Three days a week, I meet virtually with my Yoga instructor Lindsay. Lindsay sets the tone, space, and offers an empowering Yoga class. When I attend class(virtually), Lindsay’s soft voice fosters harmony in the body, mind, and environment. Her sound is relaxed and rooted. I feel at peace and centered.
I admire her teachings of Yoga. Lindsay shows authenticity in her personality; she has a calming energy and a real passion for educating and inspiring others. She empowers her students with a positive and loving attitude. One can say that Yoga, in essence, is based on positive thinking, awareness–discovering the luminous intelligence that lies within us all. When we find and cultivate this aspect of ourselves, we create our own health, happiness, and peace, which we can then, in turn, convey to others. This is what Lindsay brings to us.
When she speaks, her melodious voice fills up space with love and kindness. The throat is a bridge between the heart and the head. And her unique voice as an instructor is a bridge between the teachings of Yoga and ‘our’ conception Yoga teachings. She shares her knowledge, wisdom, and recognizes and accepts mistakes as part of truthful, humble reflection and self-representation of herself. Yes, I am very fond of her and her teachings.
This week she speaks about one of the Five Yamas. She talks about Asteya. As intriguing as her soft voice, I wanted to study more about the Yamas. I found some impressive knowledge of the subject. Below you will read more about the Yamas, practice tips, and The Niyamas five internal practices or observances. You will also find links for further information on studies. ~ Diadel Kimberlee
Asteya (non-stealing) is best defined as not taking what is not freely given. While this may on the surface seem easy to accomplish, when we look further, this Yama can be quite challenging to practice. On a personal level, the method of Asteya entails not committing theft physically and/or not causing or approving of anyone else doing so–in mind, word, or action. On the level of society, Asteya would be in opposition to exploitation, social injustice, and oppression. While not accessible, practicing Asteya encourages generosity and overcomes Lobha (greed). And as Patanjali tells us, “when Asteya is firmly established in a yogi, all jewels will become present to him/her.” (YS 2.37).
Yamas (Sanskrit: यम), and their complement, Niyamas, represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. It means “reining in” or “control.” These are restraints for Proper Conduct as given in the Veda. They are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules, or goals. Yoga professes a complete system of physical, mental, social, and spiritual development.
What are the five Yamas?
The self-awareness you gain by practicing the five Yamas can help you transform negative energy and cultivate a deep, abiding sense of peace. Here is a brief definition of each Yama, along with some advice about how to start practicing them today.
YAMA 1: NON-HARMING (AHIMSA)
In Sanskrit, the prefix means “not,” while himsa means “harming, injuring, killing, or doing violence.” Ahimsa, the first of the Yamas and the highest-ranking among them, is the practice of non-harming or non-violence.
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, which includes physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and the self. We create violence most often in our reactions to events and others, habitually creating judgment, criticism, anger, or irritation. This is the key, the sages tell us, to maintaining both harmonious relationships in the world and tranquil inner life.
At a deeper level, Ahimsa is less a conscious process than a natural consequence of yoga practice. As our journey unfolds, it leads to awareness of the peaceful and enduring core that is our true nature; the desire to prevent harm is a spontaneous expression of that awareness. We begin to realize that the inner self in others is identical to our own inner self, and we wish no harm to come to any being.
Practice being more kind, accepting, and forgiving of yourself and others.
Practice Tip: Practice being more kind, accepting, and forgiving of yourself and others. According to the sages, when Ahimsa is fully embraced, inner confidence emerges that is deep-seated and surprisingly powerful. Compassion is the ability to accept events as they are with an open and loving heart. It is a letting go of reacting to a situation conditionally and negatively and replaces those thoughts or feelings with kindness, acceptance, and love. At first practicing, compassion is hard, frustrating, and not fun. But the key is to have compassion for oneself for not having compassion and to smile at this contradiction.
YAMA 2: TRUTHFULNESS (SATYA)
The word sat, in Sanskrit, means “that which exists, that which is.” Satya, in turn, means “truthfulness”—seeing and reporting things as they are rather than the way we would like them to be.
Satya (truthfulness) urges us to live and speak our truth at all times. Walking the path of truth is a hard one, especially while respecting Patanjali’s first Yama, Ahimsa. Since Ahimsa must be practiced first, we must be careful to not speak the truth if we know it will cause harm to another. Living in your truth not only creates respect, honor, and integrity but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path.
