Yoga Yamas: Moral Principles of Yoga

One of the first things that come to mind is the asanas when yoga is mentioned. However, seeing yoga only as physical exercises means unfair to the long history of yoga. Learning yoga is a long journey. When it is done completely, the desired point is reached in spiritual and physical terms. Yoga has eight steps. These steps are yamas, niyamas, asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. These are the eight steps of a person’s life journey with yoga. In yoga, each step must be well understood and followed to achieve the goal of liberation.

The basis of the yoga thought the system is the moral principles called Yama and Niyama. Yamas and niyamas are the most important steps of yoga. They are the principles that support and complement each other and are not designed for people to get into trouble, but rather for a comfortable and peaceful life. When it is applied on the basis of these principles, yoga practices will reach its real purpose.

You can learn these two steps before or after the asanas. The important thing is to know and apply in your life. If spiritual purification and empowerment are not achieved, the effect of yoga will be less. What the five Yamas and Yamas tell is not only for yoga but for the world to be a better place.

Yamas are ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderating the senses), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness). The way to gain these features is to first determine your existing features. In which part of life, what do we do against which Yamas? It is recommended that one yama or niyama be practiced at a time. Of course, it is difficult to think of the yamas and niyamas separately. The result of one creates the other. One is observing, the other is doing.

Yamas are the building blocks of moral life. In yoga, which we look very superficially, which we think is just asanas, you can talk about the Yamas so deeply that you can talk for hours, but there is a very important fact that if we adopt all of these Yamas to the societies we live in today, make sure that all human-induced negativity can disappear could be a better place.

Yama 1: Ahimsa (Non-Harming)

  • In Sanskrit, the prefix “a”: “not”
  • himsa: harming, injuring, killing, or doing violence
  • ahimsa: non-harming

Ahimsa is the first of the yamas. It is the practice of non-harming or non-violence. This is the key, the sages tell us, to maintaining both harmonious relationships in the world and tranquil inner life. You may be saying inside of you “Okay, this is easy, I am against harming and violence!” We invite you to reconsider if you think that you have not committed violence against yourself, all the people around you, all living things and this planet.

Not to hurt in physical, mental and emotional dimensions and showing mercy means being nonviolent. We must be no harming not only to other people or animals but also to ourselves. In yoga practice, it is violent to force our body beyond our limits, to eat poorly, to come out of our mouths with negative and violent words.

This violence, including our harm, anger and hatred, our emotional outbursts, ups and downs, and the negativity and terror that we give to our environment by ignoring ourselves, disliking ourselves and constantly criticizing ourselves. The people who we, unintentionally or intentionally, make upset and the people we do not forgive, and the creatures we hurt are also included in this violence. The damage we cause to nature with chemical cleaning materials, throwing garbage, smoking cigarettes, medicines and artificial fertilizers are also included in this violence. It also includes the conditions under which the goods we buy, and the conditions under which they are made, and what big companies are investing in.

Unfortunately, the conditions we live in do not support being constructive and kind. But it is not impossible to minimize violence. The symbol of yoga is the lotus flower because the lotus flower opens in the swamps in all its glory. The world is a swamp. Yoga is the science that teaches flowering in this swamp. Observe. Observe yourself and your damage. Observe the voluntary or involuntary damage you and yourself have caused. As you observe, the damage will begin to diminish as you become aware.

And most importantly, stop blaming yourself for your negative feelings and thoughts, for damage to the environment. That is also violence. Be kind. Be kind and patient. Give yourself time. If you have chosen yoga, then focus on your yoga practice. As you practice, focus on the infinite wisdom of existence, this knowledge, which is already an indispensable part of you, will begin to take place in your body.

In order to comprehend and apply the philosophy of Ahimsa, it is necessary to look at the factors that play a role in the formation of the so-called Himsa concept. Himsa refers to the opposite of the concept of Ahimsa, meaning harm. The three factors that make Himsa are Asmita, Raga, and Dvesha.

Asmita: A person’s self-affirmation. A person’s self-approval is achieved by succumbing to his ego. One makes himself believe in his own truth and tries to get them to accept others. He doesn’t even realize that his own truths may be wrong, or that they might coincide with his ego. In short, it is the one who gathers the most beautiful and the truth of everything. Insisting on these emotions disrupts one’s psychological structure over time and affects his/her ability to think and decision-making. With this attitude, he/she starts to harm himself/herself and his/her environment.

Raga: Anything that looks good to our eyes and pleases our senses and emotions can easily create habits. In our lives, it is possible to see this in ways such as money, pleasure, life, and dependence on our own bodies. We are afraid of losing everything that is habitual or addictive, this fear affects our whole life whether we realize it or not. It creates bonds that are difficult to break with worldly feelings. The biggest mistake we make is to convince ourselves that what we like can be permanent. The fear of losing things we depend on affects us and our environment in many ways.

