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The Yamas

     Yoga begins even before the mat hits the floor or taking a seat on the cushion.  The first step of Classical yoga also known as Raja yoga is the yamas, otherwise known as restaints.

     The entire goal of yoga is to attain fulfillment and freedom. Yoga has the goal of living a life in this imperfect world free from sorrow.  To "be in the world but not of it."  This can only happen when we are established in our true essence. This takes awareness and effort. This can seem like a tall order but even the small steps bare great benefits. 

     There are five yamas or ways to act in the world. These five restraints are non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-attachment. 

     Non-harming is the foundation of all other restraints.  First do no harm. That is the Hippocratic oath of all physicians when it comes to treating patients.  Harm does not have to be in the form of a violent physical act.  Harm can be in the form of thoughts of animosity toward another.  If we all prioritized this one yama for ourselves and others, the world would look much different filled with kindness and compassion. 

     In the grocery store I had three bananas and they were the more expensive organic ones but they had no label.  When the cashier asked me if they were the regular bananas I could have said "yes" and felt I got myself a deal, yet according to the yamas it would have been an untruth and "stealing". This is yoga off the mat. It is not so much about being a virtuous person as it about having a clear and steady mind that holds no doubts nor regrets. 

     That is a very minor example. Here is a more subtle application of the yama of non-attachment.  How attached am I to my role as a mother?  What if I am attached to an image of being the greatest mother in the world and I want my daughter to embrace me as such.  What if I insisted on attending to my daughter while she is at college after her surgery for the entire 6 weeks that she will have to be off her foot just because I'm attached to the idea that doing so would prove that I am a good mother. I would be creating a world of suffering for me and my daughter because of such attachment.  After one week of changing ice packs, pain management, fixing meals, in a hotel room with my daughter,  she was ready to return to her dorm room and manage her college life without her mother by her side. The yama of non-attachment allowed me to leave my daughter in peace.

     As for continence, this is to preserve vitality of the body and clarity of the mind.  This is a practice of restraint of the senses in order that we do not chase after any fanciful thing that draws pleasurable sensation. Such an unrestrained mind distracted by pleasing sensory objects can be draining.  Often this restraint is taken to mean celibacy. Yoga is not meant to be torture. Sexual pleasure is not taboo. It is just to be done in the right time and place so as not to be depleted by overindulgence and forgo other responsibilities. Shopping to satisfy sensational indulgences can also be depleting. Continence is to create balance of mind, body,  and actions. 

The yamas and the entire practice of yoga teaches us how to navigate the river of life without having mental scaring which we call suffering.  A kayaker meets the river class IV rapids first by acquiring skills to navigate the class I through class III waters. The yamas provide the opportunity to develop skills for our minds to approach the  hardships of life. First start small and gentle, then build up to the harder levels. Yoga is a 24/7 practice.


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