas. Sometimes, we need to realize that there is a purpose to someone in our lives and when that purpose is done, it is a celebration. We would want to hold dearly to that person, but it really makes more sense to let that person go.

I think this is real clear when we see children grow up. And also when we lose someone we love, perhaps not through death, but because they are ready to move on.

This is a real hard principle. I guess the good thing about aparagraha is when we let go of something or someone or some idea, we have space in our lives (or our crowded house) for others to come in and bring new experiences or ideas. We outgrow clothes or get tired of them and give them away. And then we have space in our closet or drawer for something new. We let go of some idea of how life has to be and then we can see other possibilities.

Aparagraha may be difficult, but it may also be the only way to new joys and knowledge and understandings and loves and other lessons.

I hope this isn't too preachy, but when I think of non-attachment, I get a sense of joy and excitement of what might be next.

Another thing to remember is there is a certain time for non-attachment. We don't want to detach from something or someone or some idea until we have reached the conclusion. We don't throw something away when it still serves us or when we still have need for it. We don't detach from people when we still have reasons to be together. This is a personal thing. I don't believe you can let go of something until you are ready to. You have to feel peaceful with it. You have to feel your decision is right. And you can't listen to an outside force telling you what you SHOULD do when you know the answer in your heart.

So, although I see great value in aparagraha, I also see value in possessions and attachments. There needs to be a balance here and it is a personal balance.

A yoga posture for Aparagraha might be the Ardha Mandalasana or half circle posture. From this posture, you can let go of your attachments through your outstretched arm.


Next... The Niyamas
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