Yoga beyond the mat: Yamas (Part II)

In this article I offer practical tools and exercises to practice the last two Yamas: brahmacharya and aparigraha, on and off your yoga mat.

What are Yamas?

As we saw in the article on the eight limbs of Yoga; in the traditional Yoga system the first aspect of practice is called yama or the practice of relationship, which underscores the importance of connection to others as being integral to all expressions of Yoga. Yamas are ethical practices that guide us towards healthy, fulfilled relationship with others and in turn, ourselves.

Read our Part I article to learn about the first three Yamas.

The five yamas:

  1. Ahiṃsā - non-violence, respect for life, kindness

  2. Satya - truthfulness

  3. Asteya - honesty, integrity

  4. Brahmacharya - non-excess, moderation

  5. Aparigraha - non-possessiveness


The principle of non-excess, moderation relates back to all the other Yamas especially Asteya; once we have practiced and understood non-stealing and integrity we can start practicing non-excess, finding our 'just enough', understanding our attachments and limits.

So how does non-excess manifest in our day-to-day lives?

- I feel full, therefore I won't eat the extra scoop of ice-cream,

- I find pleasure in watching tv but I don't watch it when I know I have other things to do,

- I notice that I have a tendency to overwork, therefore I decide to impose myself a few days of complete rest every week.

Let me offer other (perhaps not as obvious) ways to practice non-excess:

- I notice that when I feel sad, I tend to turn to sweets and somehow it soothes my craving. instead I decide to sit with my sadness and see what it has to show me,

- I love to feel busy and important but I notice it takes away from my ability to find awe and wonder in my life, therefore I practice rituals that connect me to divine timing (instead of clock timing),

- In yoga class, I sometimes feel that in order to get the full benefits of the practice I need to follow everything my teacher does even when it doesn't feel right for my own timing. Therefore I choose to quiet down my ego and respect what my body wants even if it is not as 'deep', 'fast' or 'cool' as what others are doing.

When we practice Bramacharya, we begin to understand that non-excess is not about no pleasure or no enjoyment, rather it is about enjoyment in its fullest form.

When we over-indulge, we quickly go from satisfaction and contentment to excess, which makes us feel bad (whether physically, mentally or emotionally) and takes us away from the purity and beauty of the experience itself. One of the best ways we can practice non-excess is through our connection to God (or source, or intuition, or the universe); it takes us off the centre stage and what we thought of as 'important' quickly feels insignificant.

When we open our eyes and hearts to divinity and holiness we begin to notice beauty around us, to feel full and joyful because every moment where we don't feel busy, we make space for life. We (re)develop our ability to wonder, admire and feel awe, just as children do. As Joseph Campbell writes:

Be true to the purpose and limits of each thing in existence. Behave purely and serve purely the reality of what you are given by making every human function without exception a religious act of sacrifice and worship.


The final Yama: Aparigraha means non-possessiveness or non-clinging. Directly related to the previous Yama of non-excess, once we understand our limits and attachements and where our 'just enough' lays we begin to connect to divine timing and beauty. As human beings, we tend to cling to things that make us feel good which is completely normal, aparigraha teaches us that everything is impermanent and clinging or possessing is just an illusion. Once we understand that, we can find real freedom.

How does non-possessiveness manifest in our day-to-day?

- I lost cash while I was walking around in the city, I feel upset and annoyed at myself. I feel those emotions but I remind myself that it is nothing serious and this money will come back to me in other forms,

- When a loved one gets seriously sick, I am filled with the terror of losing them. I remind myself that even though their physical body is impermanent, their soul will always be with me.

Let me offer other ways we can practice aparigraha:

- I tend to judge others and myself on how much material possessions I own, I change that judgement to what really matters and what will be left of us w-once we leave this plane: how kind, humble and honest we are as human beings,

- I tend to expect people or things to bring me fulfillment and comfort, I practice working on my attachments by noticing how my expectations limit my experiences and relationships.

The journey of life is towards freedom. We cannot grasp anything and be free, just like the bird cannot hold its perch and fly. The illusion of possessions and attachments imprisons us into feeling like we never have enough and are always in the pursuit of the next thing. When we cling to a certain emotion, we start to expect the things or people that induced the pleasant emotion to always bring us the same feelings of fulfillment, comfort and joy.

What we cling to, clings to us. When we practice aparigraha, we learn to take ownership of our own emotions, which is where our freedom lies.

Our culture pushes us to cling to beauty standards, to money, to relationships, it teaches us that the more we have the better, the more we buy the better. Imagine how threatening it would be to our current system if we all took ownership of ourselves; if we understood that no product, no amount of money, no food, no relationship can make us feel loved - for a few moments it sure can but the real, unconditional, impermanent type of love is only achieved by us through us. As Swami Jnaneshvara said:

Love is what is left when you've let go of all the things you love.

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