In my post back in September, I began discussing the 8-limbed path of yoga as laid out by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The 8 limbs serve as a road map by which we can come to achieve the goal of yoga, which is to calm our restless minds (citta vritti nirodhah) in order to reduce suffering and thereby learn to abide in the limitless freedom that is our own True Nature.
The first limb of yoga is yama which means “restraint.” If the goal of yoga is to abide in limitless freedom, it might seem strange then that the first thing we do is restrain ourselves. The word “restraint” and the word “freedom,” in fact, sound like they are in opposition to each other. Quite the contrary though, living our lives in accordance with these yamas actually helps us to still the turnings of our minds that normally cause anxiety and doubt, such that we can come to know a deeper type of freedom.
I would like to highlight something profound that Eddie Stern said at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence a few years back that really stuck with me. He said true freedom is not this lower version of freedom that most of us think of when we hear the word. Freedom is NOT doing whatever I want, whenever I want to. That is actually more like hedonism, and you are selling yourself short if that is all you believe is available to you. You are more than that. He went on to say that real freedom is the nature of your own True Being which is: complete Truth, unbound by anything (time, space, etc.), and the natural joy that comes from resting in that awareness.
There are 5 yamas or ethical disciplines that we following the path of yoga should adhere to as guidelines for how to conduct ourselves in relationship to the people and world around us if we hope to find this freedom of spirit. These include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (moderation), and aparigraha (non-hoarding). As Chip Hartranft so expertly points out in his translation of the Sutras, following these yamas “is not so much altruistic as it is practical.” While living in accordance with these values definitely benefits society, it just as much benefits YOU by virtue of the fact that this way of living reduces mental suffering and brings about peace of mind.