There are an infinite number of ways to practice yoga in our daily lives, both on and off our mats. In fact, the best opportunities to practice yoga are with our families and friends. In this blog I will share ways you can practice yoga’s ethical principles, known as the yamas, to help strengthen your relationships with those dear to you. When we embody the qualities of the yamas, we will naturally create closer connections with others, which is at the heart of the yoga practice. The suggested practices below are designed to help foster such intimacy. Before we dive into these practices here’s a quick review of the yamas.
A Summary of the Yamas
The yamas make up the first limb of the 8 Limbs of Yoga and consist of ethical principles that are meant to guide how we treat others and our planet. The yamas emphasize our connection to other beings as an integral part of yoga because everything is interconnected. We are encouraged to be mindful of what we think, feel and do because our actions have a direct impact on our world. The five practices within the yamas include:
Ahimsā – not harming
Satya – honesty
Asteya – not stealing
Bramacharya – the wise use of sexual energy
Aparigraphā – non-possessiveness
5 Practices to Explore
As you practice each yama, I invite you to let your heart guide your actions and to let go of preconceived ideas or expectations. Make it your intention to experience each moment with a mindset of curiosity and wonder. Practice each yama for at least one full day and then journal at the end of each day about your experience. To further deepen your learning of the yamas, I encourage you to share any meaningful experiences with your friends and family. Learning via a variety of methods---such as reading, writing, speaking and the physical practice---helps you to better retain what you have learned.
Ahimsā, Not Harming – Ahimsā asks us to not hurt ourselves, others and our planet. For this discussion let’s focus on how ahimsā can help strengthen our relationships with others. Therefore, as you begin your day, set the intention to practice ahimsā with everyone you encounter. I challenge you to see others through a lens of love and compassion. Practice patience and strive to assume the best in others instead of assuming the worst. Practice ahimsā with everyone who comes across your path in person and virtually (email, social media, zoom, etc.), as well as with strangers and those closest to you.
As you go about your day, pay attention to your actions and consider whether or not they lift others up or whether they may bring them down. If the latter, what can you change to be more uplifting?
Many times we don’t even realize that our actions may cause harm. Recently, a dear friend of mine shared with me that her son expressed to her that it made him feel bad when she gives him well-intentioned, but unsolicited advice. Often he just wants her to listen to him, but she tends to jump into problem solving which makes him feel that she doesn’t think he’s capable of handling situations on his own. Clearly that was not her intent. When she realized that her actions caused him harm, she asked him how she could better support him. At the end of their discussion she learned that she needs to listen more and to ask him what support he needs instead jumping right into solution mode. This was a wonderful learning and bonding experience for them both and a great example of how practicing ahimsā can strengthen relationships.
For your ahimsā practice, how can you uplift others?
Satya, Honesty – Satya is the practice of being honest in a way that is compassionate and kind (ahimsā). Satya asks us to realize that our words have an effect on others as well as ourselves. Depending on the energy and the intention behind even the simplest statement or question can evoke completely different responses. Your words are powerful, so choose them wisely. Good communication skills are key to successful relationships as you learned through the example of my friend and her son. So, how can your words lift others up? How can they evoke the least amount of harm as possible (ahimsā)?
First – Eliminate all gossip. Gossip is rarely beneficial and more often it is hurtful.
Second – Avoid sharing negative news. Limit how much news you consume. Yes, it is important to stay informed with current events, but it is not necessary or helpful to inundate yourself with too much negativity. Discussions about current news items affecting our world are essential, however it is not beneficial to spread stories that promote fear or hatred.
Third - Ask yourself 3 questions prior to speaking: is it truthful? is it beneficial? and will it be heard? Satya is about expressing the truth and sometimes the truth can be hurtful, but necessary to be said. This type of communication is critical to cultivate intimate relationships. Are there things you have been holding back? If you feel that what you are holding back is keeping your relationship at a distance, be brave and speak up. Don’t worry about saying all the right words. Be vulnerable and share your feelings the best you can---it’s okay if you stumble, just be authentic.
For your satya practice, how can your words benefit others?
Asteya, Not Stealing – For this practice, think about ways you may steal from others. Asteya literally translates to not stealing and, therefore, asks us not to commit the criminal act of stealing. But it also encourages us to not steal from others in more subtle, yet harmful ways. For example, when we steal time from others by missing an appointment or showing up late. Or when we steal someone’s thoughts or ideas and claim them as our own. Another example is we may steal someone’s dignity by talking over them and taking the center stage. Each of these examples occur when we are focused on ourselves and not others. One remedy is to shift our selfishness to generosity. We are encouraged to be generous with our time, our attention, and our respect of others. Think of ways you can apply these acts of generosity with those you encounter throughout your day, virtually or in person, with strangers and with friends and family.
For your asteya practice, how can you be more generous with others?
Bramacharya, Wise Use of Sexual Energy – This yama guides us to have sexual relations in a manner that is respectful and not harming (ahimsā) to ourselves and others. We are inundated with mixed messages from society, media and peers on this subject which can influence our feelings about sex. So, give yourself time to explore your own beliefs. How can you follow your heart and do what feels good for you? Then share your thoughts and beliefs with your loved one and ask them how they feel too. This is a very sensitive subject to talk about, but it can also be an opportunity to deepen your relationship.
For your bramacharya practice, how can you share your feelings about sex with ahimsā and satya?
Aparigraha, Non-Possessiveness – Aparigraha is about not being possessive of material things, people, fixed ideas, anger, judgement or anything that may weigh us down. It is the practice of letting go and trusting that life will unfold perfectly for us. It consists of letting go of grasping or clinging to material things as well as the need to control situations, ourselves, and others. It asks us to consider where we may be possessive and to try to understand the underlying reason why so we can then release it.
The need to possess generally results from having feelings of lack and not-enoughness. When we experience these feelings we tend to seek externally---things, people, actions---that we believe will fill the hole inside us. But what will really soothe our ache is to search within ourselves. When we realize that we are enough just as we are, then we can experience peace.
When we engage with others with the energy of lack versus abundance we create experiences that exemplify those negative emotions. Our clinging or grasping attitude to a certain idea or desired outcome constricts the flow of positive energy. But, when we can loosen our grip and let life flow on its natural course, we may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. The practice of letting go requires trust and commitment.
For your aparigraha practice, what do you need to let go of as it relates to others?
I hope this discussion has sparked ideas for you to engage in practices to bring you closer to those you love. I’d love to hear about any break throughs or just beautiful moments you have experienced using these yamas. Please comment in the section below to share. Or, if more comfortable, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Enjoy your journey exploring the 8 Limbs of Yoga. Namaste!