The Yamas and Niyamas are ethical guidelines or a map that help us make choices that are supportive and growth oriented. This is a two part post on how we can use these guidelines to support us in finding more ease in our lives.
According to the Yoga Sutras there are 8 branches of yoga that when practiced is designed to help the practitioner live a deeper and more fulfilled life. The Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches, followed by asana – what we know as the yoga postures. So in sense we can think of the Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines for how to conduct our lives day to day which is more important than the physical movement practice. Asana came much later as a tool to help prepare the body for meditation.
There are 5 Yamas and 5 Niyamas. The Yamas are guidelines for how relate to our environment and other people. The Niyamas are guidelines for how we relate to ourselves.
- Ahimsa: non-violence
- Satya: truthfulness
- Asteya: non-stealing
- Bramacharya: non-excess
- Aparigraha: non-possessiveness
Today I want to explore the concepts of Ahimsa and Satya and how we might use these principles to step into a more authentic sense of being.
Ahimsa, or non-violence encompasses our ability to move through life with courage, compassion and love for ourselves and others. Satya, or truthfulness, goes intimately hand in hand with non-violence. To be truthful, asks us to live in a way where we express ourselves in a way that is real and authentic. It’s about expressing our needs in order to grow and act with integrity and purpose.
Ahimsa encourages us to be courageous, to be brave. Do something that scares you by taking a small step out of your comfort zone, in the name of personal growth. Small steps help us to grow our comfort zone while also maintaining a level of safety. When we stay in our fear, we are small and limited, and are essentially harming our potential. Practicing compassion, forgiveness and being kind and loving towards ourselves, helps us to extend the same warmth towards others. We are really harder on ourselves than we are on our friends or family. Self-acceptance and learning to love all aspects of ourselves carries over into all other aspects of our life.
With Truthfulness we need to seek a balance between being “real” and being “nice”. We don’t have to sacrifice our needs to appear “nice” or perfect or helpful. Acting with integrity also prevents us from using our truth as a way of hurting someone else.
Satya also asks us to express ourselves. When we limit ourselves with shoulds or should nots (based on our beliefs or what we hear from others), redirects our attention to indulgence. We hide behind overworking or over-eating or over-exercising, rather than doing what we really want to do.
Satya asks us to grow! This might mean making changes to the group(s) we belong to. Look at how the environment of the people you interact with supports or conflicts with who and how you want be in the world. Speaking our truth and acting on it, can be difficult at times. It requires courage. Sometimes the cost of our realness just seems too high. Be brave.
Have you ever had to reneg on a promise? Do you overextend yourself? Do you then avoid the person you agreed to help, because you just don’t have the time? What might life be like if you didn’t have to apologize or cancel or avoid? These things happen because we cheat the truth and then are left with messes to clean up. Being truthful with ourselves and what we can take on our plate grows us into someone who acts and speaks with integrity, someone who is reliable and trustworthy.
The compassion of non-violence keeps truthfulness from being a personal weapon. It reminds us to think about what we say and do and how it will impact those around us.
There are many ways we can use these Yamas in application to our life. We might look at these concepts and see how they show up in our lives and consider small things we can do to improve our relationships. A friend who went through a divorce last year, used the Yamas to support herself through those trying days, weeks and months. A colleague who wanted to live in a way that was more aligned with her values, use the Yamas to guide her choices. In my personal yoga therapy practice I reflect on one aspect of a Yama each week to grow my awareness and understanding of how I show up in the world so I can be more present with my family and my clients.
This week, consider one aspect of Ahimsa or Satya that resonated with you and explore how it shows up in your life.