Yoga follows a plan, a map of how to get to the highest state of happiness or bliss – enlightenment. This plan starts with the five YAMAS. Yamas are a code for living, and were developed Patanjali, a sage in India several thousand years ago. They flow in the order of: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha.
AHIMSA: Non-harmfulness, in thought, word or deed to any living thing, including yourself and the physical environment.
Ahimsa loosely translates as “kindness” or “non-harmfulness”. Non-harmfulness can be very far-reaching: non-harmfulness in thought, word or deed. And when it states no harm to any living being, we need to remember to include ourselves! While gyms say “no pain, no gain”, yoga is exactly the opposite – in class people are reminded to take care of their bodies. So yoga becomes one way we can bring ahimsa into our lives.
SATYA: Truthful, Honest, Faithful, Genuine, Virtuous.
Satya, or “truth”/truthfulness, seems straight-forward until you start to examine it. What is true for one person is often not true for another. Yoga invites us to question: what is the real truth? And beyond that: are we true to ourselves? Are we true in our relationships with others? Are we true in our relationship to our planet?
Asteya is “honesty. It translates directly as non-stealing, but is much deeper than that. It implies principles of fairness and integrity – nothing hidden, everything open, consideration of the needs of others. For example, when it comes to tax time, some believe that in keeping silent and not actively lying, they are being truthful. But according to asteya, the omission is the lie.
BRAHMACHARYA: Continence; Control of sensual impulses.
Brahmacharya originally meant “celibacy”. In recent decades the concept has widened to mean “not being controlled by one’s senses”. This looks like honouring your body’s need for food, but not over-indulging it. When brahmacharya is practised in a balanced way, it becomes self control, not repression
APARIGRAHA: Non-covetousness; non-greed.
Aparighraha means non-possessiveness, whether we feel this possessiveness towards objects, people or ideas. When we make this concept a practice, it looks like us shedding our need to own things – not hungering to “fill” our lives with things – and living more minimalist lives. Aparighraha allows us to reclaim freedom without hungering for what we don’t have.
When we weave all of these into our way of being, we live a life of kindness.
Vedanta would like to acknowledge that the English-translations of these ancient Sanskrit words comes from Yoga with Attitude by Swami Vimalratna.