Yamas - Universal Disciplines

The Yamas-Universal Disciplines


Over the last several months we have been taking a closer look at the second chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The Sadhana Pada is the chapter on practice. This chapter includes one of the most beloved pieces of Yoga philosophy, the 8 Limbs of Yoga.  The 8 Limbs of Yoga are both a starting place and a roadmap for the student seeking an understanding of the philosophy that supports the 5000 year old practice. But as Richard Freeman so wisely states, "the map is not the territory." The map can give us a theoretically understanding of being there but, alas, it is not the same as actually being there.  If what follows resonates, I encourage you to seek out resources (including Shala teachers), journal, meditate and discuss your discoveries. Nothing beats ones' first hand experience.  The practice of Yoga is a living, dynamic, constantly changing tradition that requires your curiosity and insight in order to continue to evolve from generation to generation.


The first of the eight limbs is yama, universal disciplines. The Sanskrit word yama translates as; to bridle, to restrain, to check or hold-in. The yama focus on the interactions we have with people and things outside of ourselves. Together with the niyamas, or internal disciplines (to be discussed next month), the first two limbs of Yoga form the fundamental ethical precepts at the foundation of the practice.  To be clear, Yoga is not a religion. It is a philosophy of existence that offers us the contemplative science and technology for living the good life.  At the core of the Yoga practice is the understanding that we are all interconnected. You can interpret it on the gross level - we share air, earth, sun and water - or the subtle level - we share the spark of consciousness. The Dali Lama sums it up nicely, "My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness."  The living practice of the five universal disciplines is an exercise in placing all beings inside your heart while simultaneously seeing yourself in others. 


The five yama are non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), moderation (brahmacharya) and non-grasping (aparigrahah).  Theses principles seem fairly straightforward but they run deep into every action, deed, attitude, thought and word. These questions are merely food for thought, not personal opinions or judgements. Does non-harming extended to animals? Insects?  Does non-stealing included other's time or energy?  Brahmacharya was traditionally considered a period of chastity. Most modern house-holding yogi's prefer to translate this yamaas moderation, specifically in the arena of sexual desire. Are there areas in your life where desires of any kind consume and incapacitate you?  The yama are ordered with intention.  Can you practice non-hurtfullness when speaking your truth?  Can you practice non-grasping in your intimate relationships?  Perhaps over the next five weeks you will ruminate on these question and others of your own, recognize patterns and reaffirm your Yoga practice as a method for creating a gap between the spark and the flame....