The Yama is the first limb of yoga. It is developing a universal morality and is often viewed as being the restraints that are associated with a yogic way of life. It is made up of five key areas. These are:
- Non-harming – Ahimsa
- Honesty – Satya
- Not Stealing – Asteya
- Sensual Moderation – Brahmacharya
- Non-possessiveness – Aparigraha
While these may seem rather easy to cultivate, it is surprisingly difficult. Non-harming isn’t as simple as when your brother is being a little shit, don’t beat him with a pillow, but it refers to the way you think about others and yourself. It is passing judgement without cause. To reach this level of compassion, you have to really take a step back and moderate the way that you think about yourself and others. I try to cultivate this through my meditation practice. I sit with myself until I notice that I am experiencing an unkind thought about another person or myself. I hold onto that thought and release it with my breath. If possible, try and think the opposite thought, you don’t have to believe it. Breathe with this thought, give it life and then exhale it, release the negative thoughts and surround yourself with positive energy. Be the change you wish to see in the world. This is the first step.
The second step is honesty. As you may have guessed this is not as easy as it may appear. It is not as simple as owning up to eating the last brownie without telling anyone (sorry mum), but it is recognizing our limits as a human. It is seeing our flaws and limits help us to stay on an honest path. The little book of yoga recommends the observing how you react when someone upsets you. What is your immediate reaction, do you ignore them? Do you become defensive? Do you become passive-aggressive? Ask yourself how you really feel and acknowledge how hard it can be to be honest.
Not stealing is a practice that we should all encompass in our daily lives. It is more than taking things that don’t belong to you, but more the feeling of dissatisfaction with your own life. It is being jealous of the other peoples achievements. This dissatisfaction with your own life leads to unhealthy behaviors such as comparing yourself to others. It is a hard skill to muster, but it is a vital one to walk the path to enlightenment. I also look at this one as not stealing the positive energy from others. If my husband has had a great day, I would not try and bring him down just because I am feeling unhappy with myself. It is about allowing people to enjoy their feelings.
Now to sensual moderation. When my husband read this part of the eight limb path, he was less than happy. “What! We can’t have sex?!” Don’t panic! The original yogi’s took a vow of celibacy, but this is not required of you. It is more watching how you can make your self-indulgences more of an expression of your divine nature. The way I practice this is by considering where my energy is going every day. Am I sucking the energy from others? Am I using my energy to take? Then maybe I need to look at ways I can put energy into giving. Am I giving every ounce of energy to others and leaving nothing to heal and care for myself? Then rethink and give some energy to healing myself. You need to make sure you are putting your energy where you need it.
The last yama is non-possessiveness. This is possibly the easiest to explain, hardest to practice. As humans we feel the need to collect things, possessions, emotions, accomplishments. Aparigraha encourages us to let things go. The hardest part for me was letting go of emotions from past experiences. When I was in year 5, I had a teacher humiliate me in front of the whole class. I am sad to say that I have been holding onto this experience for years. I practiced letting go of this memory and the feelings associated with it. I sat and I breathed through the experience.
I hope that this helps understand the five yamas a bit better.