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What are the Yamas? How to put them into practice right now?

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

Have you found it challenging to get back to your yoga practice after the pandemic? Are you putting pressure on yourself to “get back to where you were before?


I’m here to tell you that you are not alone. Over the past few months I have found it challenging to get back to the yogic practices that have helped me to navigate life in the past. I’ve found it frustrating and find myself consistently putting pressure on myself to “get back” to where I was before, and then I had a thought…


What if you’re not meant to go back to where you were before? What if you’re meant to carve out a new path? The idea of having the opportunity to build and develop a new, more achievable way of living, that fits into your existing lifestyle could actually be quite exciting and possibly transformative. This is a journey that I would like to share with you in the months to come. I’ll be sharing some beautiful practices from The Secret Power of Yoga, by N. Devi, if you haven’t read this book yet I highly recommend it.


Perhaps there will be something in this journey that you can utilize to help you to live your life with purpose, find a bit more happiness, deal with life’s challenges or discover your personal truth? I’ll be going on this journey with you so we’re in this together. Feel free to share things that pop up along the way, ask questions as you move forward and discuss outcomes or challenges within our community.


I do my best to speak about all of the elements of Yoga, not only Asana (postures). So here is what I propose, over the next few months, I’ll share the outline and details of Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga.





I’ll break down each element, and share reflections from The Secret Power of Yoga and practices that you can apply to your daily life. You don’t need to put pressure on yourself to commit to any program or tell yourself that you will do X every day for X amount of days, although there might be some short challenges along the way to give you a little boost, if needed.


All you need to do is show up for yourself. By building a habit of small practices that help you to navigate life, you might find that in challenging times you are able to cope and react in a way that serves you and doesn’t deplete you or make you feel less than.


The idea here is to allow the process to organically evolve. Some parts of the process will fit into your life naturally, and others you might already be doing, whereas some might be challenging for you, which could possibly reveal a part of you that might need more attention.


If you want to stay up to date with this journey, receive consistent reminders of the exercises and join the discussion, follow me on Instagram @elumi_yoga, or on Facebook, and sign up to my monthly newsletter, here.


What is Patanjali’s 8 Limb Path?


It’s not known exactly when Patanjali lived or if they were one or more people, male or female. It is widely accepted that they lived around 400 years BC, but there is no concrete evidence and the timeline isn’t as important as the work.


Patanjali is responsible for organizing the existing ideas of yoga that were, until this point, taught orally, into an easily digestible format, called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.


The Yoga Sutras (definition: a literary rule or aphorism, or a collection of them) of Patanjali were the first systematic delivery of Yoga and they include all the ideas of the Vedic scripts and teachings passed on through the lineages in one text.


The Sutras systematized what is known as the 8 Limb Path (aka. Ashtanga Yoga/Raja yoga). Patanjalis primary focus was the attainment of enlightenment (Samadhi), and we will come back to this in a later blog.


The 8 Limb Path outlines:

· The aim of yoga

· The necessary practices

· The obstacles you might come across and their removal


You could think of the Sutras as a kind of down-to-earth self-help guide to help you become more aware of yourself and why you find certain aspects of life more challenging and other aspects easy.


The 8 Limbs of Yoga are:


1. Yamas | Ethical standards

2. Niyamas | Self Observances

3. Asana | Posture or Seat

4. Pranayama | Control of the Breath

5. Pratyahara | Sense withdrawal

6. Dharana | Concentration

7. Dhyana | Meditation

8. Samadhi | Enlightenment


This month we will start with the Yamas, your ethical standards, which encourage you to live at peace with one another and yourself.




The Yamas are separated into 5 characteristics that allow you to observe a variety of aspects of your human experience, and notice if you feel aligned with these aspects or not.


These 5 characteristics are:


Ahimsa | Kindness & Compassion

Satya | Truthfulness

Asteya | Generosity and Abundance

Brahmacharya | Moderation and Balance

Aparigraha | Acknowledge Abundance


I ‘d like to make in clear that throughout this process you might find some negativity arise and have the urge to push it away or ignore it, but this negativity is here to reveal something for you. Do your best to embrace it and listen to what it’s saying.


No one is perfect and this is by no means the aim of this journey, we are not trying to be better than the next person…the aim to discover “the highest, truest expression of yourself, as a human being”, whatever that looks like for you.


Life is messy and not linear, so you might find that you steer away from this process and come back to it later, and that’s ok too. Just know that this information will always be here for you to access whenever you are ready for it.


Here is a break down each characteristic of the Yamas.


1. Ahimsa | Kindness and Compassion

Ahimsa circles around the idea that we are one: “Embracing reverence and love for all (Ahimsa), we experience oneness.” The Secret Power of Yoga, N. Devi.


Traditionally this element of the Yamas is referred to as Non-Violence, which for some could come across that we are naturally violent and we need to practice the abandonment of violence and violent tendencies.


I’ve found when discussing this with others, that the reaction is “But I am not violent” and I agree, we are not born violent. Perhaps you could view this in a different light?


