By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
What is the importance of yama in Yoga today? Yoga is a lifestyle, which can enrich a practitioner’s life far beyond the physical practice time spent in classes. Yoga promotes a peaceful co-existence with everything. This Yogic mindset creates a setting of living in harmony, in order to get better along with one’s self, as well as with others. Within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yama is a vital part of a complete life. The yamas teach us principles and values, which lay the foundations of social behavior. These guidelines of social behavior are the first limb of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga. The yamas are a reference for living a lifestyle that is in complete harmony with the world around us.
The philosophy of Raja Yoga is timeless. The same can be said for any component of Patalanji’s Yoga Sutras. It is believed that Patanjali compiled the yamas from Lord Mahavir’s, “Five Great Vows.” The five great vows, or yamas, are, in fact, universal morals, which are presently honored by religions and governments around the world.
The first yama is known as “Ahimsa,” which includes non-violence in thoughts, words, and action and is often compared to the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill.” There is a striking similarity, but ahimsa is compassion for all beings. Levels of compassion could be practiced in many ways, but Yoga practitioners should realize that honoring one’s self, in a physical practice, would be to avoid forcing. When we consider ahimsa off the mat, this is a lifestyle built on being a good living example of Yoga.
The second yama is known as “Satya.” Sataya is honesty towards others and, moreover, to one’s self. Living a life of deception can be very complex. Just ask anyone who has been exposed publicly about the burden of guilt. Although it may not be easy, honesty is the simplest choice to make.
The third yama is known as “Asteya.” Many people compare it to the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” Centuries pass and there are new ways to take from others, while justifying it. Regardless of time, place, religion or philosophy, to take anything, which is not freely given, is a form of theft.
The fourth yama is known as “Brahmacharya,” which asks for moderation in all things, is highly controversial. Some Yoga schools treat this Yama as an extreme asceticism and renunciation of all worldly pleasures. It is probable that Lord Mahavir meant for this yama to be interpreted in that way. After all, he did give up all worldly pleasures.
However, Yoga itself is a lifestyle that evolves toward the middle of the road. It is natural for people to be attracted to each other, but we must always look toward the middle path and feel in our hearts what is right. Doing the right thing may not always be what others would do. We live at a time, when putting forth a commitment, may be seen as old fashioned. Yet, making a commitment is the first step toward attaining an objective.
The last, and fifth yama, is called “Aparigraha.” There are some hot discussions in regard to this yama. Some Yoga teachers do not agree with this Yama, as it opposes owning properties. However, more cosmopolitan individuals are Yoga teachers with families. The unnecessary accumulation of richness, and the excessive loyalty toward possessions, is self-destructive. There is cause for concern that possessions may distract modern Yoga practitioners from finding the deeper aspects, which occur within their inner nature and being. This grasping for material wealth could hold the global progress of Yoga to a standstill. Yet, Yoga practitioners are usually givers and innovators. Yoga is at the forefront of the Green Movement. Modern Yogic philosophy has evolved on a worldwide scale toward actions of social responsibility, rather than excessive accumulation and waste.
Yama Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
What is the importance of yama today? Maharishi Patanjali must have put much thought into which limb he would name first. The importance of Yama is primary and eternal. Thus, the yamas are timeless guidelines for the past, present, and future. The yamas are honored in our laws, religions, and philosophies. Each of us has the power to interpret guidelines in a variety of ways, but we know in our hearts what is right and what is wrong. The importance of yama is timeless.
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4 thoughts on “The Importance Of Yama In Yoga Today”
Yama is primary and eternal. Each of us has the power to interpret guidelines in a variety of ways, but we know in our hearts what is right and what is wrong. Thanks for sharing this valuable post.
Yama is a vital part of a complete life. The yamas teach us principles and values, which lay the foundations of social behavior. Thanks for sharing this nice article.
Dear Dr Jerard,
I am happy to read this discussion. May we follow the yamas by not taking them to the extreme? For example, aparigraha may not mean not owning properties. To me, it is owning properties, but not being possessed by them, not grieving when you lose properties, not being attached excessively. Same way brahmacharya and even other yama. I wonder if this is the right approach.
I think you are correct. The “Middle Way” seems to be the best path to take. Extreme views seem to hinder progress. We came into this life with nothing and we will leave all of our properties behind when we leave. Therefore, we are only temporary custodians of properties and cannot afford to be consumed by them.
At the same time, if one supports a family, how could a responsible parent take a vow of poverty? A family should not be forced into an ascetic life. Children deserve opportunities for education and success. It is one thing for an individual to make this decision, but severe self-discipline and abstention will hold a family unit back for generations.
I am sure someone will disagree, but I hope they will not renounce the comfort of their family members.