Living Yoga: Understanding the The Yamas On and Off The Yoga Mat

Let me ask you a question.

What does “yoga” mean to you?

For 90% of the people I talk to, yoga is the practice we do on our mat. Yoga is typically associated with people who are super flexible, with poses, and expectations about what a body should look like or be like. These are one of many misconceptions about the practice of yoga. The poses you see demonstrated on social media every day is ASANA, not yoga. Yoga is os much more.

In this blog post, and in future blog posts, I will be helping to dispel and demystify these misconceptions through a blog series of yoga knowledge I shall dub - Living Yoga with Shae. Although I am not the first one to tell this story, nor am I the most experienced or knowledgeable, this is my blog after all, so I will tell it from my perspective and based on my learnings.

First and foremost, Yoga is more then a physical practice. Yoga is an ancient wisdom, a science really, or I like to call it a philosophy for living. It is nothing new, or new age, it has been around for over 5000 years. It is not a religion, despite contrary opinion. While some may associate yoga with Hinduism you can practice yoga without prescribing to any religion at all. The best way to describe yoga is to take the time to explain it from the perspective of Ashtanga Yoga, aka Royal Yoga, aka Raja Yoga, aka the eight-limbed path. This is the philosophy that I have been learning about since I began my personal yoga practice 10 years ago.

The first subject of Living Yoga with Shae is understanding the Yama’s.

Yama is sanskrit for “Moral Discipline” . These are five personal practices that we can employ and exhibit in the world. They reflect ethical standards and a sense of integrity that we have in the world.  If you have ever been told about the “Golden Rule” these really won’t come as a shock to you. But with the state of the world we live in now, if more people embrace these practices, it is one very large step to making the world a better place.

Let me outline them below along with a little commentary about how this practice can be experienced on and off our mat:

Ahimsa: kindness / nonviolence

Off our mat: Who doesn’t want to live in a world of kindness? Does anyone like violence being caused against them. I would venture to say even people who harm others don’t inherently want to, it is a learned behavior. We all thrive in a kind environment. When our lives are free from threat of hard or violence we can each find purpose, prosperity and peace. AHO! But non-violence is not just about the physical practice of violence, nor about how we treat others. It is also about how we treat ourselves, and our thoughts towards ourselves and others.

On our mat: The first and most important part of any yoga practice is kindness to yourself. There are thousands, if not millions of yoga teachers in the world, each of them with different training, experience, wisdom, and teaching styles. But all yoga teachers should be focused on one goal, to teach people to kind to themselves, starting with their bodies. Our bodies are a temple for our soul. If we cannot be kind to our bodies, we cannot be kind to our soul. Our deep connection to physical body, means stronger connection to sensation, and therefore intuition and inner knowing.

Satya: honesty / truthfulness

Off our mat: I am blessed to have a partner who is probably the most honest person I have ever known in my life. I never have to wonder if he is telling the truth, or doing something other that what he says he is. For years, I wondered if this was the case, and it had a negative impact on our relationship. I have not always been blessed with this type of relationship and experiences of distrust leave this imprint on us. I was lucky enough to move through several phases of self-transformation to realize that just because one person hurt you doesn’t mean all will. Practicing honesty takes on many forms - being honest with others, honest with ourselves, in mind and body. But honesty goes even deeper by being honest with our soul - what do we really want, what is our soul trying to guide us toward. More to come on this!

On our mat: It is amazing how honesty plays a role in our yoga practice. First and foremost you have to honest about the time you can commit to the practice. If you don’t have 60 minutes a day, try 10 minutes. You want to be honest with the body you bring onto your mat. The body you have one day may be different than you have tomorrow or yesterday - accept it. You also need to be honest with how you feel as you move through your practice. Our yoga mat is a safe space to explore sensation and cause and effect of our movement to our body and emotions. I lead a workshop called “Pose & Poetry” where we create poems during our practice as we associate movements with language, feelings, emotions. It is quite remarkable what people come up with. Be honest with yourself, your body, your feelings, your sensation. Let go go of good or bad.

Asteya: non-stealing

Off our mat: Like kindness, we all want to live in a world where our person and our possessions are protected. As humans, there are so many situations where someone can steal from us or where we may steal from another - wealth, relationships, freedom, nourishment, innocence, etc. What intentions and actions can we take to prevent or minimize this?

On our mat: When we step onto our mat we want to be open. Open to instruction. Open to possibility. Open to experience. But we all come onto our mat with different perspectives, perceptions, experiences, and expectations. We can sometimes steal possibility from ourselves on our mat by holding back to what is predictable, and in some ways “safe”. Obviously, we always want to be safe in our yoga practice but we also need to be willing to explore the “edges” of our comfort zone. If we do this on our mat, in a supportive and guided space, it gives us practice to eventually explore these edges in our life.

Brahmacharya: continence / restraint

Off our mat: The practice of Brahmacharya can have a slightly different meaning depending on who you talk to. In some ways of thought it is referred to as sexual restraint. In other descriptions, it may just be considered “self-restraint” or self-control. This can be applied to so many aspects of our lives - our nutrition, our self-care practices, consumption of alcohol or drugs, social relationships. The practice of restraint can help us cultivate self-care practices that support our highest good and purpose.

On our mat: When we step onto our mat self restraint is a very powerful thing. We have to show up in our bodies first and foremost when we unroll our mat and we have to notice what our body is offering us today. When we practice restraint on our mat we accept our body, in whatever way it presents itself. We need to be willing to let go of ego. Perhaps our body won’t do what it did in our last practice and thats ok. Perhaps our bodies can’t do what the person next to us is doing and thats ok. Restraint is about acceptable and lack of judgement, of letting go of good or bad, and comparisons. Its is a practice of being with what is.

Aparigraha: non-covetousness

 Off our mat: Is there something in this world you yearn to possess? Wealth, wisdom, relationships, material possessions. Some of the things we long for are natural, human desires, we all deserve. I’ve mentioned some of them in this post - safety, home, love, honesty, self-care, positive relationship to self. Others are driven by a need for wealth and possession that give us a status symbol, not sacred connection to self and soul. Can you live a life longing for something more but let go of attachment to whether it will come to you and trusting in the universe to deliver exactly what you need?

On our mat: When I guide people through yoga poses I do so from a place of helping them create their own experience. I invite people to (safely) close their eyes and withdraw their senses, to withdraw their awareness of what anyone else is doing around them. I invite people to pretend they are the only person on their mat. I also often lead classes in such a way people don’t know what pose we are doing now or next. When we name something we immediately attach expectation to it. We covet what that “thing” is, looks like or can give us. But, if we can move through a yoga practice without this longing, this attachment, this covetousness for what is, or should be, it is amazing how much more liberating and enjoyable the experience can truly be.

Now that you know a little more about the Yama’s, I hope it will spark a light in you to seek deeper meaning to this practice we call “yoga” here in the Western World. I hope I can inspire you to explore yoga as both a physical practice and personal practice for transformation.

Would you like to learn more about the transformational power of yoga? Schedule a private yoga class with me or enroll in my Radiant Life Guide coaching program.

Shae Sterrett

Entrepreneur, dreamer, doer, lifestyle coach, business consultant, helping you get more done, live freely and fully with total wellness in mind, body and spirit.