Practice Tip: Inwardly learn to recognize the cascade of fears and other negative emotions that prompt you to twist reality. Once you have understood and processed these fears, your thoughts, speech, and actions can be realigned with the truth, even as you look more deeply into your needs and desires. Outwardly, refrain from telling lies and speak with kindness, compassion, and clarity.
YAMA 3: NON-STEALING (ASTEYA)
The word steya means “stealing.” When it is combined with the prefix a, it yields the third Yama, Asteya: non-stealing. We are most likely to associate stealing with tangible objects, but intangibles, such as information and emotional favors, are more likely to be the objects stolen in our world.
Practice Tip: Because the urge to steal arises from a sense of unhappiness, incompleteness, and envy, the solution is to practice giving any chance you get. Give food; give money; give time. Since wealth is ultimately a state of mind, you will feel increasingly wealthy; and through selfless giving, your sense of inner wealth may bring you outer wealth.
The practice of non-possessiveness helps us to examine our assumptions and guides us back to healthy relationships with others.
YAMA 4: MODERATING THE SENSES (BRAHMACHARYA)
The literal translation of Brahmacharya is “walking in God-consciousness.” Practically speaking, this means that Brahmacharya turns the mind inward, balancing and supervising the senses, and leads to freedom from dependencies and cravings. And the sages tell us that when the mind is freed from domination by the senses, sensual pleasures are replaced by inner joy.
Brahmacharya (continence) states that when we have control over our physical impulses of excess, we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will. And each time we overcome these impulses of excess, we become stronger, healthier, and wiser. One of the main goals of Yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the most straightforward method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can then be applied for higher spiritual purposes.
Practice Tip: Making wise choices about the books and magazines you read, the movies you see, and the company you keep will help you conserve energy and keep your mind focused and dynamic. Being moderate in all sensual activities so that you don’t dwell on them, staying committed, and faithful to one partner in a mutually supportive relationship—this is the middle path of Brahmacharya.
YAMA 5: NON-POSSESSIVENESS (APARIGRAHA)
Graha means “to grasp,” and pari means “things”: Aparigraha means “not grasping things,” or non-possessiveness. It helps us achieve a balanced relationship with the things that we each call “mine.”
A yogic maxim says, “All the things of the world are yours to use, but not to own.” That is the essence of aparigraha. Whenever we become possessive, we are, in turn, possessed, anxiously holding onto our things and grasping for more. But when we make good use of the possessions that come to us and enjoy them without becoming emotionally dependent on them, then they neither wield power over us nor lead to false identities and expectations.
Practice Tip: Examine your own tendencies toward possessiveness. Do you take better care of an object in your possession than one belonging to someone else? Do you acquire more of something than you can use? Do you depend too much on others, give more in a relationship than is healthy for you, replace mutual give-and-take with the need for tight-fisted control, or attempt to increase your self-esteem by gaining someone else’s love? The practice of non-possessiveness helps us to examine our assumptions and guides us back to healthy relationships with others.
Article Credit goes to Teacher: Rolf Sovik
About Rolf Sovik
President and Spiritual Director of the Himalayan Institute and a clinical psychologist in private practice, Rolf Sovik has studied Yoga in the United States, India, and Nepal. He holds degrees in philosophy, music, Eastern studies, and clinical psychology. Former Co-Director of the Himalayan Institute of Buffalo, NY he began his practice of Yoga in 1972 and was initiated as a pandit in the Himalayan tradition in 1987. He is the author of Moving Inward, co-author of the award-winning Yoga: Mastering the Basics, and a contributor to Yoga International.
Tips for practicing the Yamas
Only by contemplating the Yamas, we begin to practice them. Yet, the daily practice of aligning our thoughts, behaviors, and actions with these moral, ethical, and societal guidelines can be arduous and challenging. Ideally, practicing the Yama’s should be approached slowly over many years and should be combined with a dedicated hatha yoga practice. It is recommended to practice applying the Yamas to your life using a structured methodology like the seven steps below.
- Start with only one Yama. Begin by reading, understanding, and contemplating each of the five Yamas. As you consider how each Yama would unfold in your current life, notice your thoughts and emotional reactions to making changes to support each one. You will likely find one or two Yamas that have a substantial charge for you. Depending on the amount of inner strength and community support you have, you may decide to start with the most charged one or leave those for later. Make a clear and conscious choice to dedicate yourself to practicing this Yama over a set time. An excellent place to start is committing to 40 days of practice.
