The eight fold path is like an ethical code of conduct that practitioners of yoga follow. It is made up of the yamas, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. I will go into detail about all of these in follow up blog posts but for now, I am focusing on the yamas.
There are five yamas to live by and they are as follows:
Ahimsa: non violence
Asteya: non stealing
Aparigraha: non covetousness
They are also known as the five restraints of yoga. They are five principles to live the most authentic life you can. What I mean by authentic is both being honest with yourself and with others. Being honest with yourself is likely the hardest because we get used to telling ourselves stories about how we experience the world and what we think of ourselves.
If you are on the path to becoming a yoga teacher, you will need to learn these five yamas as they are part of your graduation requirements. Until I set foot in my first yoga teacher training class, I had no idea that these even existed. I had not cared to look into the philosophy and spirituality of yoga because I was only there to learn the asana and how to teach them. You might find this surprising but actually most people in Western culture would not know these until they set out to learn the deeper studies of yoga.
I don’t teach the yamas or other yoga philosophies unless asked by a student about them. I would argue to say that most people in our society are not interested in learning another set of rules to live by, it’s hard enough figuring out the first ones. If you are a moral person, you are already following most of the yamas as they apply to others but if you are one of these people who is too hard on themselves about everything, then the yamas might be good for you to practice.
Let’s start with the first, Ahimsa, meaning non violence. It sounds straightforward but it’s oddly complex. When Ahimsa speaks of non violence, it doesn’t just mean other people, it means non violence to yourself as well. That means, not just physical pain but emotional too. Ahimas is asking you to be gentle on yourself at all times. You are only human and in being so, you will make mistakes. Ahimsa means to give yourself, as well as other, love and kindness.
Ahimsa can extend beyond nonviolence to yourself and other humans, it can also extend to other creatures. I have known many vegans who follow Ahimsa so strictly that they do not wish to harm any creature. There are levels in which you can take this, going so far as to not wearing or using any animal products, such wearing wools or using honey. These are sort of the extremes to practicing Ahimsa.
When practicing yoga, it’s easy to be a little too hard on yourself. It’s challenging to keep up in a class when you are trying to learn the asana as well as practice your breathing. Ahimsa reminds us to take it easy on ourselves while we are learning. Afterall, that’s why we have savasana, so that we can give ourselves a moment to integrate all that we have learned in our practice. The next time you find yourself feeling that sense of self judgement coming in hard, take a moment and recall Ahimsa by taking a moment to breath and come back to the present moment. Witness those feelings and let your breath be your guide to letting them go. After you have done so, take a moment to write down your experience in your yoga journal.
I would love to hear more about your experiences in practising Ahimsa and what it means to you. Please feel free to leave a comment.