Yoga is so much more than the poses we practice on our mats! Yamas are the moral, ethical and spiritual guidelines of a person aspiring to reach balance, health, and well-being leading to spiritual development. There are five different characteristics, and these can be observed in our actions, words and thoughts. They help us to become kinder and more compassionate humans who form a healthier and happier society.
It's easy to get caught up in life's drama, to be focusing on personal gain and material possessions. But if we want to challenge ourselves and perhaps start a spiritual journey to learn about the mysteries of life, we can start with the first limb of the eightfold path of yoga, the Yamas.
1. Ahimsa — Non-Violence
Ahimsa means kindness, friendliness and complete compassion towards all living things, including one self, not to injure or show cruelty to any creature or any person in any way whatsoever. When we can realize that we are all connected, when hurting someone or something else is the same as hurting ourselves, and vice versa, we can start to get a hold of the true meaning of Ahimsa. It also has to do with our duties and responsibilities too. Ahimsa implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
2. Satya — Truthfulness
Satya is a commitment to the truth. It's encouraging us to speak the truth to ourselves, and to those around us. Truth can often be a scary thing, or we think we may hurt someone by being truthful. But often, not being truthful can be much more harmful for us and for our loved ones. The truth can be delivered with care and compassion, and in this way the truth can be very liberating.
Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa. This precept is based on the understanding that honest communication and action form the bedrock of any healthy relationship, community, or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations, and mistruths harm others.
3. Asteya — Non-Stealing
Steya means "to steal"; asteya is the opposite - to take nothing that does not belong to us. This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her. Non-stealing includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner. But how often are we trying to steal time from someone, trying to persuade someone to do something they don't freely want to do, or asking for someone's attention when it is not freely given?
Non-stealing also means that we should cultivate a feeling of abundance within us. Realizing that we do not lack anything, that we have everything, to be grateful of the things we have instead of trying to take what is not naturally ours.
4. Brahmacharya — Sense Control
Brahmacharya is often interpreted as celibacy, abstinence from sex. But what this means is that we could be more aware of how we use our sexual energy, and that we should not use it in a way that brings harm to us or to others. When we let sexual experiences be what they can be at best, intimate expressions of love between two people, this can be a great addition to our spiritual journey
Brahmacharya also means responsible behaviour with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Practicing brahmacharya means that we use our sexual energy to regenerate our connection to our spiritual self. It also means that we don’t use this energy in any way that might harm others.
5. Aparigraha — Non-Coveting
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. We should only take what we have earned; if we take more, we are exploiting someone else.
The yogi feels that the collection or hoarding of things implies a lack of faith in God and in himself to provide for his future. Aparigraha also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants. When we hold on to things, we are not allowing ourselves to be free. This is not just about holding on to material things, but also ideas and concepts that we may have about life, about the events in our lives, and about ourselves and our personalities.
When we realize that life is in constant flux, it changes and develops, and we change and develop with it, we are free to go with the flow of life. We can trust in the Universe to provide us all we need in life.