Although Yoga is not a religion, there are some boundaries suggested to aid in not only physical development, but also spiritual development.
Now these are not “rules.” You are not sinful or bad if you don’t do them. They are simply time tested suggestions to help you on your spiritual journey.
All of these “dont’s” are common sense and practical. All are goals that we as humans probably intend to follow, whether told by an outside influence or not.
So let’s dig in and discover what is helpful to refrain from on this Yogic path!
1. Ahimsa–Do no harm (protect YOURSELF!)
~Sanskrit अहिंसा (‘a’=non, “himsa”=violence)
This first Yama is an important principle in Buddhism, Jainism, and Hinduism. The basic premise of Ahimsa is that every living being is divine and sacred. We are all interconnected.
Because of this, to harm another is to harm one’s self.
You can harm oneself and others through thoughts, words, and actions.
Thoughts=Most of us have a certain degree of abusive internal dialogue: “I’m not smart enough, thin enough, or good enough.” I personally know that my internal dialogue drains my energy and clouds who I am.
I cannot be present for all of life’s experiences because I’m too involved shaming myself! So the non-violence has to start with ourselves! Honestly where did it ever get you anyway to be so mean to yourself? It has never gotten me anywhere but tired and sick. This is something that must be fought on a DAILY basis.
When we think badly about even ourselves, how can we begin to mold positive internal dialogue about others?
So step one……be nice to YOURSELF!
Words=You can kill someone’s spirit with one word. ONE. We’ve all been there. We all remember that one thing that was said, especially in childhood, that shaped our future.
For me, I had someone tell me that I was not smart enough. That I should really just go to beauty school. Being an astronaut or doctor was NOT in my future.
This led me on a path of hating school and graduating high school with a low GPA. It took me a LONG time to decide to pursue a college degree. And guess what? I excelled. I finished Summa Cum Laude in my undergraduate degree. I even went on to finish a masters degree, earning an MBA. Yes I did say MBA! During that time I won awards and scholarships due to my academic excellence.
But it took me TEN years to get there because I was crushed under the self limiting belief that I was stupid.
Actions=Dogmatic opinions that people who are vegan or vegetarian are somehow more spiritual is ridiculous. Give me a break. We live in America. Going vegan is probably not going to happen.
And a lot of authors explain elusively that Ahimsa is not consuming animals. And yea that is probably a good goal for a lot of us. But are we “bad” for not going totally vegan? NO. Can we all begin to cut more and more meat out of our diets for a variety of reasons? YES. Let’s certainly do it.
But to all my vegetarian and vegan friends out there who are actively trying to convert the rest of us, please go sit down and eat your shitty kale (*said with a certain degree of love *).
There are many more ways to practice Ahimsa than just not eating animals. Let’s expand the conversation to discuss those as well!
Are most of us going to kill someone? God I hope not. But what about road rage? Or stabbing someone in the back at work to get ahead? What about hitting your dog or even your kid? You can see it on their face that you’ve crushed their little spirit by raising your hand. What are you communicating about who you are by doing any of these actions?
Now none of us are perfect….we just keep TRYING! What is a good course of action when you want to lash out in any of the ways described above? Breathe. I don’t mean this in some crunchy hippy way. I mean it in a very practical way.
I think a lot of people feel like they’re being a victim when you ask them to breathe. Like you’re asking them to sit back and just “take it.”
However I encourage you to look at this differently. Actually you’re reclaiming your POWER when you do this. You are taking back control.
Even one breath gives you the distance needed to begin calming yourself to gain perspective.
Is this personal? Do I need to react? Can I just let this go?
The next Yama, Satya (truthfulness) beautifully fits with Ahimsa. Especially for those of us who deal with codependency or an addict.
Do we want to actively pursue practicing “non-harm”? Of course! But it’s also important to not be a door mat with certain people.
It’s critical to practice Satya (truthfulness) concurrent to Ahisma (non-harm) especially in toxic environments or relationships.
While the goal is to breathe and not lash out in a harmful way, that does not mean that boundaries and truthfulness are not needed. I personally have struggled with this in dealing with an alcoholic family member.
It is easy to go to 2 extremes with addicts. I either want to just stay quiet about my opinion and “be supportive” or I want to lash out due to pure frustration.