Dveşa: It is called hate. Our minds tend to label everything through opposites such as love-hate, loved-unloved, beautiful-ugly, liked-disliked dualities. These dualistic thoughts exhaust our minds. What we think has a positive effect on us leads us to addiction, and what we think has a negative effect makes us hate. This not only undermines our sense of unity but also allows us to harm ourselves and our environment.

  • Practice Tip: You can practice being more kind, accepting, and forgiving of yourself and others. Ahimsa needs to be fully embraced. When this is done, deep trust and surprisingly strong internal trust arise. Every living thing shares the same energy with human beings in the balance of life and nature. Looking at it this way, we can understand some things more clearly. E.g; We have no right to harm any living creature; every living being has the right to live like us; every living creature has the right to live a happy and peaceful life like us; every living thing can be fragile like us; every living being may have the emotions we have. When it comes to a realization, violence becomes impossible.

Yama 2: Satya (Truthfulness)

  • In Sanskrit, the word “sat”: that which exists, that which is.
  • Satya: “truthfulness”, to see everything not as we want it to be, but as they really are

Did you ever hide the truth when you knew it? That, someone, was wronged in front of your eyes and you did not go out and say a word because you were afraid? What about lying? Some people lie so often that they cannot recognize the fine line between reality and lie.

Before you tell lies to others, notice the lies you tell yourself. You should be able to sleep peacefully when you put your head on the pillow. Satya means telling the truth, living the truth, searching for the truth. That means sincerity. Satya also means that acting, speaking and thinking according to reality in all our actions. We must also be honest with ourselves. Honesty brings respect and honor, and it also gives mental clarity to see higher truths.

None of us are perfect. Each of us has its own flaws. That is what makes us separate from God and makes us human. We came to the world to learn. This is our learning platform. The last thing you do is blame yourself. Yoga is a slow walking path dedicated to stripping away from our false identities and meeting our true identity by observing oneself, stopping the denial and accepting sincerely recognized mistakes.

  • Practice Tip: Inwardly, learn to recognize the reasons for your different interpretation of reality. You should learn about the things that cause your fears and other negative emotions. Once you understand and process these fears, it may be easier to reunite with reality. Even if you look deeper into your needs and desires, even if you think more about them, your thoughts, speech, and actions can be rearranged. Outwardly, it is a fact that we are human, and although this situation is sometimes difficult, avoid lying. Speak with kindness, compassion, and clarity.

Yama 3: Asteya (Non-Stealing)

  • In Sanskrit, the word “steya”: “stealing.
  • In Sanskrit, the prefix “a”: not
  • Asteya: Non-stealing.

As human beings, we are prone to associate stealing with concrete objects. But, it doesn’t have to be something you can hold, something you can see or something you can feel. On the contrary, we are prone to steal intangibles things in real life. Because we don’t count them as something does not belong to us. For example; knowledge, information, emotional favors.

Did you say “Theft? No way! I am not a thief?” We are all stealing something but in different ways. If we are late for our meetings, we are stealing others’ time. If we are doing our job sketchy, we steal from the service we provide to others. If we are constantly scattering negativity, we steal the life energies and happiness of others. If we teach unhappily, we steal the right to education of our students. If we sold our Hippocratic Oath to pharmaceutical companies, we steal the health right of our patients.

Who wants to steal sin? But by gossiping, we even steal the sin of others without knowing. Do not say whether people steal from their own pocket, even steal from our own pocket. We steal from our own life energy by complaining, worrying unnecessary, obsessing with small things. We steal everything we feel lacking indigenous. Here, asteya describes the state of being free from thefts that cover all of this.

Asteya is not to take something that is not given to us. In addition to stealing goods, this includes speaking, expressing and stealing ideas without the permission of someone else. 

  • Practice Tip: The urge to steal is caused by the feeling of unhappiness, incompleteness and envy. To get a solution, you have to practice your emotions with your behavior. Give food; give money; give time. Wealth is not materiality. It is ultimately a mental state. Therefore, after doing these, you will feel more and more wealthy. And in the end, your sense of inner wealth can bring you external wealth.

Yama 4: Brahmacharya (Moderating the Senses)

  • The literal translation: “walking in God-consciousness.”
  • Practically speaking: turning the mind inward, balancing and supervising the senses, leading to freedom from dependencies and cravings.

A person who is out of balance and lusted immediately attracts the attention of other people and is criticized. He is most often criticized by his family and relatives. Isn’t one of the biggest problems in life to find that balance? Where are we overdoing? Overdoing is not always about doing too much, sometimes doing too little means overdoing. There are things we all love to exaggerate. This can sometimes be chocolate, ice cream, alcohol, healthy living, shopping, sports, authority; sometimes it can be too tight, too relaxed, talk or be silent, extroverted, or introverted.

Brahmacaria is the reduction of surpluses without increasing lust, the multiplication of less, and the balance of all these. It is the acquisition of knowledge, high energy, and vigor by controlling our physical desires. With the control of each desire, we become healthier and wiser. Balance is very important in yoga. Saving our energy from desires and saving helps a lot in maintaining balance. 

