Internal Housekeeping: The Yamas

Do you ever have those days (or periods of time) when everything seems a bit foggy? When you can’t think clearly, can’t figure out right from wrong, can’t remember things, get upset over things you know you shouldn’t be upset about, or feel down for no reason? Those times when your perception of reality just doesn’t seem to match up with actual reality?

The mind is a vast window through which we perceive ourselves and the world around us. When it is dirty, everything seems distorted. According to Ayurveda, this dirt comes in the form of toxins (ama). Ama can be physical, affecting neuro-circuits, blocking channels, or causing accumulation such that our physical brain does not work effectively. But it can also be more subtle, showing up in the form of challenging emotions and dysfunctional ways of thinking and perceiving.

The profound concept that Ayurveda offers is that the physical and subtle realms are connected. As beliefs and opinions solidify into one’s perceived reality, the brain structurally and physically shifts with the development of physical toxins. One needs to work on the internal state of the mind to help the physical body, and cleanse the body of toxins to help the mind—they go hand-in-hand.

The first step in this internal housekeeping is to clear out the dirt so that one does not continuously perceive experiences through distorted lenses. The dirt is those belief patterns, opinions, judgements, attitudes, and ways of reacting that do not serve us well and incorrectly shape our view of the world.

In Buddhism, the defilements are called kleshas, such as anxiety, fear, anger, jealousy, craving, and depression. In Vedic and Jain traditions, the defilements are narrowed down to roots of attachment, greed, anger, or pride.  

The Yamas

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras teach us that the antidotes to this physical and mental clutter are the yamas (self-regulating behaviors and abstinences) and niyamas (personal practices). They are the prescription to expand and bring clarity to our consciousness.

Let’s begin with the yamas as they are geared towards rewiring the brain and removing those dysfunctional habits—they are the appropriate codes of behavior. The niyamas (which we will explore more in Part Two), work to maintain ongoing clarity once the window of perception has been cleared.

  1. Ahimsa. Translated as “non-violence,” this practice is about more than not physically hurting another being or one’s own self. It is about making sure our thoughts, speech, and actions are rooted in compassion and love—even when it’s hard—in order to promote positivity and harmony. It is believed that even the subtle vibrations of unspoken thought can and does affect others and most profoundly one’s own self.
  2. Satya. Translated as “truthfulness,” satya is about being ever present in the now and recognizing and appreciating what is. It is about living out our commitments, doing what we say we will do, and not being misleading or manipulative in our speech in order to create an outcome that we desire. In doing so, we become honest to the true nature of ourselves, the pure soul that resides within.
  3. Brahmacharya. Brahmacharya is translated as “celibacy.” The teachings and references to brahmacharya are often centered around sex because of how easily sexual energy can be—and often is—misused and mismanaged. Ultimately, however, the goal behind this teaching is to conserve one’s life force and energy, directing it toward spiritual growth.
  4. Asteya. Asteya, or “non-stealing,” is related to honesty and truthfulness in that it is a commitment to not be deceitful to another being. This commitment also asks us to live from the belief that we have everything we need and will always have what we need—that there is abundance all around us.
  5. Aparigraha. Translated as “non-possessiveness,” aparigraha is the recognition that ultimately nothing is ours and that this world is ever changing. In doing so, we can let go of attachments that bind us and hold us down, as well as the fear, anger, anxiety, and depression that often arise alongside those attachments. This is one of the biggest social challenges of our time, as we live in a commercially driven society. Aparigraha is a reminder to take and use only what is needed.

How to Incorporate the Yamas into Daily Life

Living according to the yamas can feel overwhelming, as it certainly is a very high code of conduct. It requires discipline (tapas). The mind will revolt, wander, give excuses, or mislead to get back to its familiar way of acting. The mind needs time and space for new habits to form. Try these tools when working with your clients.

  • Set an intention and affirmation. Taking a pause every morning or several times during the day to realign with the yamas and a feeling of intention is a powerful way to reset the mind.
  • Meditate. The process of meditating provides space for insight. In meditation, the subconscious can show certain patterns of thinking or events that may have caused a belief, and then allow for healing. Using Focus liquid extract before meditating can help one become centered and clear in the process of observing the subconscious.
  • Cleanse. Any cleansing on a subtle level can be complemented and potentiated by a physical cleanse. This will help the toxins that are released on a mental and physical level to move out of the body. Even a simple mono-diet of kitchari can do wonders to preserve the digestive fire for processing thoughts and emotions instead of hard-to-digest foods.

    Using Nasya Oil as part of your routine during the cleanse will assist in lubrication and cleansing of the mind, as the nostrils are considered the doorways to the brain.
  • Journal. Start with one yama every week. Encourage your client to spend some time every day journaling about the beliefs and challenges around that particular yama and the process of working with it.

    For instance, if working with the yama of brahmacharya, help your client to become acutely aware of where their energy and attention travels throughout the day. In this way you can help them discover where their mind goes and what tends to distract them from the internal journey.