Buddhism would ask where is the middle ground between these 2 tactics? I DO want to be supportive and not harm, but I DON’T want to be a dumping ground either. There comes a time when the truth needs to be spoken for my good and theirs.
2. Satya–Truthfulness (with a side of graciousness)
~ Sanskrit सत्य (‘sat’=true nature)
There are many other facets to Satya (truthfulness) beyond the obvious “don’t lie“.
I think this principle is best described in Miguel Ángel Ruiz’s book “The Four Agreements.”
“Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.”
I have personally struggled with this principle by taking “truthfulness” too far. I have been admonished in a variety of settings regarding my “honesty.”
When I was younger I thought “well if it’s true then it’s ok to say.” False. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it needs to be SAID.
My experience with life has very much been black and white. So if I saw an elephant in the room I really really felt it needed to be verbalized. ESPECIALLY when dealing with bullshitters!
But over time I’ve found out that this is not gracious. It’s not gracious to point out something that will most likely will embarrass someone. And to prove what? That you were right most likely. This really hit home for me when I read Dale Carnegie’s book “How to win friends and influence people.”
In the chapter titled “You can’t win an argument,” Carnegie recounts an encounter he had while attending his friends party. A man next to him quoted a phrase from Shakespeare that he attributed to the Bible. Carnegie took it upon himself to correct this fellow in front of the group and an argument ensued. Dale and this man decided to take the matter to an expert-Mr.Gammond. Carnegie recounts his response:
“Mr. Gammond listened, kicked me under the table, and then said: “Dale, you are wrong. The gentleman is right. It is from the Bible.” On our way home that night, I said to Mr. Gammond: “Frank, you knew that quotation was from Shakespeare.” “Yes, of course,” he replied, “Hamlet, Act Five, Scene Two. But we were guests at a festive occasion, my dear Dale. Why prove a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save his face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? Always avoid the acute angle.” The man who said that taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. I not only had made the storyteller uncomfortable, but had put my friend in an embarrassing situation.”
I too have been in this situation many times. Keepin’ it real Jessica just has to pipe up. Apparently I am the self appointed truth teller.
And this seems to be in vogue these days on reality television. “Hi I’m Heavenly and I keep it real.” Well Heavenly it’s not cute. And it’s not gracious. I have embarrassed a lot of people during my years of “keepin’ it real.”
And for that I’m sorry.
So let’s keep our footsteps light and gentle in this harsh world. No need to point out an unspoken truth when it brings harm. And if you feel that you MUST point something out, ask yourself “for what reason” or “to what end“?
Sometimes there IS a good reason.
And most importantly tell YOURSELF the truth. Now this can be hard. It’s difficult to weed through what is ACTUALLY happening versus what your brain colored by the past is telling you.
Like peeling away the layers of an onion, the continual asking of this question clears our smoke screens to the reveal the raw unadulterated truth.
3. Asteya–Not Stealing (your time will come)
~Sanskrit अहिंसासत्यास्तेय (‘a’=non, “himsa”=stealing)
As with all the others, “don’t steal” is so much deeper than refraining from pick pocketing sunglasses. Let’s not do that but let’s ALSO not steal from ourselves and others in a wide variety of other ways.
Stealing from others can be so covert that it’s frankly hard to realize you are even doing it sometimes. When my husband comes home after work and I’m a total bitch to him, I steal the chance for a peaceful night. When I’m talking to my sister but engrossed internally with little ole me, I steal from her my presence (and presence=love according to Thich Nhat Hanh!).
But back to “little ole me.” When I insist on bogarting a conversation, I am stealing the opportunity for a fulfilled conversation for BOTH parties.
And I know that for me, when I choose to watch TV or zone out on Instagram I steal from myself the opportunity to do yoga or meditate. You might say, “well who cares, you’re just substituting one activity for another.”
But you see dear reader, yoga and meditating GIVE time instead of take. They give me the ability to really see and live life unclouded by MYSELF. That blessing seeps into all other areas of my life.
Stealing can of course take other forms such as stealing ideas or written work for school or work. This is so tempting to do, especially when you’re poised to look SO good because of it. But don’t take the bait, your time will come.
Speaking of bait, what is at the core of this temptation to steal? This points back to the Universal Law of Abundance. We feel there isn’t enough to go around and that I have to protect my little piece of the pie. It is a belief of scarcity and lack. So you grasp for more, never feeling “ok” with what ya got!
