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Living a yoga lifestyle through Yamas

The path of ethical discipline - Yamas 

Ethical standards, codes of conduct and our behaviour toward others and ourselves


In yoga philosophy, ahimsa, often translated as "non-violence" or "non-harming", is the opportunity to relinquish hostility and irritability, and instead make space within our consciousness for peace.  This allows us to let others be who they are, and to relate to the world in a whole new way.

Ahimsa is of a dynamic peacefulness prepared to meet all needs with loving openness.  There is a suggestion of a state of balance that can evolve, that meets each situation in an open and accepting way.

This openness can extend to others.  How we treat others determines how much suffering we experience.  Become "other centered" (putting the happiness and well-being of others first), then not only do we experience less suffering, but the other yamas also unfold effortlessly.


The Yoga Sutra holds truth among the highest of ideals.  Many interpretations promise that once we are fully vested in satya, everything we say will come to be realised.

But be careful not to confuse our point of view with the truth.  We have to have integrity and humility to realise that the truth may be bigger than us.  In each moment, we must ask ourselves: Are we speaking the truth?  Are we just giving our opinion, filtered through our mind and all our prejudices?

Satya requires that we consider both the spoken and unspoken aspects of our words.  We do not want to mislead through omission; neither do we have to say everything that's on our mind – especially if it is hurtful.  Do not gossip, even if the information we're giving is true.  Instead, speak only of the highest.  Use our words to elevate the listener.  When we do so, we elevate ourselves in the process.

Many spiritual seekers find that spending time in silence helps them notice the distinction between opinions and reality.  Slowing down our internal chatter can help ground us in satya.  Silence is discriminative restraint.  We are able to examine the roots of speech on an inner level, which enables us to better control our gross outward communication.  We then establish a way of interacting with the world that includes both ahimsa and satya, both peacefulness and truthfulness.


Do not steal, the Yoga Sutra says, and all good things will come to you.  Because asteya is commonly translated to mean refraining from taking anything that is not freely offered, the first things most people think of are money, clothes, food, and other tangible stuff.  But there's more to asteya than what is found on the material plane.

There are lots of things we can steal.  We can steal someone's time if we are late.  We can steal someone's energy.  We can steal someone's happiness.  We can steal someone else's ideas if we represent them as our own.

Asteya also calls for a focus on how and what we consume.  If we are taking something, we need to consider how to give back the appropriate energy or amount.  Because everything is interconnected, whatever we receive is taken from somewhere else.  Most people do not stop to consider all the different levels of energy involved in all they are consuming.  Energetically and karmically, we create a major imbalance if we take but do not pay back.  Or, to borrow a line from the Beatles: "The love you take is equal to the love you make."

To invite asteya into our lives, consider what we truly need and refrain from letting our desires persuade us to take more.  Have fair trade be our mantra – not only in our shopping habits, but also in all of our day-to-day interactions.  Respect the time and energy of others, give credit where credit is due, and see if we can help build up the world's kindness reserves by giving more than we take.

Celibacy / Energy moderation

The most talked about interpretation of brahmacharya is celibacy.  But we need not become a monk to be a good yogi.  we can just accept a broader interpretation of this yama.  It literally means “walking in the way of God”.  It is about preventing the dissipation of one's energy through the misuse of the senses.  It is a personal energy-conservation programme.  When we practise brahmacharya, we are not letting the senses rule our behaviour; we are not urge driven.

Anything that causes turbulence in the mind and stirs the emotions might be seen as a violation of brahmacharya: overstimulating foods, loud music, violent movies, and yes, inappropriate sexual behaviour.  Whatever disturbs the mind and body disturbs the spiritual life – it is all one energy.  Brahmacharya asks us to consider how we spend it.  Look at energy like money in the bank: If we have $100, we do not want to spend it all right away so that we have nothing left.  Become a good energy manager.

Brahmacharya has real applications in the physical practice.  When we're working with asana, we need to learn to regulate our effort so that we're not pushing and forcing, which drains the life force.

No matter what's going on – whether it is being delayed for our next appointment by a long line at the supermarket, or nervously kissing a new love interest – ask ourselves: Can we let go of our tension and relax into this moment?

Notice how the situation doesn't need our stress to resolve itself.  And by not giving so much energy to intense moments – by not squandering our life force – we are more at ease and happier in all moments.

Non-grasping / Non-attachment

Aparigraha means "non-grasping", and it can be a tough sell in this consumer culture of ours.  But freedom from wanting more and more is just that: freedom.

Aparigraha is the decision to not hoard or accumulate goods through greed but rather to develop an attitude of stewardship toward the material world.

Once we get so much stuff, we have to take care of and defend it.  We start to get attached to it and identify with it.  It is easy to start thinking we are our stuff, but the truth is that stuff comes and goes.

The idea is: Just let it go.  For instance, if our homes are filled with old junk that doesn't apply to us anymore, there's no room for new energy to come in.  That holds true for the non-material ideas and attitudes we cling to as well.  If we are hanging on to old beliefs about ourselves or our relationships, or clinging to a career that no longer feeds us, there's no latitude to move in a different direction.

To invite aparigraha, acknowledge abundance and practise gratitude.  We do not need more and more if we are grateful and feeling fulfilled with what we have in the moment.

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