Yoga Rockford: The Yamas: Our universal vows

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-118840968815483.jpg’, ‘Image courtesy of‘, ‘“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.” —Mahatma Gandhi on nonviolence‘);

Yoga, the eight-fold practice to spiritual freedom, is not as esoteric and unreachable as you may think. And as any path does, it starts with a first step.

Yoga’s first limb (as it is referred to because the eight limbs are not necessarily sequential and feed each other as limbs of a tree) is composed of five “Universal Vows” called the “Yamas”: truth (satya), non-violence (ahimsa), non-stealing (asteya), non-greed (aparigraha) and moderation (brahmacharya).

On the surface, these vows seem straightforward and easy to follow, but with deeper attention and dedicated practice, these five vows can bring to light much about ourselves that otherwise may be ignored.

In the beginnings of yoga—when it was passed from teacher to student by word of mouth—before the wisdom of yoga was revealed, the teacher first had to observe the student living in a correct manner. Obviously, this is not the case as taught in the West.

As yoga teachers of present-day America, we are challenged to teach in a way and present yoga in a way that empowers our students to ultimately become better people for themselves and the world around them.

Truth is not just avoiding the telling of a lie, but the speaking of complete truth actually creates present reality because it is not biased by the past or future or by any outward source…the truth is.

We see violence on the apparent level, but it must also be dealt with on the not-so-apparent levels of thought, emotion, diet and self-deprecation, for example. True non-violence in a person means that even in that one person’s solitary presence, no violence can be done as peace pervades and flows in and from his or her being.

Stealing is technically against the law, so we think that most of us follow this vow well. But what about taking other people’s time, ideas and space?

Non-greed and moderation are two Yamas that are needed most in society today. We make ourselves miserable with wanting all that we don’t have, and even when the glutton has everything, he or she is still unhappy, yearning for the more and the better. We have forgotten that all the “stuff” we truly need is right within ourselves, in each and every moment. It is just up to us to pay attention!

Starting with the Yamas at their most basic definition and taking them to deeper and deeper levels within ourselves gives the stable foundation for any life well lived. When we uncover the Yamas within ourselves, we find the inner power to create change from within and affect our surroundings.

This first step on Yoga’s path is universally accessible, and is a needed practice for everyone dealing in today’s society.

from the Aug. 29-Sept. 4, 2007, issue

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