Posts Tagged With: yama


As, I wrote earlier aparigraha is one of my favourite yamas lately. Aparigraha is linked with santosa, logically I consider santosa as one of my favourite niyamas. Santosa can be translated into contentment of life the way it is. It involves a state of self-acceptance and understanding that wherever you are that is where you are supposed to be. Yogis call it Karma – accepting that there is a purpose for everything, even for the challenges and obstacles in your life. It includes being happy with what you have rather than being unhappy about what you do not have. It requires willingness to enjoy what each day brings including embracing the difficult moments. I find it relatively easy to practise contentment while sitting in the sunshine with my lovely partner and enjoying the amazing sea view. But what about the challenging times in life? A couple of months ago, I was about to go to a job interview, when the car broke down and there was no other transport available. I find it hard to keep calm, content and peaceful if I am in the midst of a situation like that. Though, afterwards I can usually see the gift of a difficult event. In this case, I was not really enthusiastic about the job interview in the first place and soon another job opportunity arose.

For most of us, the deepest contentment comes at those moment when you feel at ease, happy and in flow with life. If you are conscious of these moments, you can strengthen the feelings of contentment for longer periods. This consciousness can be the start of greatly enjoying the simple things in life; drinking a cup of tea with your mother, breathing the fresh air while going for a morning walk or watching the birds flying around a tree. This creates an opportunity to experience life more intensely and deeply in the moment. If this state of contentment becomes a familiar place, you can return to this state of mind every time, even if you are surrounded by chaos and disharmony.

Practicing gratefulness is a form of santosa. The realization of all the good things you have in life – fresh air, a roof over your head, food on your plate, surrounded by lovely people – will increase your contentment. You can start practising contentment by accepting yourself truly and wholly exactly the way you are; praise your skills, characteristics and achievements. Followed by accepting persons you meet on your life’s journey. Practising santosa will lead you to true inner freedom wherever you are and whatever you do.

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Aparigraha or abstention from greed is one of my favourite yamas lately. You can translate it into avoidance of unnecessary acquisition of objects not essential to maintaining life or spiritual study. The following quote summarizes this yama for me: “living simple so that others can live simple”. You can relate not practising this yama with the enormous difference in material wealth between the so called Western world and the Third world. The world, the universe or God provides us with abundant wealth, but the distribution of wealth and power is done by humans.

Aparigraha involves being happy and content with what we need and not accumulating or collecting unnecessary things. It does not mean that you have to give up all your possessions. Rather, it includes non-attachment in regards to possessions, time, relationships, memories and beliefs. It is about giving up the belief that happiness depends on your ability to hold on to items, things and thoughts. Once you let go of this belief you will find freedom and you realize it does not matter anymore who owns or possesses what. Aparigraha refers to letting go of the fear there is not enough, instead develop faith in the universe and in yourself to provide for the future.

Yoga can teach you to let go and experience life with your arms wide open. But even in your yoga practice you can experience greediness. You would like to be able to ‘possess’/do that difficult amazing looking yoga pose. Other poses you fear, love or hate. Probably without realizing it you attach labels to your yoga practice. If you let go of these labels and judgments, you are able to experience your yoga practice with freshness and subtleness. It will help you to be in the moment; content and mindful. If I find it challenging to let go of my judgements I focus on my breath, my support. Every breath provides me with a new chance to let go of my thoughts and just experience. Just breathe…..

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Brachmacharya can be translated into restraint, control of the senses or celibacy. Although, the literally definition is ‘being established in divine consciousness’. That sounds like a challenge to me. So what does brachmacharya mean for your daily life?

The translation ‘control of the senses’ appeals to me the most. Originally celibacy was considered an important part of this fourth yama. Sex is believed to be the most depleting to the psychic and nervous system of all the sensual activities. In our modern society, brachmacharya can be interpreted as practicing sex and other sensual activities with moderation to your best ability. This will leave you with more energy to meditate and practice yoga. For me the word ‘too’ symbolizes not practising brachmacharya; for example too much food or sex and too less relaxation or sleep. Within a marriage control of the senses lead to a life of spiritual partnership ideally.

This yama also refers to an attitude of non-attachment to sensual pleasures with addiction being the extreme. Craving physical pleasures, such as alcohol, cigarettes, shopping or watching television as a substitute for real happiness, is not in accordance with brachmacharya. You can still enjoy your class of wine and a piece of chocolate, but with moderation and not with the purpose to create feelings of happiness. Since happiness comes from within.

You can apply moderation in different areas in your life: relationships, career, health, possessions. If you look honestly at your life; what are your obsessions to create false feelings of temporary happiness? What kind of behaviour interferes with your yogic/spiritual/religious path? I can have a tendency to be too obsessed with my exercise regime and healthy nutrition for example. Others are grasping for excessive amounts of chocolate every time they feel stressed and sad. Think about how much energy you would save to fulfill your life goals if you would practise moderation in certain areas in your life.

