Integrity and a Yamas Refresher

by Jill Sockman

I’ve come to use #specialtimes to describe events of late. By the accounts of many around me, we are in the midst of a time of big transitions, and I don’t just mean the weather. It’s all pushed me to pause to take a look at just what integrity means. So you might want to settle into your seat or scroll down right now, as I have the feeling this is going to take a hot minute.

The word integrity means “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character” and “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” What does that even mean — moral and ethical principles? Is there a commonly accepted code of ethics by which to select right action? Why, yes. Yes, there is. And it happens to be the foundation of the practice, and the first of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga: The Yamas. Perhaps we all could use a refresher…

Ahimsa– literally, non-violence. Thinking, speaking, acting, living in a way that does the least amount of harm. Sounds simple, but is it? Are you practicing ahimsa on your mat? With your loved ones? With yourself? It starts with basic kindness and ultimately comes down to living without fear — no need to diminish, convert or take from anyone else, as there is enough for everyone. How can you avoid spreading or creating more negative energy in this world? By doing the least amount of harm, always.

Satya– Truth. And please note that is with a capital T. It’s good to recognize that while there may be many co-existing, conflicting facts in this world, the Truth is not a grey area. That doesn’t necessarily mean it lives right on the surface. It’s often something we have to dig for, make peace with, and then choose (often with great resistance) to live in alignment with, regardless of the opinions of others. There’s a reason ahimsa comes first. Because you have to live in Truth, in a non-harming way. This isn’t all as easy as it might seem on the surface.

Asteya–  literally, non-stealing. This always sounds like the easy one to yogis– “well of course I don’t steal!” So, let’s take a closer look. Asteya means not taking what doesn’t belong to you. And that’s not just shoplifting; it includes the material world and the physical, mental and emotional realms. Examples might include taking credit for someone else’s ideas, soliciting a co-worker’s client, turning another’s emotional distress into your own, taking advantage of someone’s kindness, interrupting someone in conversation (stealing their time). There are endless ways to consider how we take what isn’t ours. It’s not kind, and it’s not in alignment with Truth.

Brahmacharya– traditionally, twelve years of celibacy. Oh, I’d love to see the look on your face. Here, you have to take into account the original context — and that is a bunch of young men in an ashram setting. If you’re going to really study and learn, you’ve got to work to redirect all of that sexual energy or you’ll never get anywhere. And in some cases that applies today…maybe not the twelve-year part, but still something to think about. In a more general way, brahmacharya is about preserving your vital energy and moving through this world with an awareness about how you expend the energy you have, and being sure it is in alignment with your Truth. Hi, satya, good to see you again.

Aparigraha– non-possessiveness, or non-hoarding. This is a tough one, as we live in what is probably the most material-focused, consumer-driven culture that has ever existed. Aparigraha means to have only what you need, as the more you have, the more time and energy it takes to sustain it…which takes us back to brahmacharya, right? Aparigraha requires us to learn detachment and flow. Nothing really belongs to us, and when we are in the flow of ahimsa, satya, asteya and brahamcharya — doing the least amount of harm in how we live, acting and speaking from a place of real Truth, not taking from others and always putting our energy to the best use — it’s much easier to see that what we need is what we have, and what we have is what we need.

We are all a work in progress, with an emphasis on the word WORK. Are there any places in our shared Code of Ethics that you could use a little self-reflection or work? Perhaps this tome of a message can be a nudge in the right direction. A regular reminder on who we want to be and how we want to live can go a long way in shifting our thoughts and actions to make our lives – and the lives of others – so much better.