Through Ahimsa to the Other YamasChris Pritchard RYT-200

Through Ahimsa to the Other Yamas

In her previous blog post Janice gave a great overview, and thoughts, in regards to Ahimsa. Ahimsa is the first Yama, and the Yamas are the first limb of the 8-limbed path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Traditionally, when items are listed they are given in order of importance, with each successive item building upon the first. With that in mind let’s reflect on the remaining Yamas with non-harming in mind.

Satya means truth or truthfulness. The easy understanding of this concept is honesty. Yet honesty may at times be “brutal” and thus harmful, which emphasizes the point that each situation involves many factors that should be taken into consideration before jumping blindly into openly sharing every thought with everyone.

As Janice mentioned in her writing, truth is much different than chatter. Real truth is absent of judgement in the form of condemnation, and is not based on personal beliefs. When we are established in truth we don’t feel the need to be “right”. We can state what is true without the feeling of being constricted, which may cause us to react, to argue, or to lash out. In this way, in my understanding, the truth referred to by Satya includes harmony.

Thus Satya, by extension, also means being okay with how things are without frustration for how things “should be.” To let things be as they are can be especially challenging for me at times, but when I can find that way of harmony the “should be” in my mind seems to line up with how things actually are. That harmony helps us to feel comfortable, or right-sized, and alleviates the desire to take, or steal. Which brings us to Asteya.

Non-stealing (Asteya) may seem obvious and easy to understand, especially in the light of compassion and non-harming. What has always surprised me is the subtle ways and depth that stealing can take place, either in how I treat myself or how I treat others. The needs for acceptance, attention, and to have our desires fulfilled cause us to put pressure on others to find satisfaction. In that pursuit we may not only steal time, energy, or worse, from those around us, but we may steal from ourselves. This theft may come in the form of fatigue, anxiety, or simply taking time away from pursuing things that we not only find rewarding, but that benefit others.

This Yama always has been a bit confusing for me. Classically it means abstinence or celibacy, but more recently has evolved to mean moderation. I’m certainly not enlightened enough to practice celibacy, and we can easily imagine the type of behavior that can stem from self-repression in this area of our life, but I like to consider this Yama more in terms of self-discipline. This lines up nicely with other ideas expressed in the Yoga Sutras as well as the Bhagivad Gita.

Whether it’s how we eat, or how we spend our time, finding the proper balance of all things we take part in in our lives can be challenging, especially as what constitutes balance changes throughout our lifetime. Extremes are jarring and can cloud our perception or carry us away from compassionate awareness. Keeping a witness attitude can allow us to refrain from extremes and see more clearly what our bodies and minds need in order to stay healthy, and in harmony.

Non-greed and non-attachment (Aparigraha) are ideas that, similar to non-stealing, seem obvious in how they can be harmful. In a way greed and attachment form the roots of some forms of stealing. Desire, gone out of control, causes us to focus so certainly on that which we want to attain or keep, that our attention is taken away from witnessing actions which may be harmful. With our awareness attached to things we want to attain or keep, harmony and balance go by the wayside.

For me, compassion and non-violence seems to be the solid foundation from which the remaining Yamas can be practiced. Remaining aware of other people, and including them in our experience, helps us to refrain from harmful behavior, then honesty, non-stealing, moderation, and non-attachment easily flow from that center without much conscious effort.