Practising brachmacharya will result in good health, inner strength, peace of mind and a long life. So why not give it a try?  

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The third yama asteya means non-stealing. Like the first two yama’s, this yama seems pretty self-explanatory at first sight. However, again you can incorporate this yama into your daily life at a much deeper level. Have you ever thought of hoarding as a form of stealing? Or the desire to have more material stuff, since others around you have so much? You can apply hoarding to food (eating too much), money and possessions. If the cashier forgets to charge you for an item, would you leave the shop without paying? How do you feel after you have overindulged yourself again during a cosy family dinner? If you have a bad day, you go out shopping to make yourself feel better. But do you really feel better if you have bought another beautiful top while you have still loads hanging in your closet? If you drain someone’s energy, it can be considered as not practising asteya by ‘stealing’ energy. If you come too late, you are actually ‘stealing’ someone’s time.

Like most humans, I get challenged by my desires, especially if I compare myself with others. Asteya includes taking and keeping what you need, honestly. If you have too much, you can share it or give it away to others who are in need. From that the difficult question arises what is actually necessary for my daily needs and for my family? Yoga has taught me to deal with my (unnecessary) desires and to be grateful for life how it is in this very moment. And if we no longer desire for things, all sorts of wealth will come to you by itself. I always remind myself of my bargaining experiences while buying souvenirs during my stay in Africa. I try to bargain, but the seller feels that I have a strong desire to take the souvenir back home with me. This grasping is highly likely to result in paying way too much. In contrast, if I do not have such a strong desire, I will be the winner and bargaining will feel like a game and a piece of cake. It seems like the universe works in a similar way. The harder you strive to get something or be something, the further away you will get from your happiness and wealth.

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Google satya and you will find lots of Indian restaurants and a movie. If you include truthfullness in your search, you will come closer to the meaning of the second yama. Satya is the sanskrit word for truth. The practise of satya goes way beyond not lying. It includes being truthful and honest with ourselves, followed by being truthful with anyone else.

It does not mean that you have to say out loud all harmful thoughts appearing in your mind. Saying: “What a ugly dress are you wearing today”, while your neighbour passes by, is not satya.  This action would interfere with the first yama ahimsa, non-harming. If you can not say anything nice, do not say it all. Moreover your mind and the resulting thoughts are not The Truth. Though, at times you have to confrontate others with their behaviour. For example your brother is addicted to alcohol and this affects the whole family in a negative way. While dealing with difficult situations like these, it is good to remember the first yama: non-violence and try to handle with love.

Forcing yourself in an intense yoga practise, because your mind says you have to while you are not feeling well, is an example of not practising satya and/or ahimsa. If I find it difficult to be truthful I remind myself that every time I am being untruthful to myself, I install an internal block which keeps me from seeing my own divine radiance. In addition, the law of Karma will grab you anyway. Most of us have experienced that at least one time during their life. If you break that beautiful vase of your grandma and you do not dare to tell her, she will find out anyway and you will feel even worse for not telling her straightaway.

Practising satya will result in openness towards yourself and others. And the best part, it just feels great to be honest, to speak The Truth, to listen to The Truth, to live The Truth. It will bring your relationships with others to a higher level. And at last but not the least, I can assure you, it will increase your feelings of happiness.

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The first yama ahimsa, is usually translated as ‘non-violence’. It refers not only to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or thoughts. For me, the violence of words or thoughts is not as obvious and clear as physical violence. It makes me think; which of my thoughts or words are harmful? I have to be alert while interacting with others as well as explore my own thoughts. For example; is listening to a good friend with only half of my attention harmful? What about being abrupt to your partner, because of morning moodiness? Within the Yoga Philosophy you are one. It is the ego which makes me feel separated from others. Someone’s misery is mine and vice versa. I should treat others as I want to be treated.

Yoga asanas and breathing exercises brings me back to the present moment and make me aware of my thoughts and intentions. Meditation makes me realize I have negative thoughts about myself and I attract what I think of. The law of attraction is profound. Thoughts, words and intentions can have as much power as physical violence. Practising ahimsa means I take responsibility for my own behaviour, including thoughts and intentions. It is a life lived from true love for ourselves, others and the world we live in.


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Yamas & Niyamas

The Yamas & Niyamas are the the do’s and don’ts or the ethical disciplines and comprise the first two limbs of Yoga’s eight-fold path. They are the foundation of skilful living.  Yama tells us what to avoid doing because it would do harm to the individual and that of society. ‘Yama’  is usually translated as ‘restraint’.

The five Yamas are:

  • Ahimsa (non-violence)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (control of the senses)
  • Aparigraha (non-possessiveness)

Niyama is the second step in the Eightfold Path of Patanjali. Niyama means ‘observance’ and describe actions and attitudes we should cultivate to overcome the illusion of separation and the suffering it causes.

The five Niyamas are:

  • Saucha (purity)
  • Santosa (contentment)
  • Tapas (austerity)
  • Svadhyaya (self-study)
  • Isvara Pranidhana (surrendering to God)

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