The 5 Yamas (Part 1 of 2)

The 5 yamas are a code of ethics sometimes referred to as the "rules" or the "dont’s" of yoga. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanajali lists the 5 yamas and also tells us the benefits we can expect to see when we apply these yamas to our relationships with other beings. And not just other humans beings, but all of creation (plants, animals, the environment).

The word yama is often translated as restraint or restriction. It is also sometimes synonymous with death because in the Hindu tradition the god of death is named Yama. In death we are restricted from what we can do, as we no longer have a body or a "vehicle" in which we can use to go about our activities.

The first yama is ahimsa. Ahimsa means non-harming and should be observed in all activities (thought, word, and deed). Many people only think of the physical aspect of ahimsa, as in not being physically violent towards others. Although restraining yourself from hitting someone is very important, there are many other ways in which ahimsa should be practiced. Some examples are: refraining from speaking harsh or hateful words, spreading rumors or sharing gossip, playing cruel jokes or teasing & taunting. Emotional and physiological abuses can be just as harmful (if not more) than physical abuse and can often times have longer lasting effects. Living a harmless existence also includes doing no harm the our environment, Mother Earth. Actions like not being wasteful, recycling, picking up litter, carpooling or walking/biking instead of driving, using reusable bags, cups and take out containers, only doing business with companies that have environmentally friendly practices are all ways in which we can incorporate ahmisa into our lifestyles.

Another effective and very important way to practice ahimsa is to be a vegetarian, or even better, a vegan. Eating meat, eggs, and dairy causes a great deal of harm. Animals are quite obviously harmed when they are killed for food or for their skins/fur to be made into clothing. Animals are also harmed when they are confined to factory farms so that humans can take their eggs and milk. The meat, egg, and dairy industries also do an incredible amount of harm to our environment by way of air pollution, water pollution, and deforestation.

Making lifestyle changes can sometimes be challenging, but just remember that these are only practices.  And the word practice implies that you don't have to be perfect at something, you just need to try your best. The Yoga Sutras tell us that when we practice ahimsa we will be rewarded by the law of karma. Chapter 2, verse 35 says ahimsa pratishthayam tat sannidhau vaira-tyagah, which means, when you stop harming others, others will stop harming you.

By Lehra

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