Monday, April 25, 2016

Yamas - a little Etymology, a little Philosophy

Yamas are the first of the eight limbs of Yoga; the first of the eight guiding principles for helping to lead a yogic lifestyle, or, more generally, to "calm the fluctuations of the mind" (for whatever purpose you choose).

The word "yama" comes from the verbal root [yam] which means to subdue or to control, which implies that these "yamas" are controls or acts of curbing or suppressing our behavior (towards others or the outer world) to help us become more "yogic."

There are five of these principles, or disciplines, in the yamas, as follows:

Ahimsa: non harming. Ahimsa is a term meaning 'not to injure' and 'compassion'. The word is derived from the Sanskrit root hiṃs – to strike; hiṃsā is injury or harm, a-hiṃsā is the opposite of this.

Satya: truth. Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one's thought, speech and action.

Asteya: non-stealing. Asteya is derived from the Sanskrit root word "steyn" which means ‘to steal’ to ‘to rob’. The word for a thief is "steynaH". "Steyam" is the word for theft. By adding the prefix "a" it becomes ‘asteya’ which means "to not steal or rob".

Aparigraha: non-covetousness. This word is derived from the root word ‘grah’ which means to hold or grab something. Adding the prefix ‘pari’ alters the meaning only slightly to mean ‘hold onto something’. Adding the second prefix ‘a’ negates the meaning of the word and thus ‘aparigraha’ is variously translated as ‘non-hoarding’ or ‘non-possessiveness’, non-indulgence’ or ‘non-greed’ etc.

Brahmacharya: virtue/vitality. This complicated concept is a merging of two Sanskrit roots: Brahma (shortened from Brahman) meaning "the one self-existent Spirit, the Absolute Reality, Universal Self, Personal God, the sacred knowledge;" and  charya which means "occupation with, engaging, proceeding, behaviour, conduct, to follow, going after." This yama can mean an overall lifestyle that helps the pursuit of sacred knowledge and spiritual liberation. It is a means, not an end, and usually includes cleanliness, ashimsa, simple living, studies, meditation, voluntary restraints on certain diet, intoxicants and behaviors (including sexual behavior).

Wanna talk about the yamas? Come visit me in a class this week... I definitely have yamas on my mind.

Coming soon: the Ni-yamas (restraints of the self)