You Are Enough: The Yamas of the Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offer many tools & practices for a peaceful mind and life before any mention of physical posture. The Yamas are some of these tools.

They can be described as ways of behaving and interacting with ourselves (including our bodies) and in our relationships with people and the world we live in.

 

Briefly, the Yamas include:

AHIMSA: Non -violence, compassion … not just physical non-violence, but also non-violence in your thoughts (including about yourself, and your body).

SATYA: Authentic, clear , compassionate & mindful communication and commitment to the truth.

ASTEYA: Non-stealing – we pause before we take and notice the emptiness we may be trying to fill.

BRAMACHARYA: Wise use of energy (Energy of all kinds: physical, emotional, mental, sexual … balance of effort, time and expenditure).

APARIGRAHA: Lack of covetousness, impatience and greed. Not collecting, accumulating, hoarding, cluttering whether physically, mentally or emotionally. We learn to let go when it’s necessary.

To put the Yamas in context, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali recommends the following practices for normal people with busy minds, and together they’re often called the “8 Limbs” of Yoga:

I love to work with people individually because it’s so much easier to get to the heart of what Yoga is and bypass the misconceptions about Yoga.

Misconceptions like, Yoga is about stretching, or that you have to be able to sit in crossed legs on the floor, or that you have to be young, white, slim and bendy, for example.

I often see someone new to a Yoga class put a hundred percent into every pose, aiming for big stretch, trying to do a really good job!
I can walk around the class saying that’s not what we’re aiming for and just to move toward the re-creation of space in a pain-free range and rely on the breath and relaxation to enable the release…but for a while, it’s just really hard to break this habit, and understandably so, considering all the conditioning we may have had from childhood onwards. For a beginner thrown into experiencing yoga for the first time in a group, all our modern cultural values and habits can come automatically to the fore: competition, striving, perfectionism, being better & stronger, comparison with the person on the mat next door… but this is not the Yoga way.
Also, many who come to class are there to move, & have come to ease physical challenges, but everyone needs something different physically of course – so inevitably the opportunity comes up to take a pose that’s better suited to someone else. And there’s that cultural conditioning again… we have to do every pose because we want to be good enough, or we don’t want to miss out, or because we don’t understand our own bodies enough yet to take what’s beneficial for us, and happily leave what isn’t.

 

Counter to our achievement oriented culture, the Yoga principles of non-harming, truth, and not grasping, for example, are not easy to instantly absorb in a group where most have come to move, learn Yoga poses and hope to feel better physically and believe a big stretch will help.

Yet the practice of these Yoga principles has the potential to resolve so much of our struggling relationships with our bodies…. or any of our struggling relationships.

Where I live in the Huon Valley the population is small so I run just two open public classes, one open to beginners, and one for practiced Yogis. There’s not the population to sustain separate beginner courses. So I get the privilege and joy of seeing both beginners and my long-term Yogis practising together. I get to experience the joy of seeing those long term practitioners who’ve been coming to class for years & have absorbed these aspects of Yoga during our practice together, and who really “get it”…they’re as contented to practise in the Beginner level session as in the more challenging one, They choose from what’s on offer on the night, according to their energy levels and current needs. They don’t feel any need to complicate or embellish the beginner poses into something more. They don’t even bother looking at anyone else let alone comparing themselves to any one else. They no longer see the Yoga poses as tricks to be conquered, but as opportunities to explore, compassionately. They’ve been in my classes long enough to have learned some alternatives to things that don’t work for them and they adapt the poses to suit their bodies whenever they need. They practice as if everything is enough, and they are enough. That’s when I know they get it.

Practising one-to-one with a teacher first is a more direct path to this approach and it’s rare that someone doesn’t start understanding these qualities within the first few sessions if I’m working with them individually…simply because we have more time to pause, recognise intention behind movement or holding patterns in the body, and choose a new approach, moment to moment during an individual session. (And there aren’t other bodies with completely different needs and strengths to compare ourselves with in each practice).
You can bring the Yamas into your physical practice of Yoga poses by remembering that you are enough. You don’t need to grasp, compete, improve, avoid, or fix, just practise finding your steadiness and ease, physically and mentally in each pose until it becomes second nature to do it on and off the mat.

Do you feel drawn to the centuries-old teachings of Yoga & their practical usefulness for modern life & relationships?

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Original photo of tree by Jacob Dyer, from Unsplash