Musings on Yama

Recently, I had the opportunity to put together some slides on yamas. It set off multiple trains of thought.

Yama is the name of the Lord of Death and the Lord of Dharma. He is the Lord of the South, the direction Lord Siva faces as Dakshinamurthy. He is divine father to Yudhishthira who is known for his restraint. 

In all the above musings, there is an element of holding back. The common feature in all the yamas is restraint, not giving free rein to indulgence.

The yamas as espoused by Sage Patanjali in the Yog Sutras are five- ahimsa (non violence), satya (truth), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (non greed). The hatha yoga pradipika lists ten yamas- ahimsa (non violence), satya (truth), asteya (non stealing), brahmacharya (chastity), kshama (forgiveness), dhrthi (fortitude), daya (compassion), aarjava (sincerity), mitaahaara (measured diet) and shaucha (cleanliness). The ten commandments in the book of Exodus share the same sentiments. 

Perhaps it is no coincidence that restraint has strain within it. Holding back from giving into instant gratification requires a great deal of power. There is a common image of Lord Krishna holding the reins of the horses as Arjuna’s sarathy (charioteer) which is a beautiful depiction of the skill and poise of control. 

in perfect restraint

Yamas are not easy to practise in everyday life, primarily because they are in relation with others as well as oneself. Just when there is familiarity with one facet of it, lack of it in another aspect brings discomfort. It is a silent practice, continuously shifting paradigms.

Ahimsa translates as non violence which calls for a high degree of restraint and discernment. What constitutes ahimsa? Is it simply overwhelming love or love that cares enough to be tough? The body is an excellent playground to explore ahimsa. It is a fine balance between overdoing and pushing just beyond my comfort zone. 

Ashtanga yoga begins with yama, although in these times, it starts with asanas before one begins to consider what lies below the surface. Until asana started weaving its healing on me, I wasn’t capable of giving deep thought to what the principles really meant. Sure, I had good intentions and generally tried to keep up to them. Very often, I went to extremes and then was not able to sustain what I started. Too much strain, too much force, too much load. And I would slide back into a dejected giving up. I was going about it the wrong way, using violence, while being completely unaware about it. Avidya. 

Running long distances helped me to understand the value of slowly becoming capable to go the distance. A little everday added up to a lot one day. Most of the runs were abhyasa and then there would be an effortless one just like in asana. Strive a little often enough and experience a tiny glimpse of full silence. And the cycle continues.

Restraint happens effortlessly when I am ready. Things that don’t serve me fall off by themselves and lose their attraction. It happens. I don’t do anything but watch. The pull towards instant gratification lessens by bringing a tiny pause before reacting. And little by little, it begins to become longer and natural.

One of my favourite Sutras is 1:33 which talks about friendliness, compassion, happiness and indifference for living in harmony with others and oneself. Initially, it was the sound of the words as they rolled off my tongue that attracted me it. Later, the four attitudes made perfect sense to deal with others and myself. It is so simple. It is possible to gain freedom from repetitive thought patterns and behaviours. The yamas develop courage to face life on its own terms.The tadasana of everyday living.

Hari Om

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