The guidebook of classical, raja (royal) yoga, otherwise known as the Yoga Sutra, outlines the eight limbs of yoga. These so-called “limbs” are guidelines for leading a life of meaning and purpose. Pantanjali was the sage whom compiled these 195 truths nearly 1700 years ago. These yamas serve as the moral, ethical and societal guideline for the practicing yogi. And quite frankly, I believe that these mantras are relevant and powerful even beyond the realm of yoga. We can all take something from these incredible lessons. Each yama is expressed in the positive, and serve to inspire one’s behavior and connection to the world. These guidelines are powerful tools that cultivate consciousness, honesty and ethical being within us, and hopefully being reminded of them today will uplift you and meet you where you are.
The universal vows are as follows:
- Ahimsa– the practice of non-violence. From the physical, to both mental and emotional violence that we inflict on others as well as ourselves. Often our reactions towards others perpetuate this type of violence, through judgement, criticism or anger. The way to combat these impulsive emotions is through the conscious practice of compassion. What a concept. The more we practice accepting our circumstances as they come, with an open heart, the more inherent and automatic this response will become. Being compassionate is hard, that’s why it’s hard to come by. But I think the key here is to have compassion for yourself for not having enough compassion. That’s a place to start.
- Satya- this practice emphasizes truthfulness, and to always speak and act in your authentic truth. Truth is often influenced by our outlook on Ahimsa- when we do not seek to cause hurt to others, this carries over into our ability to be honest. In the same token, we need to be able to distinguish what truths might cause harm to another person, because in many cases it isn’t our responsibility to tell others’ truths. At the forefront of this notion is integrity.
- Asteya- not taking what is not freely given. This one sounds easy, and seems to be the one we mentally check off almost instantly, but this yama goes beyond just material theft. A genuine practice in Asteya involves a strong will against issues such as social injustice, oppression and marginalization, and the mental or emotional robbing of another person. This involves a strengthening of our generosity and our ability to give without question, in an attempt to override our own greed.
- Brahmacharya- the practice of moderation. When we break away from our impulse to acquire things and material worth in excess, we find this newly found sense of peace, purpose, and energy. Each time we act out of humility and say “I don’t need this,” whether it be to a substance that serves as a crutch, or another thing for our things, we say yes to becoming a stronger, healthier and smarter individual. If we maintain balance, we actually preserve our energy for a greater spiritual calling.
- Aparigraha- the practice of reminding ourselves that not everything we desire is good for us. Life is much more than what we possess. We have to let go of this innate mentality of entitlement and desire to own. And when I, myself am struggling with this notion, I flash forward to the end of my life, and think about how useless and truly empty material assets are. And so much of it, if not all of it- is unnecessary and frivolous. Yogis enforce the idea that objects of the worldly realm can’t be possessed, because they are threatened by inevitable change and aren’t immortal. So why act and live as if they are? Aparigraha helps us gain focus on our one everlasting attainment, the Atman: our true Self.
I hope these yamas point you in a direction away from a false, unconscious life and towards a much greater path of progress through yoga. And be reminded today of Pantanjali’s philosophy: that these guides should transcend beyond just yoga practice.They are not confined to any sort of boundary- not a class, not a place, not a time, n’or a duty. They exist without condition we should seek to practice them on all levels of our actions, words, and thoughts.
Namaste & Happy Saturday.