Friday, January 2, 2015

8 Limbs of Yoga: 1 Yamas (1st Ahimsa)

One of my New Year's Resoultions is to blog more and become more active in social media. I also have New Year's Resolutions about eating healthier (my husband got me a juicer for Christmas & I have been drinking my vegetables every morning), quitting smoking, and having a daily yoga practice that includes pranayama, asana, mantra and meditation.

I thought I would start a blog and focus on the 8 limbs of Yoga, paying attention to one limb each week to help me stick to my New Year resolutions of having a daily yogic practice.  This will go on for 16 weeks at least since the first 2 limbs have 5 parts each. Please subscribe so you get notified when I update this, or check back weekly on Mondays.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

1. Yama: restraints (5 of these: ahimsa, satya,  asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha)
2. Niyama: observances (5 of these: saucha, santosha, tapas, svadhyaya, ishvara pranidhana)
3. Asana: postures
4. Pranayama: breath control
5. Pratyahara: sense withdrawal
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: meditation

8. Samadhi: absorption or unity consciousness

The first two limbs combine as a set of restraints (5 yamas) and observances (5 niyamas) that create the ethics of yoga. Since Yoga is a way of life, the yamas and niyamas are the 10 ways to live an ethical life. The five yamas are non-harmful (ahimsa), truth (satya), non-stealing (asteya), non-excess, continence, chastity  (brahmacharya, translates to sacred behavior), non-possessiveness (aparigraha, translates to non future-grasping).  The five niyamas are purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), self-discipline (tapas, translates to asceticism), self-study (svadhyaya), and surrender (ishvara pranidhana, translates to abstract contemplation on the Supreme).

You can read The Eight Limbs of Yoga  article at my website for more information on the rest of the limbs. 

The First Yama - Ahimsa 

Ahimsa is often translated to non-violence, but it means so much more. It is also "do no harm." This includes not putting harmful things into your body (good for all of us with a New Year's Resolution to cut something we digest or inhale out of our diet!)  This also extends to our speech and not saying harmful things to each other or even about another behind their back. This non-harming in our speech also extends to our thoughts and the things we tell ourselves that undermine our self-love, courage, creativity and provide us with a sense of powerlessness.

Ahimsa is cultivated through love, courage, forgiveness and compassion.

I'm currently reading The Yamas & Niyamas: Exploring Yoga's Ethical Practice by Deborah Adele. In the chapter on Ahimsa she talks about fear creating violence and how we can trace "acts of greed, control, and insecurity back to their root: fear." [p 23]  We see this happening on a global scale every time we turn on the news.

Ahimsa reminds us to see the role fear plays in our own life.  Maybe we are afraid of not meeting a deadline and snap at anyone who interrupts our work. Deborah talks about creating balance in our lives because imbalance can also lead to violence. She wrote "Think of the times you were 'short' with others because of too much work to do, or too much caffeine and sugar, or a restless night of sleep?" [p24] I recognized that I do that when I am overloaded with work. So part of this week's focus as I become aware of Ahimsa will be to catch myself and work on that. .

Power struggles lead to violence through anger and frustration. Deborah made a very good point that really made me think: "When we feel powerless we have forgotten how much choice we really have. We have a choice to take action and we have a choice to change the story we are telling ourselves about our powerlessness." [p27] Thinking of a past time when we successfully handled a challenging situation can help.

We all tell ourselves harmful stories that have their roots in powerlessness, fear, judgement or guilt. Ahimsa asks us to find courage, compassion and forgiveness that fosters self love and uproots the harmful stories. Maybe we are afraid we won't be successful so we undermine and harm ourselves with our thoughts instead of having the courage to do whatever we are trying to do. Also if we are ubber critical of ourselves, we will tend to also be critical of others. The more we learn to be soft, gentle and forgiving with ourselves, the more we will be so with others. Deborah makes this point "We would never purchase a can of red paint and expect it to be blue. Yet we can be so harsh and demanding of ourselves and then expect to be loving with others. It just doesn't work that way," [p30].

Often times when we feel there is something in our own life that is a mess, we try to fix someone else. Our ego fills with pride as it pats itself on the back for the amazing things we've done for someone else that day. What we need to remember is that when help someone by making decisions for them,  doing something for them, or even worrying about them, we are saying we don't trust them to do the right thing for themselves and are taking away their autonomy. Even if we think we are doing it because we care about them. This is a subtle form of harming to others and odds are most of us do it. Each of us has our own answers and our own path.  To do no-harm we should support rather than help each other, by holding space for someone with respect for their own inner journey.


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