  • Practice Tip: You have to make smart and wise choices about everything you do. These can be books and magazines you read, the movies you see, and even the company you keep. These choices will help you save energy and keep your mind focused and dynamic. You must be determined in all your choices and stick to these choices. This is the middle path of brahmacharya.

Yama 5: Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness)

  • In Sanskrit, “graha”: to grasp
  • In Sanskrtit, “pair”: things
  • In Sanskrit, the prefix “a”: not 
  • Aparigraha: “not grasping things”. non-possessiveness.

This yama helps us achieve a balanced relationship with the things that we each call “mine.” Yes, all the things of the world we see, we touch, we hear, we feel are ours to use, but not to own is the essence of aparigraha.

Aparigraha means no hoarding. Aparigraha is to live by relying on the abundance and fertility of the universe. Aparigraha is to get rid of desires, lust, greed, ambition, possession and the rush of accumulation with the feeling that one day is needed.

In a sense, it also means to let things flow in a desirable way. Leaving into the flow is often understood as unresponsive. But, leaving things to the flow also requires taking responsibility. It is to be free from the consequences and expectations after taking responsibility and doing what needs to be done. This is the hardest part. Because usually when we pay for something, our expectation from the result is the rate we pay.

Aparigraha, after doing the best that you can, to deliver the result to the arms of the universe. Aparigraha is to let go of things we do not need and leave them. We should not depend on things or people. We should be able to quit when necessary and when we no longer need them. This also applies to our thoughts. 

  • Practice Tip: Try to understand your behaviors and thoughts toward possessiveness. Do you take better care of your object in your possession than someone else’s? Do you have more of something than you can need? Do you depend too much on others? Do you give more in a relationship, even more than a healthy level? Practicing this helps us to examine our tendencies, assumptions and it guides us back to healthy relationships with others.

Psychological Perspective (Kohlberg’s Theory)

We can compare the Yamas to the last step in Kohlberg’s moral theory. In his theory, Lawrence Kohlberg says that the moral development of man is six-stepped. Moral assessment of human events and life changes over time. An experiment has been carried out on this subject and the children are told the story of Heinz.

Heinz’s wife has cancer and is dying. The pharmacist who produces the only medication to provide treatment requires $ 2,000, which is ten times the cost of production. Heinz borrows money from everyone around him, sells everything and can only get $ 1000. The man asks the pharmacist to give the drug in the promise of paying the remaining amount later. But the pharmacist does not accept it because he wants to make money from the drug he discovers and manufactures. Heinz then sneaks into the pharmacy and steals the drug. Is Heinz right in this case? When this question is asked to children of different ages, according to the results, there are phases of the attitude of human beings to evaluate the events.

In the first and most primitive stage, the child evaluates only through the punishment-reward system. The rules are for compliance. So, if something is wrong, it will be punished. However, it can be wrong if there is no one to punish. It is like crossing a red light when there’s no traffic police or camera out there. Although the person in this phase finds Heinz right, he thinks he is doing something that should be punished.

In the second phase, the needs of others come into play. The right thing should be done and others should be allowed to do it. If the stingy pharmacist did not care about Heinz’s wife, Heinz is right to steal the drug. It is a kind of tooth for a tooth. The rules set by the authority can sometimes be broken, Heinz should not be punished.

In the third phase, the concept of reward and punishment becomes the expectation of being accepted by society. It is important to do behaviors that everyone will approve of. Heinz is, of course, right, because his intentions are good; wants to save his wife. In this case, the pharmacist is guilty and he is the one who should be imprisoned.

People in the fourth stage (in Kohlberg’s theory, people in their early teens) consider social acceptance as well as existing laws and rules. Social rules and traditions are essential. Yes, Heinz is very right, but unfortunately, he must be punished by law. So in this phase, it is almost back to the beginning. Social values ​​were added to the punishment approach according to the general rules in the first phase. The only thing that is desired at this stage is the continuity of society at all costs.

In the fifth phase, the good society starts to be questioned. Is it an authoritarian society with strict rules or is it a democratic union that respects human rights and gives them the right to speak? Heinz’s wife has a right to life, so the husband struggling for this right is right to steal the medicine. He may be sentenced to a slight theft, but his moral attitude must be guarded.

The sixth and final phase is the stage in which universal human rights come into play. In addition to the dominant majority in the democratic order mentioned in the fifth phase, there are minorities. It is in this sixth phase that the need to protect their rights arises. Every person’s rights must be protected according to one general truth and universal human rights. Kohlberg notes that it is difficult to move to this phase and to stay here permanently. Because it is no longer social acceptance, it is the stage in which individual evaluations are made.

That is to apply the Yamas-Niyamas fully and to have an improved moral understanding up to the sixth stage of Kohlberg. Already, the understanding of yoga, in its entirety, is equal to this morality! When you live with morality in this stage, no lies or lies, violence is shown, stolen from others, greed is not made.

Savaş Ateş

I like meditation and yoga. I read a lot of books about them. I applied them in my daily life. I want to write about my experiences.

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