Find Balance This Holiday With The 5 Yamas of Yoga
Yoga Tools for the Holidays.
It’s about love and connection.
The holiday season is a time of family gathering. We sit around tables, gather around menorahs and trees to celebrate, attend community functions, and share togetherness. But what happens when those reunions are filled with disparate points of views or difficulties? How do we muster the tools to survive them?
In yoga, we are offered five principles that aid in both the positive and difficult times. The yamas, or ethics, are one of the eight limbs of yoga as described by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras which were documented by Patanjali in around 400 AD outline eight limbs of yoga which function as scaffolding for how to live our lives. They are:
Yamas: ethics Niyamas: observances Asana: physical poses of yoga Pranayama: breath work Pratyahara: withdrawal of senses Dharana: concentration Dhyana: meditation
All of these limbs show up in successful yoga classes, but it is the yamas which are most helpful during the holidays. The yamas are a guide of how to live ethically with regards to our relationships with other people. By observing the yamas we can effectively navigate even the most challenging conversations, people and moments. To that end, let’s explore each of these yamas in light of the holiday season and how they fit in our relationship toolbox.
Ahimsa is translated as “non-violence.” Upon initial review of this term many yogis think Patanjali was talking about not fighting or harming another person or living being. While that approach also holds, when it comes to our families and ourselves ahimsa has a broader role. We practice ahimsa in our relationships when we do not let our thoughts about another person or ourselves be harmful. We do not speak in a way that can make someone else suffer. We remember that our words and thoughts can be as painful as any weapon and are reminded to always pause with a few breaths before speaking. Ahimsa tells us that even the most disparate views have merit and it is upon us to treat all people with care.
Satya means truthfulness or truth. When we speak in an untruthful way we are not practicing our yoga. Often in family gatherings we tender our words with statements that are untruthful to prevent argument or discomfort. But the result of these falsehoods is that we are left with discomfort and unease within our spirits. To live our truth, our satya, we must be honest with ourselves and equally with others. Satya is being practiced both when we speak honestly and also when we act in accordance with our truth. If topics arise during the holidays which do not resonate with our satya, we can chose to talk openly about how we disagree or we can chose to not participate because doing so does not honor our truth. It is also helpful to remember that when others speak/live their satya it is right to do so even if their truth does not match ours.
Asteya is non-stealing. Patanjali most likely meant that yogis should not be taking from others in a literal sense. But clearly he also considered the use of this term beyond that definition. During the holidays it is easy to tune out those that challenge us. We sit pretending to listen, go through the motions of a meal or holiday tradition, or merely close off from those around us. We can drift off to think about other things or draw our attention to a holiday special on TV because the conversation or actions are uncomfortable. However when we do these moments of mentally stepping away, we are stealing from those communicating/interacting with us. Additionally, if staying in those situations is too difficult we are stealing from our own selves by staying. Reflect before you leave either mentally or physically about whether you are practicing asteya and see what shifts you can do to not steal from yourself or others.
Brahmacharya is restraint. There is almost no other yama that is more effective during holiday season than brahmacharya. When we are with our families we often have to practice restraint in eating, speaking and spending. Rather than blowing up in a conversation or starting a fight, breathe deeply and practice restraint first. Instead of eating food that will make you feel sick later, start with smaller portions. If you feel you need to spend lots of money on gifts to impress your family members consider donations to a charity or smaller, homemade ones instead. Ask yourself if you are being indulgent and how can you step back a bit.
Aparigraha is defined as “non-coveting.” Family gatherings are ripe with comparisons. We judge ourselves against our siblings, our parents, our cousins and our past. We look at what they have, who they are, what they are giving and how they look. We use them as litmus test for whether we are worthy. Aparigraha reminds us to keep our eyes on our own mats, to look at ourselves as individual successes and not as a reflection of others. By practicing non-coveting we can let go of feeling less than or better than, but instead we see that we simply are. Aparigraha allows us to release the ideas of giving the best gift, having the best life, making the best meal and so on. It gives us freedom to be ourselves in the most genuine and unique ways.
Through living the yamas we can look forward to family gatherings as places of love and connection rather than struggle. We can use these tools to support ourselves and to be effective and warm members of a community. They offer us a way to move through the holidays with grace and to offer affection and appreciation for both our families and ourselves.
Nancy Alder is a writer, yoga teacher and mom. She is co-author of the book, The Living Mala. The Living Mala book is about bringing the practice of yoga into all aspects of life, creating a living practice.
Originally published at metiza.com on December 11, 2016.