Off the Mat: Exploring Yamas

Have you ever heard the expression “take your practice off the mat”? Maybe you’ve scratched your head and wondered what exactly does that mean. It is sort of a cryptic expression isn’t it. I get it.

To start to understand the expression, I think it is important to realize as well as understand yoga as a complete mind-body practice. Start with that concept. Now, break that word apart. First, you have “mind” then you have “body” then you have “mind-body.” Confused yet?

To elaborate, as a practicing Yogi, you may have heard there are EIGHT LIMBS OF YOGA. Now whether you knew this or not, chances are you are practicing quite a few of them and maybe didn’t even know that you were. OK, that is pretty cool in that you were doing more yoga than you thought you were. Maybe even a little of that off the mat stuff!

First of all, the Eight Limbs of Yoga, in general, can be described as essentially “guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life.” Now, in my opinion, what is meaningful and what is purposeful will be unique to the eye of the beholder as we all don’t think exactly alike.

For this blog post, I wanted to expand on the first limb which is known as the YAMAS.

1. Yamas – The simplest way to describe the “yamas” is to say they are collection of “ethical standards” or what is considered acceptable conduct by the majority. As an adult, you were raised by your family and community and were taught what was considered “right and wrong.” So with these guidelines, you have think about your behavior. (There are five Yamas).
Ahimsa – Nonviolence. This just might be the most popular Yama in that a lot of people seem to actually know about it and that is called “ahimsa.” Some people make diet choices (vegan or vegetarian), follow the “Golden Rule,” recycle or honor Earth Day, and/or avoid toxic people for their ahimsa.
Satya – Truthfulness. Haven’t we all been taught to be honest and to tell the truth? Even when no one is there to watch us! In general, I’d say that most of us are honest and truthful; however, we all experience instances where we aren’t completely honest. Who hasn’t told a little white lie, told someone something they wanted to hear so we wouldn’t hurt their feelings, or maybe slightly misrepresented who we were so that others would like us. For some of us, Satya can be a daily struggle!
Asteya – Nonstealing. We’ve been taught not to steal and most likely at first thought, that applies to physical stuff. Don’t shoplift, rob someone or their home, or steal someone’s lunch out of the office refrigerator. Now, think deeper, doesn’t it also mean, don’t steal office supplies, excessively print, and take other’s ideas and pass them off as your own. It doesn’t stop there. Actually, one of my favorites is not stealing time! If you have a meeting with a friend at a certain time, don’t you get extremely annoyed if they are really late? I know I do! Or how about when someone totally wastes your time. Personally, I can’t stand it when someone goes on and on about something. Get to the point, already. My time is valuable, but so is other people’s time. Don’t be that person! Please, don’t make me or others struggle with Ahimsa.
Brahmacharya – Continence. (This one has multiple interpretations of which you can Google). I am going to explore the interpretation that I personally identify with. So with that being said, Brahmacharya is for us to think about where we are putting our energy. Is it being spent on useless and meaningless things or toxic people? If so, we need to explore how to redirect our energy on things that truly serve our purpose. Additionally, we need to nurture relationships with people who have our best interests in mind and hopefully, we are “that” person to someone else.
Aparigraha – Noncovetousness. This is not being greedy! In America, we exist in a society of “me, me, me” and “now, now, now.” We even have a saying called “Keeping up with the Jones.” If you think about it, this truly is a sad state to exist in and the situation seems to be really reinforced during Christmas time. (Check out my blog article “December is the Perfect Time to Explore Aparigraha,” written December 9, 2013 to see what I wrote about it).

So as you can see, within the first limb YAMA, there are five categories and these are ways of thinking and behaviors that should be consistently practiced. See, you aren’t even on your mat yet!

All and all, I’ve tried to expand on them in ways I hope are meaningful you. These are my interpretations or as I understand them. Now, with that being said, can you see how you might have been honoring the Yamas all along and didn’t even know that you were practicing your yoga off the mat? Kind of cool, huh!

If you want to learn more, there are certainly books dedicated to the subject. My goal was to not be too long winded and to stay true to Asteya with regards to your time.

To write about all the limbs, my blog post would have turned into a book and well, I want to keep your attention so I focused only on the Yamas. I’ve listed the other seven limbs below so you have a basic frame of reference and I’ll visit each of these in future blog posts; however, I have in the past written posts touching on a few limbs or concepts that you are welcome to check out.

2. Niyamas – These are a set of self-disciplines and spiritual observations. (I’ll tackle these next). Just like the Yamas, there are five categories.
3. Asana – These are the poses that you regularly do in your yoga classes. Here you are on your mat.
4. Pranayama – These are the breathing exercises that you do in your yoga classes. However, breathing techniques can be used whenever you need them and that can certainly be off your mat.
5. Pratyahara – Withdrawl from external stimuli. This is Yoga Nidra, meditation, and even restorative yoga practices. (I’ve already have written about Yoga Nidra just this past March 2014).
6. Dharana – Concentration and focus.
7. Djyana – Meditation
8. Samadhi – This is the highest state. Some call it the state of ecstasy. I call it Self Actualization.

Expanding our yoga practice both on and off the mat…

About kwarren1970

I am an avid hiker and yogi.
This entry was posted in Beginner yoga, listening to your body, mind-body connection, Off the Mat, Relationships, wellness, Yoga, yoga limbs and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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