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  • Writer's pictureAsha Venkatarao

Delve Deeper into Ashtanga - Understand Yamas

Our contemporary Yoga practice usually involves stretching, expanding , strengthening and falling over in balancing postures. All of these movements help in creating a healthier & vibrant body, but Asana practice is only one section of the Ashtanga / 8 limbs of Yoga practice.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras form the foundational text for the study of these 8 limbs;

I don't think he was referring to tight abdominals or thinner thighs :)

He was referring to the state of the entire mind / body / breath connection in which we inhabit this Life; in the ways we perceive, analyse and value this finite existence!

The idea of a Yoga practice is not just to be calm, mindful & awake on the mat, but to carry this sense of being into our daily lives, into the nitty-gritty details ; into difficult moments; into sorrows and joyous moments.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are a road-map to this deeper unfolding of our practice; an ongoing exploration , a conversation with ourselves as we live, stretch, breathe, pause, connect and

of course, learn to let go.

The 8 limbs in Ashtanga Yoga are :

- Yamas

- Niyamas

- Asana

- Pranayama

- Pratyahara

- Dharana

- Dhyana

- Samadhi

In this post, I would like to discuss the Yamas / Moral & Ethical Codes, which refer to how we behave outwardly to the world around us with our inner choices.

The 5 Yamas are:

- Ahimsa - Non-harming / non-violence in thought, word & deed

- Satya - Truth, in values , in communication

- Asteya - Non-stealing, not taking what isn't ours

- Bramhacharya - Celibacy, Self-control

- Aparigraha - Non-hoarding or control of greed

Let's try to understand each of these in little detail.

- Ahimsa : This easily translates into non-violence, but it encompasses deeper layers of understanding. Non-violence in physical form is understood for us, but non-violence in emotional, mental vibrations to others and oneself is the lesson here. In Asana practice, the lesson would be to not push oneself over the edge, just to please the ego. Seriously, who really cares if we can drape a leg behind our ear, while wincing & gritting our teeth in pain? By respecting our boundaries, we make the practice sustainable & lifelong, not a performance for an audience.

- Satya : Practicing the concept of 'Satya' on and off the Yoga mat can prove to be challenging and ultimately can lead to a meaningful connection with oneself and the world around. On the mat, it could mean to move into an authentic variation of any pose, not a mental image, but our image of who we can be in that pose. We might have to make changes, breathe mindfully, and, sometimes accept that our body is not ready for that pose; that's practice with Satya, Our Inner Truth!.

In relationships, Satya can mean being honest, trying to feel our intention behind our speech and working on having strong boundaries.

- Asteya : This refers to Non-stealing ; it can be material goods, it can be emotional energy, it can be a feeling of not-good-enough-always. Sound familiar :)?

On the mat, we might notice a tendency to always push a little further, look a little better; this is not wrong, but if it hurts the muscles & ligaments, then we need to work on it. In this constant tendency to improve, we may lose the awareness in the present moment to appreciate ourselves.

In life, Asteya could translate as releasing expectations, sharing credit for creative ideas, letting a sense of abundance become stronger , moving away from a place of lack within our psyche.

- Bramhacharya : This usually refers to celibacy; but it takes a deeper meaning for us to exercise self-control in different areas of our lives. We start to use the outer-directed energy to inner-directed awareness; shining this light into our lifestyle, diet, fitness, and ways of thinking & perceiving this world. We learn to choose the Middle path; just like Goldilocks and her just-right pudding!!

- Aparigraha : This translates as non-greed or non-possessiveness; basically this Yama tells us to take only what we need, keep only what serves us in the present moment and to let go when the time is right. On the mat, this could help us in being present in our daily practice, allowing the mind to stay focused, not lost in how we can bend deeper, sink lower, hold that forearm plank longer as the clock ticks.

In life, Aparigraha can help release our strong material bonds on newer & fancier things, always worried about the next shiny thing on the horizon. Maybe, we can find Santosha / contentment in our present material abundance and use that extra energy for better activities.

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