- Start practicing your Yamas on your mat. Begin to practice the awareness and skillful effort of your chosen Yama on your yoga mat. Use your Yama as the intention or Sankalpa of your practice and let it be the guiding force to how you engage with the breath and the body as you flow from pose to pose. Do not judge when you fail at your attempts, simply vow to try again. Be patient, kind, and compassionate but also dedicated, willful, and focused.
- Reflect and track your progress. Keep a journal or find another method of monitoring your commitment and achievement. You may encounter epiphanies or discover potent insights that will be helpful to document. Reflection and contemplation of your experiences with practicing the Yamas will also be useful to further integrate them into your yoga practice and life.
- Deepen your observation and exploration. As you continue to focus on a Yama while you move through your yoga or meditation practice, you will begin to notice patterns and habits to your thoughts and emotions. Spend some time in contemplation to pull on the threads of these patterns to see if you can discern where they originate from. These patterns will most likely be arising from a Samskara, a deeply rooted wheel of suffering. Yamas are a powerful tool to shine the light of awareness to these dark and murky areas of the self and to help reprogram our Samskaras.
- Take your Yama off of your mat. Once you are comfortable and competent in using your chosen Yama in your yoga or meditation practice, you can begin to practice it in your day-to-day life. As you move out of the controlled and defined environment of your training, you may feel like you are regressing in your progress. Note any aspects of your life (work, family, relationships, health, money, etc.) that appear to be the kryptonite to your Yama. If this area is too challenging or overwhelming, give yourself permission to apply your Yama after you have had success in the other aspects of your life.
- Commit to the next Yama. Once you feel the challenge and charge of practicing your Yama have diminished, it may be time to commit to another one. As your inner awareness strengthens, you may be able to take on more than one Yama at a time, but it is still advised to not rush the practice of the Yamas. Before you take on a new one, you may want to reflect on your past experience and decide on any changes or refinements to your approach.
Keep peeling the onion. The Yamas are considered a vow you make for the entirety of your yoga practice. Practicing them will get easier over time, but you will probably find that each Yama has several different layers of practice and discovery. You may choose how deeply and completely you practice each one—only fully committed enunciates should vow to practice the Yamas fully and completely. Continuing to peel back the layers of each Yama will deepen your inner-transformation, strengthen your awareness, and purify your heart and mind.
Move on to the next limb.
The Niyamas are the next limb in Patanjali’s eight-fold path of Yoga, and thus the next obvious step towards progressing along this path. The Niyamas are five internal practices or observances. These practices shift the focus from external ethical codes of conduct in the Yamas to the yogi’s internal environment of body, mind, and spirit.
Goals of the Yamas
In a practical sense, practicing the Yamas eliminates or reduces the accumulation of bad karma as well as prevents the draining of our energy when we lead a false and/or unconscious life. When we practice the Yamas, we are striving towards living a healthier, holier, and more peaceful life, and at the same time, we strengthen our powers of awareness, will, and discernment. The more we cultivate conscious and skillful action, the easier it will be to navigate strong emotions and negative thought patterns—and much less likely to act from unconscious programming.
Engaging in these practices is not an easy task. Yet, by doing so, we fortify our character, improve our relationships with others, and further our progress along the path of Yoga.
Books to study and practice further
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the Yamas and Niyamas are rich philosophical subjects that can be explored and practiced in great depth. If you are ready to study and dive deeper into these practices, consider reading one or more dedicated books on the subject. Below are our recommendations for you to check out to learn more:
- Eight Limbs of Yoga book books to study the Yamas Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele
- Yoga’s Yamas and Niyamas: 10 Principles for Peace & Purpose by Courtney Seiberling
- The Eight Limbs of Yoga: A Handbook for Living Yoga Philosophy Paperback by Sarbacker and Kimple
- Living the Sutras: A Guide to Yoga Wisdom beyond the Mat by DiNardo and Pearce-Hayden
- True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment by Jennie Lee
- Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook by Jaganath Carrera
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Credit for this Article: Timothy Burgin
Timothy Burgin is a Kripalu & Pranakriya trained yoga instructor living and teaching in Asheville, NC. Timothy has studied and taught many styles of Yoga and has completed a 500-hour Advanced Pranakriya Yoga training. Timothy has been serving as the Executive Director of YogaBasics.com since 2000. He has authored two yoga books and has written over 500 articles on the practice and philosophy of Yoga. Timothy is also the creator of Japa Mala Beads and has been designing and importing mala beads since 2004.