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Yoga, in its westernised interpretation, is a popular form of exercise, with new styles and trends dominating studios and social media platforms. However, the practice is deeply rooted in history and traditionally represents a very dedicated way of life.
Asana, or a series of postures, was practised daily with the purpose of preparing the body to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Meditation, in turn, was practised to achieve a heightened state of consciousness and ultimately nirvana.
The yogic diet was followed to keep the body at optimal health in order to transcend into bliss. Various kriyas were practised in order to detoxify the body.
While many of us are not able to commit to all of those practises, the yamas and niyamas are observances that we can reflect on daily. In simplest terms, the yamas and niyamas are yoga's ethical guidelines. They represent the values and codes of conduct on how to treat yourself and others.
The yamas and niyamas are seen and practised every day. They serve to increase mindfulness in everyday life.
The first five guidelines are the Yamas, which govern how we interact with the outside world and how we treat those we meet. Here we discuss a modern interpretation of the ancient ethical map.
Non-violence is obvious in a physical sense and is something most people follow naturally: we teach our children to play nicely, we don't hurt each other, we are kind to our pets. Some people choose vegetarian and vegan lifestyles, applying non-violence to all living things.
Non-violence can also be practised by using a respectful tone of voice, avoiding sarcasm and negative comments, and refraining from sharing biases that promote intolerance and misconceptions that can hurt others.
Satya is the root of authenticity: being truthful in both thought and action. This yama guides us to honestly represent both ourselves and others.
You can practise satya by refraining from gossip and staying connected to your true identity. Not giving into the pressure to dress conventionally, listen to popular music, or share the same views and opinions as your peers is a good way to practise this yama.
Asteya can be viewed as an extension of truthfulness. While the obvious interpretation of non-stealing would be of property, it extends to ideas and personality as well.
Much like satya, asteya teaches us to accept who we are and what we have. This ensures we do not take on others' identities or claim their thoughts and opinions as our own.
It is common to hear that balance is key to healthy living, whether through diet, exercise, self-care, or work-life balance. Although Brahmacharya traditionally promotes celibacy, it can also represent balance.
Exercising the mind is vital to personal development; however, being consumed by work is not healthy. Alternatively, sitting in front of the television all day is not a positive use of time, but taking a day to rest can benefit mental health.
Being aware of the best way to use your energy as life unfolds will positively impact mental and physical health.
This yama applies to both material greed, as well as possessiveness of people. In terms of materialism, following Aparigraha means being content with what you have and fixing what is broken instead of throwing it away.
Non-possessiveness means observing the freedoms of those around you, especially regarding time and space. Ultimately this yama teaches us to take a step back from imposing our own expectations on what others should do with their time.
Being mindful that self-care and self-exploration are vital to well-being will create a positive environment for your loved ones and community.
Incorporating the less obvious aspects of the yamas into everyday life takes practise and patience. Being mindful of each interaction you share with someone else will promote respect and inclusiveness. Practising non-violence and non-excess will also benefit both the community and the planet.