You and the Yamas

I consider myself a yoga nerd. I love Sanskrit, Buddhist dharma, yoga philosophy, and Ayurvedic wisdom. The teachings are simple, but not easy – be mindful, be present, practice, let go, and so on…

Here is my take on the first limb of the eightfold path of yoga through the lens of self-care in a way that’s relevant to our day-to-day lives. After all, theory is only useful if we put it into practice.

The yamas are the yogic rules for living – the restraints or boundaries we put on ourselves in order to focus our attention on what matters most. When I learned the yamas in my first teacher training I remembered them like this: the yamas are how I treat you and relate to others and the niyamas are how I treat me. However, I think one of the most important teachings of yoga is that it must always start with ourselves. We learn these practices on ourselves first and then we can offer it to others.

The five yamas are ahimsa (non-harming/non-violence), satya (truthfulness/honesty), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (non-excess), and aparigraha (non-hoarding, non-greediness).

Ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming). My second teacher training emphasized looking for the good first, or as Patanjali’s yoga sutra II.33 states: When disturbed by disturbing thoughts, think the opposite. So the opposite of non-violence is self-love or self-care. Self-care includes speaking kindly to yourself, paying attention to your body’s signals and need for rest, taking care of your body, mind and heart with exercise, proper nutrition and space for meditation and connection. What’s the one thing you can do to take better care of yourself?

Satya (truthfulness/honesty). To me, truth is living with integrity. It means doing what you say and aligning your actions with your highest intentions. This means keeping your word when you make promises to yourself to stop doing a self-defeating behavior or start doing a new one. It’s committing 100%. Scary I know. What are you ready to commit to 100%? (suggestion – see your answer from above)

Asteya (non-stealing). When we borrow energy from tomorrow for today by staying up too late catching up on work or even just vegging out, we are stealing from ourselves. This eventually leads to a deficit which can look like burnout, adrenal fatigue, and depleted energy throughout the day. How can you refuel and recharge so your tank is filled up for tomorrow?

Brahmacharya (non-excess). I like to think of this as energy management. When we leak energy by checking our email 500 times a day (a current habit I’m trying to improve), wasting time on social media, mindless TV watching or procrastination we are not channeling our energy towards self-growth, self-care and service towards others. How are you spending your time? Where are you frittering it away?

Aparigraha (non-hoarding, non-greediness). Too much wine, too much chocolate, coffee, whatever your vices are – attachments to the pleasure of substances, stimulants, or cheap energy will eventually leave you depleted. Overindulging keeps us addicted and stuck in patterns that make us feel weak and out of control in our lives. Where are you overindulging (be honest!) with something that doesn’t serve you long-term?

I love this question as a gauge if you’re on the right track: “does this action move me forward into growth or backwards into safety?”

How can YOU live your yoga more fully?