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What are the Yamas?
The first limb of the 8 fold yoga path, as found in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, consists of 5 things (yamas) you shouldn’t be doing. Five actions that if we refrain from, will increase our happiness. Sometimes we commit these acts to other people, more often towards ourselves….way more often than we should. The point is to gently recognize the small ways we add to our suffering and without judgment, simply let them go.
This is the most important Yama of all. Most of us are pretty cognizant that to be better human beings we shouldn’t punch, scream at, or even sit and stew about shitty people. I’m pretty sure we all have difficult people in our lives. I had a Zen teacher say once, “Always try to be empathetic and approach people from their point of view. But know that some people are just assholes.” Yep. Some people just suck and we need to accept that. Try not to let them get under your skin. Don’t hate, let them be themselves and don’t allow your anger towards them ruin your day.
A little self-love
I’m more concerned about the way we yogis commit violence towards ourselves. Society places so many pressures on everyone. I feel like I always have to look presentable when I just want to go to the grocery store in my yoga pants and hoodie (I do…I don’t care). We have to be skinny, we have to have perfect skin, our hair can’t be grey, we have to have tons of time to volunteer, our homes have to be perfectly clean, our birthday cakes have to be perfect, we have to have Pinterest parties for our babies, we have to have the perfect family photo for the Christmas cards, always be perky, be agreeable……aaaaagh! Just cut the shit!
Yogis, we are doing the best we can! Accept that you are a wonderful human being. You’re going to mess up and that’s going to have to be ok to keep our sanity. You’ll have plenty of wins too…way more wins. Begin practicing non-violence to yourself, and you will also find that you will be more tolerant of other people.
Exercise: Make a list of the most stressful events in your life. Think about how you can approach these events peacefully and less negative self-talk. Implement at least one of these ideas this week.
Don’t be a liar. Pretty standard right? All religions push this idea. Now, because Ahimsa is the most important Yama, a lie may be told to protect the purity of non-violence….you have an out if you need to protect yourself or others. But try to keep it real.
Not only should we be truthful with others in all aspects of our lives, but we also need to be truthful to ourselves. We need to adhere to this to keep our sanity! Are you always saying yes to commitments because you feel obliged to do so? Do you always say yes to social engagements after a long week when you just need to rest? Are you neglecting rest? Do you always agree to take on more at work when the reality is that your plate is already full? (I do this one a lot)
Before agreeing to one more thing, take a minute and sit with it. Does it feel right? Do you have the spiritual, mental or physical energy to do it well? If you can’t do it well, is it ok to get it done with mediocrity? If not, then it’s ok to say no. You’re pretty damn amazing either way, and everyone is just going to have to deal with that.
Exercise: What is one area of your life that you need to be a little more truthful with yourself? Why have you not been so far?
Don’t steal. Another easy one right? Don’t take anything that’s not yours. Hold on. There are some layers to this Yogic Yama that frequently get overlooked.
The first is not appreciating the things/people that support one’s life. Such as our environment. Or partners. (yikes!) It’s easy sometimes to take advantage of everything, or everyone that is supporting you. Sometimes we forget to be grateful for the ways we are supported in our awesomeness. Give these people a shout out for all they do for you. BE THANKFUL for all the ways you are held up.
Also…and this is harder and defiantly a little more subtle. Coveting is a form of stealing. Wanting what other people have is energetically stealing from another person. And that’s not cool. We all have ways that we strive to be better but design YOUR OWN best life. The bigger house? More of a mortgage and more space to clean. Different husband? Who knows what can of worms you’re getting into there. The point is your life is probably tough right now. Don’t make it harder by being jealous of someone else. Make this YOUR journey and be creative with that!
Exercise: Every day this week, write down 5 people or ways you are supported in your life. If you’re comfortable, give them a little gratitude.
The fourth Yama is Moderation.This tenant will defiantly mean different things to each yogi and may need to be explored extensively. For monks living a strict life, this may mean complete celibacy. And maybe that does speak to you right now…sit with that. But for most of us, Brahmacharya is the concept of the appropriate use of energy. That’s a pretty individual thing.
Moderation can be a tough concept for most people. What do you use your energy for? A LOT right? We are so many things to so many different people that it is definitely hard to keep all these aspects in our lives in balance.
My suggestion is to really look at your whole life and identify the areas that you need to implement moderation. That’s a HUGE daunting task, huh? Take your time. It doesn’t have to be done in one day. Take note over the course of a week what you tend to go a little overboard on. Ask your partner or your friends what they think. It might not be the answer you want to hear, but it will definitely be eye-opening.
A personal struggle with moderation…
Recently I had a girls weekend at hot springs with three of my best friends from PT school. After soaking, and (let’s be honest) a couple of glasses of wine, we got into some pretty serious conversation about each of our marriages. When I was complaining that I didn’t think my husband was a driven as I would like him to be, the girls looked at me and said, “Hold up Becca. You’re the one who is over the top. You are the one who is going a little crazy with continuing education and need to take it down a notch. Dave is the normal one. You can’t hold that against him.” I had to sit with that one for a while. They were right. I need to implement more moderations with so many areas of my life.
Sometimes it takes your closest people to drop some truth bombs for you to see the big picture. I’ve taken it down a notch and have been a little bit easier on my kick-ass husband.
Exercise: What is one area of your life that you need to practice moderation?
So this Yama is a tough one when you think about our current society. We’re “suppose” to always strive to be more. But this means to be more, not have more. The Yoga Sutras recommend that we keep only what we need. Does this need to be adjusted for our modern society? YES. We should be mindful about savings accounts, and retirement savings. We do need to prepare for the future, but greed is a totally different story, right?
So what does this mean for our current society? Keeping yourself in check when it comes to material desires. There is a huge attraction to minimalism these days and I’m on board. Energy gets stagnant in your house when you own too much stuff. Owning less material items opens our energy to focus on more important things. If you’re getting stuck in energy, ideas or money~ try a house purge. I’ve done it…I’m in the middle of one right now. It takes time, but so worth it. It feels good to get rid of items that don’t bring you joy. That certainly scales back things a lot.
Exercise: In what way do you need to practice Aparigraha? Is that a step you’re willing to take right now?
The Yamas are an excellent starting place for the Yoga Wellness lifestyle, and it addresses so many struggles of the yogi. It introduces us to the idea of refraining from harmful habits that are not serving us and sets us up for the next step, the niyamas. Looking forward to exploring these concepts in the next post!