The Yamas & Niyamas: Decoded (Part 1, The Yamas)
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali = The Yoga Bible.
All practitioners buy it, read it, and then put it on a shelf and declare themselves a yogi.
If this is supposed to be THE book, why do we not embrace it, study it, pour over it, live it, and meditate on it?
Swami Satchidananda warns us in the preface of his translation: because this is not just a book to be quickly read and then tossed away like a popular novel.
It’s a practical handbook.
The Yoga Sutras are meant to be a manual to lead us to our liberation or evolution.
It is a set of tools to help us resolve our spiritual ignorance.
However, knowledge cannot cure your spiritual ignorance; hence the handbook reference. It is up to you. It is up to me. It requires work.
Without practice, nothing can be achieved.
The eight limbs of yoga begin with the yamas and the niyamas; even before asana.
If we maintain the “handbook” mentality, then these can be equated to relational and behavioral postures, then physical postures respectfully.
The first limb is the Yamas, or Relational Postures, or Abstentions, or Restraints, or the “Don’ts”.
Now don’t go all fire and brimstone on me, not those don’ts.
These are the places that we practice yoga.
The places in which we have the opportunity to experiment with cause and effect (karma).
The places in which we can look for patterns, notice our habits, experiment, and recognize the consequences.
If I do this, then my life looks like this. Not “thou shalt not…”.
Because the moment you state thou shalt not… and then you do, it all goes to hell in a handbasket.
So practice. Notice. Observe. And learn.
SEE ALSO: 5 Things You Never Knew About Lakshmi
Ahimsa = Non-Harming
Non-harming of course means to not cause pain, physical pain.
But consider relational or emotional pain; even by your words and your thoughts. Begin with yourself and then extend that gift to others.
Mahatma Gandhi lived his life devoted to the practice of Ahimsa:
“Ahimsa is not the crude thing it has been made to appear. Not to hurt any living thing is no doubt a part of Ahimsa. But it is its least expression. The principle of Ahimsa is hurt by every evil thought, by undue haste, by lying, by hatred, by wishing ill to anybody. It is also violated by our holding on to what the world needs.” –Gandhi
Satya = Truthfulness
Take note that Truthfulness is listed under the “Don’ts”.
It is meant to be associated more with restraint than with actions.
What we refrain from doing, more so than what we specifically do.
And it goes hand-in-hand with Ahimsa.
Your dress may be the ugliest I have ever seen, but I should not tell you so for fear of harming you!
When I declare that it’s the ugliest dress it may sound like the truth, but it is in fact, my opinion.
And not the truth.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” –Marcus Aurelis
Asteya = Non-Stealing
Non-stealing clearly means not taking that which is not freely given to you.
But again, not just physical items: it includes time, energy, feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
Be content with what you have.
Do not dwell on what things others have.
Don’t look outside of yourself for things, people, or situations to bring you happiness.
If you can let go of the desire, or want, then happiness will come to you by itself.
Once you realize that the source of all solutions that you seek outside of yourself are always present within you, then Asteya naturally happens.
“Desire, or want, is the root cause of all stealing.” –Swami Sivananda
Brahmacharya = Continence
This is the one that freaks everyone out. Sometimes translated as celibacy, Brahmacharya literally translates to moving toward the divine.
And yes, for some (like monks and nuns) that means celibacy.
But our purpose here is to decode this for the average joe in 2015, so here goes.
In our effort to move toward the divine we must balance our energies; we must create stillness.
This requires self discipline; a management or allocation of our energies to serve our purpose.
So don’t waste your energy on that which does not serve your purpose.
You can waste energy with negative thoughts of yesterday or worries of tomorrow.
Or instead, you can direct or allocate that energy toward today. Toward now. Toward that which brings you purpose and happiness.
“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why they call it the present.” -Bil Keane
Aparigraha = Non-Greed
Non-greed or non-hoarding can be the result of letting go of things.
When we want or desire more, it generally is a result of trying to solve a “perceived” lack.
Something that we have decided is missing in our life.
And then when we scratch the itch, when we get what we want, it creates a habit of needing more.
And therein lies the definition of how addiction begins. It is also what keeps the economy going.
Because when we get what we want, the desire goes away.
And then we move on to the next thing. What if instead, we let go of things, and looked inside for happiness?
“The Biggest Lie: When I get what I want I will be happy. The truth is, you will be about as happy as you decide to be.” –unknown
To be continued in: Part II The Niyamas
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