I’ve even read that monetary abundance gravitates towards energy that is of the abundance mindset. And while I am NOT ok with the hippy bullshit connected to it, this line of thinking does pan out logically. It does require a certain level in trust that you WILL be provided for and that there is plenty to go around.
Yea you might call bullshit, but how’s that working for you? Might as well try it. Have a little faith.
4. Brahmacharya–Merging with the One (sacred connection with another)
~Sanskrit ब्रह्म चर्य (“brahma”= Absolute Reality/Supreme Spirit (gender neutral) “charya”=to go after)
Most people simplify Brahmacharya to mean celibacy. I’m sorry but I don’t see any reference to that when we break down the Sanskrit! I think this concept is limited to the sexual realm due to the ancient yogis vow of sexual abstinence.
And there are also obvious consequences to an unfulfilled or careless sex life. This can quickly become all consuming with significant amounts of energy going towards an insatiable sexual drive.
But expanding to the fuller picture, Brahmacharya is all about the “middle way” as Buddhists say. Moderation in all things so that there is energy for higher pursuits. It is controlling ALL of our senses to attain moksha (freedom), not just the loudest one!
But sex IS a part of life. It is natural. And God given. So right here and now we are going to recognize that the Divine has given us this gift. It is not something to hide or feel embarrassed about. That’s not needed here!
The sexual energy and merging that two committed people experience during sex has been compared to Brahmacharya. The pursuit and subsequent orgasmic euphoria was gifted by the Supreme and can thus be experienced on a deeper level as well.
The whole point of any spiritual pursuit is to find that “merging” with the Divine. Sex is a beautiful representation given by the Divine to showcase the level of connection that can be achieved with another, even God.
It’s provides a glimpse into sacred connection.
For me this fits well into Tantric sex. Tantric sex was a rebellion at that time (5,000+ years ago) against a religion that said in order to reach enlightenment you must be celibate. But in Tantra, sex is viewed as sacred and an actual opening to the Divine. Tantra is all about building and containing energy.
It is about experiencing a deepened connection with your partner. The closeness, trust and understanding built during Tantra is only a small insight into the Divine’s love for us.
We are also able to understand the Universal Law of Polarity through sexual union. Female energy (Kundalini Shakti-goddess) and male energy (Shiva-god) weave together. Working together. Intensely communicating. There is no dominance of any one gender’s fulfillment here.
Both are recognized and respected.
Now for anyone out there appalled that I have focused a conversation about the Divine on SEX……be still your racing heart. Of course there are other conversation to be had about God. The magnificence. The beauty. The glory.
But at this point for me personally, I am in my own skirmish with the Divine. I am still recovering from fundamentalist Christianity if you will.
So I will leave deeper discussions about God to other enlightened Yogis (;
5. Aparigraha–Not Grasping (wanting what you already got)
~Sanskrit (‘a’=non, “parigraha”=to grasp/crave)
There is certainly an aspect here of not being greedy. Not accumulating more than is needed. Simplicity in living.
For example, I have 30+ lipsticks. WHY!? I just keep buying more and more never finishing any of them. That is wasteful.
Controlling our needs/wants can bring a great sense of security. “I have what I need. I am content.” “There is no desire for more”
The intense attachment to NEEDING something in our life brings us suffering Alcohol and Fried Chicken.
Last year I felt a deep craving to move. I spent every waking moment thinking about moving and pursuing any lead to make that happen. The craving was so intense that I could not be happy in daily life.
I felt such desperation and anxiety. My strong attachment to the idea that I would be happy somewhere else caused me to suffer greatly. It caused my marriage to suffer. And I gained 10 lbs.
Gaining weight was the final straw! Lol. I knew that I could not continue on like that. There was a reason the move never worked out.
Yes PLEASE pursue what you want out of life. Of course have goals. But remember to observe and listen if it’s not working out. Ask if there is another reason for the closed door?
Be persistent with the goal (job fulfillment) but flexible in the details (I’m now an entrepreneur in IL where it’s cheap to live).
And in a practical way, not grasping for more also allows resources to allocate where truly necessary for everyone:
Turn off the water when you’re brushing your teeth
Only order food that you can finish
Don’t be a chronic returner filling our landfills
Spend within your means not just to keep up with the Jones’s
Learn to take care of yourself so that you don’t overwhelm others