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The Yamas – the laws of life

In my last blog I introduced you to Patanjali’s “The Yoga Sutras” and the 8 limbs of yoga he

Practice tolerance

Release anger and irritation

discusses. These were the restraints, the observances, postures, breathing, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and super consciousness. The first of these limbs are the Yamas, or the restraints, sometimes known as the laws of life, which I’m going to explore in this post.

There are 5 restraints which Patanjali suggests we follow to help us maintain control in our lives. Here they are, I have put the Sanskrit name first followed by the translation, along with some thoughts on how these relate to us.

Ahimsa – non violence. This goes deeper than the obvious doing no harm to others. Think about what harm we might also be doing to ourselves and to our planet. Take it deeper still to the harm we might do with our thoughts, our words as well as our actions. Ways we can put this in to action might include eating less meat, cultivating consumer awareness and taking time to properly look after ourselves. Notice also when you feel angry, according to yogic philosophy anger is one of the biggest wastes of our energy and one of the most destructive emotions. Use the mudra of tolerance (shown in the picture), focus on equalising the breath and channeling the energy of anger on something more productive (creative work or physical exercise are always good releases).

Satyam – truthfulness. Being truthful all the time takes courage, and of course we want to be truthful without causing harm. Satyam is also about being compassionate and honest with ourselves. We want to see life as it really is. Focus on satyam can bring about an awareness that most people see the world the way they would like it to be as opposed to the way it is.

Aparigraha – non possessiveness / non attachment / non hoarding. Focus on aparigraha, very simply, leads to a simpler life! Hoarding and possessiveness are rooted in fear. Let go and trust that your needs will be met.

Brahmacharya – restraint / harnessing energy. Originally this observance referred to celibacy. Now it is more focussed on self restraint so as not to waste our energy. Think about exercising control (eg. say no to that extra biscuit that you don’t need), being self-disciplined ( eg. make a commitment to a regular yoga practice and stick to it) and make wise and discerning choices so that we can reach our full potential.

Asteya – non stealing. Asteya is about more than the obvious avoidance of thieving! There is a fabulous quote from Gandhi “There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”. In yoga philosophy, the desire to have more than we need is the same as stealing. Think also about other areas in your life where you might take more than is yours, for example, I’m a talker and I have to think hard giving other people the space to talk and not hog all the talking time!

Patanjali tells us that “These laws are universal. Unaffected by time, place, birth or circumstance, together they constitute the ‘Great Law of Life’.” (Book 2, sutra 31). I’m sure you’ll agree that these restraints are common sense if we want to live in a compassionate world, where we treat others as we would be treated ourselves, and a great place to start our yoga journey.

Please share your thoughts or experiences of putting the yamas into action. Ix

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