Yoga Living: the Moral Guidelines or Yamas

In this series, I am going to share some of the knowledge I have learned during my classical yoga teacher training.

 Did you know that Yoga (notice the capital Y) is a lifestyle, and not just a form of exercise. Crazy, right? It's based on philosophy, and living the lifestyle brings us closer to connecting with our higher self or spirit. Following the "eight-fold path" leads us to our higher spirit. The first step on the path are the Yamas, the moral rules. Failing to adhere to this perfectly does not make us immoral, because we are human, and can't all be like Ghandi or Jesus. I can easily think of ways in which I "violate" all of these rules in some shape or form.We simply need to try our best. Regardless of what spiritual or religious reliefs you hold, there is no denying that we all should aim to be moral beings.

Here are the Yamas and examples how to follow (and not follow) these moral guidelines:

Non-violence

Definition: Intentionally not causing  pain to oneself or others in action, word, or thought. Non-violence is the virtue that guides each restraint. How often do you judge others? Why is it so easy to point out others' character flaws and beat ourselves up? At the very least we can be mindful of when we are doing this and cultivate self love and love for others.

Truthfulness

Definition: Speaking only what is true to avoid misunderstandings and assumptions, and keeping silent when the truth will cause others harm. Hostility between or among persons ceases when one person vows non-violence. Such a person does not lie or cause others to lie and listens intently. Truth should be free from fear, anger, and greed. I am the queen of bluntness without being mean, and people come to me to hear the truth in the nicest way possible. Think about if someone is hosting you for dinner and the meal is absolutely disgusting. There is no need to bring up the fact that it is disgusting unprompted, but if asked, an appropriate answer would be, "It did not agree with my taste preferences, but thank you for hosting me."

Moderation

Limiting activities done for the sole purpose of experiencing pleasure, and focusing energy towards activities that both provide pleasure and attend to the spirit. There are reward pathways in the brain that when activated, flood the system with endorphins, causing the body to feel pleasure. Themore often the pathway is activated, the body expects it, which can lead to addiction to things like food, alcohol, drugs, and promiscuity. So what does moderation look like? Eating birthday cake or going out for ice cream on hot summer nights, having wine with dinner or meeting a friend for happy hour, taking medication as prescribed by a doctor, and intimacy between two people in a loving relationship.

Non-Stealing

Respecting the physical, emotional, and intellectual property of others and refraining from taking as one’s own. Showing appreciation for and not taking for granted the gifts of nature that keep one alive. Receiving gifts from others or the earth and using the gifts to serve others. This includes everything from the "grass is always greener" mentality, plagiarism or accepting compliments for work you did not do, excessive deforestation and littering, adultery, physically stealing from a store or someone else. Basically, do the opposite of those things- donate to charities, plant trees or a backyard garden, don't waste water or paper, remain faithful and don't engage in an extramarital relationship, and ask or pay before taking.

Non-greed

Acquiring basic necessities needed for living comfortably and safely in society. Forgoing luxuries that extend beyond simple living. It's one thing to have a home that is warm and safe, a car to get from point A to point B, healthy food, clothing, and a cell phone and computer for communication and work, but is another to have a million dollar mansion, a Porsche, dining out every night, designer fashion, and the full line of Apple products. Not to say that engaging in any of these activities is "bad," but doing so is simply not living a yoga lifestyle. It's easy to become attached- which is basing your value on external things like wealth, career, body, relationship status, or family role.

What are the ways in which you are following the Yamas? Now that I've got you thinking about it, what changes are you willing to make with regard to your mindset and actions? Let me know in the comments or on my Facebook group.