In this blog post I am going to discuss Patanjali’s text ‘The Yoga Sutras‘; which was written around 500 BCE. Through compiling this text, Patanjali drew together a wide array of oral traditions and merging them into one. These traditions surrounded the teaching and practise of yogic philosophies. The Sutras outline 8 limbs of yoga, known as Ashtanga, which describe the full experience of a yoga practise. These teachings are just as applicable in 21st century life as they were 2,500 years ago. In ‘The Yoga Sutras,’ Patanjali outlined how you can be a better person through yoga.
The first of the ‘8 limbs’ is known as the Yamas. These provide guidelines for how to treat other people. Yoga allows us to ‘work on our stuff,’ but we should also look at how we act towards other people. Sadly, not everyone believes the concept of treating our fellow humans with fairness, decency and respect is valuable. I’m sure if Patanjali were alive today he would be horrified by the recent news stories. I think he would encourage us to re-examine the yamas and use them to help us learn and grow.
Yamas – a guideline for being a decent person
There are 5 concepts within the yamas, and each one builds on the previous ideas to form a cohesive pathway which can be followed. Looking at the yamas is a great place to start our yoga philosophy journey. However, the list of yamas is not exhaustive and I’m sure we could add a few things to to it.
The first of the yamas is Aparigraha which translates as avoiding greed or hoarding. On the surface this yama can be taken at face-value, and one which we have all witnessed in the previous few months – stockpiles of toilet paper anyone? Aparigraha, can also extend to taking more than we need, such as sleep, food or even attention. By taking only what we need and not what we want from any given situation, we are leaving space to be more supportive, understanding and compassionate towards others. In our yoga practise this could be seen as the notion of collecting postures and ticking them off on an imaginary list. However, this defeats the point of our yoga, which is to experience yoga as ourselves, and as we are on any given day.
Bramacharya – non wasting of energy
Bramacharya is the second of the yamas and relates to consciously using your energy wisely. Self-restraint and moderation relate to being mindful of our actions and why we make them. By applying the concept of mindfulness, we can catch ourselves before we head off on another rant about what Karen said or did. Everyone might know what Karen is like, but no one needs to hear it for the thousandth time today. Again, we can translate this onto our mats by thinking about the voice we use while we practise our yoga. Instead of repeating to yourself that you can’t do certain poses, why not approach them with curiosity and use your energy to focus on the stepping stones towards the pose.
(PS sorry if you’re name is Karen, it was the first name that came to me, and is not about anyone in particular.)
Asteya – non stealing
The third of the yamas is the concept of Asteya, or non-stealing. This links back to Aparigraha and accepting or being happy with what you currently have. But it could also mean not to take advantage of others in anyway. Perhaps you are constantly late for everything, it might even be a joke among your family and friends. But this could be seen as a form of stealing, as the other person is waiting for you and you have not been respectful of their time. Again, we can apply this concept on our yoga mats. We have all been to a class where someone has a list of injuries and complaints the length of their arm. Which results in taking up so much of the teacher’s time and energy with little space left for the rest of us.
Satya -non lying
Our fourth yama is satya, which means honesty or non-lying. During my yoga teacher training we spent a full month focusing on this concept. We investigated all the ways we were, perhaps, not being fully honest and what this meant to us. My take on this was my dyed blonde hair. I learned that I liked having blonde hair, despite technically ‘lying’ about the colour. Any yoga pose on social media provides a great opportunity to study satya. The image may show a perfect handstand on a beach, but the reality could be vastly removed from this.
Ahimsa – non violence
The last of the yamas is the concept of ahimsa or non-violence. This directly translates into many aspects of our lives including our time on the yoga mat. Ahimsa asks us not to push beyond our current ability levels, as this is a form of violence towards ourselves, which can result in injury. It can also come in the form of compassion and friendliness towards others – perhaps instead of talking, we listen more; instead of complaining we look for opportunities to be grateful. All of this would allow us to incorporate ahimsa into our lives. And who wouldn’t benefit from a little bit more kindness.