As promised, we are beginning the journey of the yogic path, and the first limb is the five yamas.
In essence, each of the yamas represents our attitudes and behaviors toward people and our environment. You can think of these as five ways to keep you on track to being kind—being kind to your friends and family, to your coworkers, to animals, to the planet, to the person serving you coffee, and to the person who cut you off in traffic. I’ll be the first to say that these suggestions, as we shall call them, are not always easy, but all you have to do is practice.
Non-violence. In the most obvious sense of the meaning, ahimsa asks that we not harm others, not say or do hurtful things. Instead of thinking of ahimsa as not being violent, not harming, and not hating, it’s more powerful to think if it as showing love and acting with compassion.
Ahimsa in real life
Just recently my favorite NFL team drafted a controversial quarterback; as if the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a second quarterback with a questionable past. Michael Vick, formerly of Philadelphia Eagles, drowned and electrocuted Pit Bulls in his early 20s. Today he plays football, and he’s really good at that. My father, who through yoga has reconnected with his compassionate side, argues that “in terms of talent, Vick was a good choice.” In terms of morals, Vick has set my Facebook feed aflame. There are the people who adamantly hate him, wish his career ruin, and wish him the fate of the dogs. There are the people who argue that this is football, and he’s a football player who has served his time and “paid his price.” Initially, it was hard for me to not hate, until I realized that hate and death are not acts or thoughts of compassion. I don’t believe the answer is to hate Vick, but the answer is to visit your local animal shelter and ask what you can do to stop dog fighting.
Truthfulness. Do not lie, not about anything. And more so than that, live what is true. Be who you are now. Be accountable and authentic. Speak the truth. Even when it might be easier to say something else, communicate in honesty.
Satya in real life
Somewhere in the middle of book-writing and yoga teacher training I fell in love with the mantra Om Tat Sat, which translates to “All there is is truth.” In the most challenging years of my father’s brain injury, I would constantly tell myself that everything was okay. I was okay. We were okay. It was okay. I buried the truth of the situation under so many layers of okay that I had no idea who I was as an adult woman or how I really felt about my father. Things weren’t okay, and neither was I. I was scared and I had ten years of feelings to resolve. That was my truth. Knowing this, I found a place to begin. And from there, I could work toward something better. On the day of my book launch party, I had the Sanskrit symbol for sat (the root of satya), tattooed on my wrist. The ink would keep “truth” there forever, to remind me not to lie to others or myself.
Non-stealing. Do not take what’s not yours. Do not steal. Asteya also stretches as far and wide as to not take advantage of others—their time, their generosity, their talents. In fact, the more you say “thank you,” the more you are practicing asteya.
Asteya in real life
I spend a lot of my time running from point A to point B. My days must fit together like a puzzle, and I’m often in four different neighborhoods in 12 hours. I tell myself that this is how it works for now, that this is the beginning of building a yoga business. My number one challenge is that I am always running late. I have a zillion things to do, and most every time I walk out the door, I remember that I haven’t gotten gas yet, or that the dog should get some water, or that I won’t remember to send that email if I don’t do it right now. Yet, when I run late, I am taking time away from someone else, and chances are they had their day on track and their time is just as important to them as it is to me. After all, there are many instances that I am waiting for someone who has not shown up. Today my effort to be on time is fueled by not wanting to take time from others.
Self-restraint. Do not expend your energy on things that do not serve a purpose. Try not to be wasteful or live in excess. Choose purposeful thoughts and actions. Direct how you think and what you do toward happiness and a sense of purpose.
Brahmacharya in real life
I say yes a lot. I say yes because I want to help. I say yes because I want to be involved. I say yes because of FOMO (fear of missing out). Sometimes I say yes too much, like when I’m tired or when I don’t agree or when I don’t have time or when whatever I’m saying yes to is taking away from what I need. I’ve watched my mother say yes to nearly every gosh darn thing that has helped my father live an easier, more supported, more enjoyable life since his brain injury. I’ve watched one too many yeses deplete her. There comes a point where we must stop—stop going, doing, helping, financing, committing. Whether it’s our energy or our time, we must preserve enough so that we have enough for ourselves. If we have nothing, then what have we to give?
Non-seizing. It means let go of what you do not need. Try not to attach to things. Know the difference between need and want. Do not compare what you have to others and do not be jealous. The biggest practice of aparigraha is to share what you do have.
Aparigraha in real life
Growing up as a little girl, I really did have it all. I had two happy parents, friendly pets, lots of friends, summers on the lake, Shirley Temples at the bar, and when I was old enough, my mom let me order outfits from dELliA*s. And then, one day things changed. My dad had a car accident and no one could figure out the damage in his brain. Life became focused on that—as it should be. But I was a kid, and I missed the lake, my friends, and nights out for dinner, and I really missed my two parents. I didn’t know a single soul in my situation: “my dad (or mom) has a brain injury” situation. I didn’t know anyone like that for nearly fifteen years (It was so, so good to know you, Eduardo). It took me a while, but rather that yearn for what other girls my age—soon women my age—had, I learned to share my story. I learned to share the life I have. I learned to let go of my past and my childhood. I learned the positive power of detachment. I still don’t have my parents of 1996, but what I do have is my parents, my pets, my friends, my summers, and my cocktails of 2015, and that is better than clinging to my past.
Next month, we'll move from our outer world to our inner world with the 5 Niyamas.