Yoga’s Ethical Guide for Social Conduct: The Yamas

Ayurveda and Yoga are ancient practices that are so much more than just exercise or a diet. These two sister sciences blossomed to become worldwide practices, but there are elements that have been less focused on in modern times. The word “yoga” means union of the body, mind, and spirit. Yoga provides a platform to get to know ourselves from the inside out— and this “knowing” isn’t based on our social positions, our possessions, or our status. The ancient yoga sage, Patanjali, wrote the Yoga Sutras, a collection of the theory and practice of yoga prior to 400 BCE. In this, he developed the eight limbs of yoga also known as Ashtanga. These steps act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-disciple. The first Limb is known as Yama, which are the guidelines for social conduct. They show us how to best show up in our life and give ways to interact with others. The 5 Yamas: Ahimsa or Nonviolence Ahimsa is one of the most known of the Yamas. It asks us to look deep within ourselves and contemplate the practice of nonviolence. Nonviolence isn’t just the act of physical violence, it can be how we use our energy and for what purposes. It works to ask us what would the world be like if every word, thought, and action came from a place of love and equanimity for all beings and of the planet. Ahimsa asks us: How would our actions in our food and lifestyle change? How would we treat others differently? How do we treat ourselves? It asks us to strive to come from a place of love and imagine the difference in families and communities. Satya or Truthfulness We practice Satya through living and acting in ways that are truthful for us. That doesn’t mean you can say whatever is on your mind without thinking about your actions. This is why it is important to use Satya and Ahimsa together. We can use truthfulness to hurt others and we can use nonviolence as an excuse to not have confrontation. We need to speak our truth with thought and purpose. Satya asks us: Are there choices we can make to align with our higher purpose? Are there ways we haven’t been treating others or ourselves with truthfulness? How can we strive to be more authentic and communicate from our inner voice? Brahmacharya or Right Use of Energy Brahmacharya is often translated as ‘celibacy’ or chastity’. It was traditionally used in the context of conserving sexual energy, in favor of using our energy for our “higher path”. While this is part of Brahmacharya, it really askss us to align with the creative energy of the Universe. Brahmacharya asks us: Where are we giving away our energy? Can we harness our power for creative purposes? How are we affecting ourselves and others with our energy? Asteya or Non-stealing Asteya demands that we practice non-stealing and non-cheating. This isn’t just the physical act of stealing. Asteya acts us in our actions, thoughts, and speech to not have the intent to steal. Asteya encourages us to be honest in our behavior. Dishonestly and stealing usually are rooted in the desire for something we don’t have and is driven by fear of loss. It is a “lack mindset” where we believe we don’t have enough money, love, positions, possessions, or power. Asteya asks us: How are we unintentionally stealing from others? Do we take others space in conversations? Do we steal other’s time and energy? How are we stealing from ourselves? How are we stealing from the earth? Aparigraha or Non-possessiveness Aparigraha is focused on non-possessiveness and non-grasping. It is a practice of letting go of our desires to control. We have a clear issue of greed and hoarding of possessions in our society. Our world is running out of resources as we continue to consume. Aparigraha pushes us to spread abundance and growth. Aparigraha asks us: How are we being possessive over objects, family members, and friends? How can we let go of the things that don’t serve us? How can we try to live more in the present moment without grasping for the “next” thing? How can we forgive others and ourselves for our pain? Can we release our past ideas of our identity? How can we be more generous? Conclusion The Yamas don’t require us to be perfect. They are guidelines to provide a roadmap that helps foster growth in the ways we think, act, and respond. The Yamas ask us to explore our behaviors at a deeper level and to make choices that unfold our greater potential.

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