Under this component of the Yamas you can focus on healing the hurt that already exists and acknowledge that everything has consciousness and should be treated with kindness and compassion.


Create a habit of reminding yourself that even though all living beings and their lifestyles appear to be different, in their essence they are all the same.


Reflection


Perhaps take a moment to consider or write down your thoughts on the following promts:


· Is there a person or situation that could assist you in your practice of Ahimsa?


· Is there someone whom you have treated unkindly or who has treated you unkindly? If so, could they be soothed by an offering?


How can you bring Ahimsa into your daily life?


1. Change your internal dialogue.


Notice how you talk to yourself, catch yourself, and see if you can switch the narrative to something positive. Humans have more than 6000 thoughts per day so it would be impossible for you to notice every thought, but perhaps you could catch a few of the negative thoughts each day and check-in with how you feel as you become aware of them and choose to think of something good about yourself. With time, this will become an ongoing habit.


2. Negative thought patterns towards another person.


Catch yourself doing this and immediately think of 3 positive things about that person. Notice how you feel now.


3. Eat a plant-based/vegetarian diet.


When you consume animal products you also consume the fear, pain, and depression that animals felt up to the point that they were killed. That becomes a part of you. In most cases, these animals are taken from their families and killed in an unnatural and devastating way. This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach; you could simply start with 1 day a week.


4. Be good to our planet.


Try to live as environmentally friendly as possible. Walk instead of taking your car. Keep a reusable bag with you and reuse containers. Support local businesses.


5. Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)


Metta involves sending loving-kindness to a series of individuals in this order:


· yourself

· loved ones (people who are easy to love)

· neutral people in your life

· those who you find difficult to love

· all beings everywhere


Done in stages, this practice opens and softens you, and by the time you get to the end of the blessing practice, hopefully, your heart is as wide as the world.


As with any new spiritual practice, this takes time, commitment, and practice for it to transform you.


Click here to learn how to practice this meditation.


2. Satya | Truthfulness

Be truthful in your words, thoughts, and actions towards others. The sutra says: Whatever you speak comes true and the result of actions follows from your will.


Satya refers to total commitment to truth in your intentions, words and actions and the realization of the higher truth. You tell the truth only in a way that doesn’t cause harm, or in a way that causes the least harm.


“A word is a bird and the teeth are the cage, if we let the bird fly, we can never get it back.” Sri Swami Sivananadaji


Reflection


Consider the statements below and perhaps write down what comes to mind when you read these statements out loud.


· Can you remember a time when you attempted to cover up a lie? Did it seem as though the whole world was there to expose you?


· Choose an idea or concept that you “feel” is untrue. Observe where on your body you feel this untruth.


· Choose a concept that you feel is true and observe where you feel that.


Start to trust your inner knowing or intuition.


How can you bring Satya into your daily life?


1. Ask yourself is this truth or opinion?


The next time you consider saying something to someone that you believe to be true, pause and ask yourself, is this true or is this opinion. For example, if you wish to comment on someone’s appearance in a negative way, and tell yourself that you’re only telling the truth, consider if it is truth or your personal opinion.


In the Secret Power of Yoga there is a beautiful example of practicing Satya when a friend asks if you like their outfit. The author explains that, perhaps you don’t like your friend’s outfit because it is not your taste, but consider that there was a designer who created this outfit, a shop owner who liked this outfit and stocked it in their store and a customer who purchased the outfit. There were many people involved who thought that this outfit was beautiful, and maybe you don’t, but is it right for you to tell your friend to change based purely on your personal opinion? This one had me stumped as I am usually that friend that people ask for opinions and I always give my honest opinion, being careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but where is the line? So now I ask myself; “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” – Sufi saying


“Most people will not remember what you said or what you did. But they will remember how you made them feel.” Maya Angelou


3. Asteya | Generosity and Abundance

“Abiding in generosity and honesty (Asteya), material and spiritual prosperity is bestowed.” The Secret Power of Yoga, N. Devi.


Traditionally this element of the Yamas is referred to as non-coveting., but I prefer seeing as generosity and abundance as described in The Secret Power of Yoga. The modern world encourages us to achieve more and yet most of us walk around with feelings of lack. Have you experienced this? You work really hard to achieve a specific goal or attain a status and once you reach your goal, you find yourself wanting more or feeling like it’s not enough. When will it be enough?


Perhaps you continue to purchase items you don’t need because you feel like something is lacking in your life or you are trying to push away something that you don’t want to deal with? I guess the term “retail therapy” had to come from somewhere.


We have this innate urge to have possession of things and we think of things as “mine”, but in reality all things belong to the earth. Perhaps you could consider a different perspective; is this mine or am I the caretaker of this thing?


Reflection


Consider the statements below and take a moment to write down what comes to mind.


· Does your generosity expand to others? Or you do still feel you need more before you can do that? This is not only financial generosity but also generosity of time.


· Consider your generosity of time. Are you always ready to be helpful and speak to others? Do you keep others waiting?


· In what ways are you generous with yourself? Do you take time to nurture yourself on all levels?


· In what small ways can you expand your generosity on a daily basis? As your generosity expands, so too will your hearts desire to give and serve.


