November Focus: The 5 Yamas
Ahiṁsāsatyāsteyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ. Yoga Sutras 2.30
Somewhere between the 2nd and the 5th century B.C., the great sage Patanjali wrote down the Yoga Sutras. This text became Raja Yoga’s (the meditation yoga) main source of inspiration. It consists of 196 aphorisms. It describes human psychology in a very concise, succinct, and even scientific way, and it offers a practical system of spiritual development.
Raja Yoga as presented by Patanjali has 8 components, some of which are more practically examined in a yoga class: the first and the second ones are called the Yamas & Niyamas, and they refer to behavioral guidelines. They are followed by Asana (stable and comfortable physical pose), Pranayama (control of the prana, using breathing as the main tool), Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses from the outside environment), Dharana (focus), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (superconscious experience).
Therefore, the Yamas are the first stage at this path. They consist of 5 universal moral principles that bring harmony between us and the surrounding world:
Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing) Brahmacharya (restraint from desires) and Aparigraha (non-possessiveness).
The deeper these virtues are rooted, the more helpful they are for the yoga apprentice to experience the fruits of their future practice. They form an emotional structure that is necessary for practicing correctly more advanced techniques.
The Yamas represent the positive and purer expression of our personality. That “better person” we are looking for through our practice. The ultimate implementation of these principles is not restricted to actions, but it also applies to our words and thoughts. And of course, it begins with us. How many times do we become dishonest or violent with our own selves? How often do we “steal” from ourselves an opportunity, a feeling or a healthy body? At first, practicing the Yamas offers us the courage and the ability to recognize those instincts and behaviors.
Of course, the inspiration for someone to follow the path of Yamas cannot be imposed and it doesn’t come up on a whim. It is very difficult to suddenly decide to become entirely honest, non-possessive, honorable etc. Implementing these principles takes non-stop effort. The power of this practice comes through the practice of exercise, breathing, meditation and constant observation. That’s how we cleanse our body and mind, so that the cultivation of these habits becomes more natural and spontaneous. As the inner landscape becomes purer, there is an innate need to reflect that on the outside as well.
Therefore, the better our relationship is to the world (and, thus, to ourselves) and the more we have trained ourselves through the Yamas, the easier we will take our next steps towards meditation. In its turn, meditation will reinforce the way we connect to the world and to ourselves. In this way, all the steps or limbs of yoga collaborate with each other, guiding us to this eternal path of spiritual search!
By Anastasia Biliri,
οf the Neda Yoga Shala Team