The Five Yamas of Hatha Yoga

Yoga is a discipline both involving physical and mental control that originated in India. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word, “yug”, meaning union and it means the joining of the individual spirit with the universal spirit. The type of yoga known as Hatha Yoga, (“Ha”- sun, “tha”-moon) is what is most commonly practiced and this yoga involves the path of the mind and body and is the most physical. There are eight limbs or steps of Hatha Yoga, the first step being the five Yamas. There are five yamas and these concern your behavior to the world.
The first of the yamas is Ahimsa, whose translation from Sanskrit is non-violence. The yama of Ahimsa is about practicing non-violence in words, thoughts, and actions as well as about practicing compassion, patience, understanding, and love of all creatures. This yama is the one that I am most consciously aware of and that I practice the most in my life, for Ahimsa is the very essence of my religion, Jainism. To me, Ahimsa is much more than a request of being non-violent. It has the positive meaning of intense and detached love for every living creature. Every living creature has the same right to live in peace as you have and all beings should respect that right. Furthermore, Ahimsa does not mean to tolerate or passively accept violence or evil. It means to resist violence and evil, but with detachment and by loving the person through which that evil manifests. Ahimsa also implies a lack of unnecessary criticism. It requests to respect other’s views and beliefs, and to listen to and approach with an open mind ideas that vary from your own. One of the ways that I practice Ahimsa in my life is by being a vegetarian. It is extremely hard to be a vegetarian in this country. In fact, at a time in my life when I was very young and very ignorant about the principles of my religion, I ate meat. Yet, as I became more knowledgeable and wise, I gave up meat and haven’t eaten it in ten years. The reason I did so was simply because I believe in the sanctity and integrity of all life forms.
The second yama is Satya, whose translation from Sanskrit is truthfulness. It requires one to respect the truth in thinking, action, and speech. Satya is a very large concept. It means that you should not say something that you know is false. It also means that you should not lead others into error by making them believe that you know something when you only presume. Saying the truth is extremely difficult, for, before telling the truth you must know it through personal experimentation; you must discover the truth about yourself and release false pretenses. The way I live truthfulness in my heart is to be truthful to myself and to my heart. I need to do that before I can open up the truth to everyone else.One of the ways in which I practice truthfulness to myself is by knowing and respecting my abilities and limitations. For example, I am very aware of my knowledge of other subjects. In some subjects such as math and physics I excel, however, in others, such as politics or history, I am not as capable as other people. So, when discussions of subjects in which I am not so competent come up, I don’t pretend to act knowledgeable or well-versed in that subject. Instead of being fake and inferior, I try to let others take the lead and step back and listen in order to absorb more information and to increase my understanding. By doing so, I stay true to myself as well as to others.
The third yama is Asteya, whose translation from Sanskrit is non-stealing and non-coveting. In order to fully practice Asteya, you must realize that at this moment, you are whole and complete. You must work with what you have today, feel a sense of contentment with what you have, and have no concern for the future. This implies not to take something that is not yours, to use something only the way it is supposed to be used or the way it is permitted to be used. Therefore, Asteya requires lack of greed. Wishing obsessively to have something that somebody else has, even it is necessary or valuable for us, leads to lack of balance and unhappiness. If somebody obsessively wants something that belongs to another person and takes it, he is a thief. If he does not take it, then he is not a thief, but he doesn’t follow Asteya either. Asteya is when you do not take as well as do not desire something valuble that belongs to another person. Asteya also requires cultivating an ability to be happy for other people and this is how I try incorporate into my life. Instead of getting jealous or envious of a person whose accomplishments or possessions are superior to mine, I try to accept my shortcomings, suppress my pride, and feel genuinely happy for the other person’s achievements or possessions. For example, when my friend Shruti achieved a perfect score of 1600 on her SATs, I was very envious of her. I greatly wished that I had her gift and level of intelligence even though her score was only one hundred points higher than mine and my score still something to feel proud of. However, I soon came to realize that such covetousness and envy were producing feelings of bitterness towards my friend rather than genuine love. By releasing my feelings of want and jealousy, I have come to a sense of satisfaction with myself and true happiness for her.

The fourth yama is Bramacharya, whose translation from Sanskrit is moderation in all things. This yama guides us by telling us to practice self-control and restraint. It emphasizes that by avoiding excess and squandering along with not allowing one single thing to dominate our lives, we can remain focused on our goals and be at peace with ourselves. This does not mean that we can not enjoy little pleasures in life. Rather it tells us that we must not indulge or push ourselves too far. The way that I practice Bramacharya in my life is by pledging to be celibate until I am married.
Finally, the fifth yama is Aparigraha, whose translation from Sanskrit isnon-possessiveness. The essence of this yama is not to accumulate that which you don’t really need. In our society we cherish our possessions dearly whether they are physical, people, or ideas. The key is to have full control over your possessions and not allow them to control you through the greed or possessiveness they may create. Furthermore, with the same happiness that we enjoy physical, mental, or spiritual possessions, we should be able to give them away. For, we must realize that change is inevitable. And when change enters our life, we must learn to accept it and embrace it. The yama of Aparigraha greatly helped me when my father lost his job. Because this society is so materialistic, to work towards non-attachment to things, people, or situations is extremely difficult. When my father lost his job, our family lost many of the comforts that we once took for granted due to a reduced income. Money became a very large issue and with it came many limitations on wants and desires that were so accessible before my father had lost his job. Furthermore, the loss of his job brought about immense shame for my father. Yet, rather than become embarrassed over my father losing his job and sad due to the fact that I could no longer have as many material possessions, I came to accept the different lifestyle. By letting go and accepting, room was made for new experiences, joys, understandings, and lessons. For instance, I now appreciate things that I took for granted in the past and realize the lack of necessity for materialistic objects and desires and I feel that as a result, I have become a more appreciative human being as a whole.

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