How can you bring Asteya into your daily life?


1. Observe your life, and with a generous heart acknowledge the ways that you experience wealth and property. Make a list.


Consider things like having food and being able to eat whenever you are hungry, or your wardrobe that is filled with clothes for all occasions.


Once you have completed your list, sit back and notice how you feel.


2. Give something to someone this week without them having to ask for it.


This could be your time, a loving message, a compliment, etc. Don’t wait for someone to ask for something, instead give.


It’s a simple formula: Gratitude + Generosity = Abundance


4. Brahmacharya | Moderation and Balance

“Refraining from sensual pleasures knowing that you are not just the body but infinite.” The Secret Power of Yoga.


This element of the Yamas is sometimes referred to as celibacy, and it’s important to point out that if you choose to implement the yogic lifestyle that you are not expected to never have sex.


This element of the Yamas was implemented at a time when women were persecuted for being women, and their existence was dictated by what was considered moral and appropriate sexual behavior at the time. In our contemporary world the idea is that you choose to share your love and energy with intention and without the aim to harm, manipulate or use another for your personal gain. Having intercourse on the basis of mutual love and respect.


When applied to all areas of life, Brahmacharya could also been seen as finding moderation and balance, which in our modern life can be challenging. Trying to find a balance between earning an income while living a moderate life seems to be more and more difficult nowadays when we are over stimulated and spoiled for choice.


For example, it has become second nature to arrive home after a long day of work, and spend the majority of your evening sat in front of the TV binge watching your favorite series. There are many reasons that you could be doing this, perhaps it’s your way of winding down or shutting out the world?


I believe that this is sometimes needed, sometime you just want a few hours of relief, however when done everyday for hours on end, this could become harmful to your wellbeing.


Maybe consider what would happen if instead, you chose to do something different, like read a book, draw, learn something new, or have a meaningful conversation with a family member or friend?


“Yoga is not for one who eats too much, or for one who fasts too much, nor sleeps too much or sleeps too little, but instead lives in a harmonious flow along the middle path.” Bhagavad-Gita


Sometimes these yogic phrases could seem very idyllic and unrealistic for our modern times, but they are definitely thought provoking and might make you want ruminate on how you live your life in a more intentional way.


Reflection


Perhaps journal what comes to mind when you read the statements below.


· Are there certain areas in your life where you could be more moderate?


· Where do you over-indulge? Food? TV? Work? Sex?


· What could you do instead of over-indulging in these areas?


How to bring Brahmacharya into your daily life?


Choose one of the elements above and begin to moderate its use.


So if for example you spend 4 hours of your evening watching TV, maybe you could watch TV for 2 hours and then spend the other 2 hours reading or doing something else that you enjoy.


Once you have moderated one aspect for a few days, start to introduce another aspect.


5. Aparigraha | Acknowledge Abundance

Traditionally this element is referred to as non-possessiveness or non-greediness. Under this characteristic you learn to appreciate what you have, to share and not to hoard or get attached to what you most desire in life. Keep only those objects that are essential for living.


In todays world we benefit from an abundance of luxuries such as central heating, air-conditioning, and a simple button that you press to cook your food and we sometimes take these everyday life luxuries for granted.


Just the mere thought of an everyday resource being limited initiates fear in you. Think about when the pandemic hit and everyone thought that we would run out of toilet paper, a simple resource that we use every day was now being threatened. What did everyone do? They bought as much toilet paper as possible without consideration for the next person, and what initiated this? Fear.


If we are able to live within our means and use the expression that “I have enough” abundance will flow in our direction and we become free.


Reflection


· Reflect on your life. What type of people or possessions do you surround yourself with?


· Do they feed your soul or your ego?


· Do they energize or deplete you?


· Take a moment to feel gratitude for the great blessings that surround you: the home you live in, the service you do in the world, the availability and quantity of food you have to eat.


How to bring Aparigraha into your daily life?


1. Create space for the new.


Clean a few items from a drawer or a wardrobe and give the contents to a worthy person or charity. An empty place allows for new things to abundantly fill your life.


Move this same idea to your diary. Leave some time each week for the unexpected to happen. Invite surprise blessings to visit you.


2. Plan to do something to serve your community or a community close to your heart.


Notice any mental or emotional resistance. Note how you feel after the experience.


Do you notice a sense of gratitude? Perhaps so much so, that you may want to make this kind of Seva (selfless service) a regular event in your life?



This concludes the Yamas and I know that this is a lot of information to take in, especially if you are learning about this for the first time. Sometimes it’s easier to digest information in smaller quantities and in a practical way.


If you felt inspired by this and feel like you would like to try to incorporate some of these elements into your daily life then follow me on Instagram @elumi_yoga for inspirational reminders of each element of the Yamas, and practical ways to apply them to your daily life.


By improving yourself, your relationship to the earth and all earthlings is improved.


“Growth is actually contagious, so if you want to reach your goals, you’ve got to get around people who are going in the same direction you want to be going, and you will catch the success.” Dr. Henry Cloud



Love and Light

Eliza

xxx