The Yamas as Social Conduct Bring Inner Transformation

By  Vanessa Webb | 


The literal translation of Yama is “restraint”.  They are the restraints influencing our social conduct. Yet, in the practice of them, they also influence us deeply as an individual.  Living by them as a guideline, the Yamas alter our inner blueprint of perspective.  In their simplicity, they cultivate personal insight that can be game changing.  I say “simple” because, when unfamiliar with these codes of conduct, many people commonly bluster, “W-well I’m not violent”.  And of coarse we’re not.  Each Yama is a code of conduct that any logical adult can understand, it’s our emotions that need the updating. We don’t go about physically hurting others, nor do we carry the intent to do so.  However, we are aggressive (violent) internally, through our thoughts (to self or otherwise), most definitely in our speech to one another, and in our careless actions.  All of these have a ripple effect which we don't often consider. 

When we hear the word “restraint”, we opt to run for the hills.  We’re a species that wants to be able to do what we want as it suits us; and so, we consider “restraint” a deprivation of that.  We think we’re losing our freedom, and that we’re being told what we can and cannot do.  We think we’re being stripped of our freedom to make one decision which suits one emotion, followed by a completely different decision based on the emotion which arrives a few minutes later. We think we’re being torn from the ensuing confusion that arises from “liking” and “wanting” based on the highs and lows of what we think and feel.  Somehow this is considered “freedom” in the modern world. What’s startling is that this is a form of enslavement. Living in this way is being weak to our whims.  The Yamas make it very clear to us, how much of our lives we’re living based on our emotions.

The irony is, that we have freedom only when we learn restraint. The Yamas as restraints, help us to define ourselves, they help us understand who we are as deeper than the whims.  The ocean has many waves, all manner of size, chopping along the surface; but within the belly of the ocean, lies the buoyant current that flows cohesively.  That cohesive part of the ocean is where the species of the ocean live, they only come up to the surface for play.  

To be interested in waking up in the morning and defining our day by that list of Yamas, brings us layer through layer into awareness around behaviours which could be cleaned up, so to speak.  We grow to become more familiar with those times when we overstep our bounds into another’s experience, we identify when we want to manipulate the truth so we can make something easier for ourselves, we feel it when we let a door close behind us in the face of the next person coming through. This increased awareness is actually increased knowledge of who we are.  This knowledge is what gives us our freedom.  Because this knowledge is the deeper buoyancy of the ocean that influences stable choices, unlike the choices of our whimsy, which chop around based on what wave we’re riding in the moment. 

The freedom we experience in our personal lives, through honouring the Yamas and seeking the personal information they reveal, is worth the moments of skin crawling discomfort that can arise from such revelations. But once we crawl through one personal discomfort and experience the groundedness on the other side, we never want to return to the careless whimsy of our weakness to a thought, which may never have been our own in the first place.  We’re free because we’re holding ourselves to a higher standard, we expect more from ourselves than what is media fed, and we learn that life isn’t about arriving at a perfected point. We no longer need to admire others for their “je ne sais quoi”, because we’ve found that “je ne sais quoi” within ourselves.  This is freedom.

*photo credit: southernliving