The Yoga of Relationships - Part One: The Yama

Caroline Layzell
The Yoga of Relationships - Part One: The Yama

Patanjali—possibly the most famous yoga philosopher ever—wrote the Yoga Sutra in the second century B.C. and created the eight-limbed path of yoga. He shared it as a roadmap that every yogi can take to reach the summit of human experience!

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra form a way of life that includes:

  • Yama – Outward restraints
  • Niyama – Personal disciplines
  • Asana – Physical postures
  • Pranayama – Breath control
  • Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses
  • Dharana – Concentration
  • Dhyana – Meditation
  • Samadhi – Enlightenment

These limbs are like guidelines for living a meaningful, purposeful existence, for becoming the best version of yourself, and for dealing with everyday stresses in life!

When we feel good about ourselves, we’re full of positive energy, love, and compassion that literally spills out of us and onto everyone around us and all areas of our lives!

Yama

The yama are concerned with how we use our energy in our relationships, offering yogis a solid ethical foundation. Following the golden rule of treating others as we’d like to be treated, the yama offer us a standard of integrity and a way to practice yoga off our yoga mats.

The Yoga Sutra identify the five yama as:

  • Ahimsa – Nonviolence
  • Satya – Truthfulness
  • Asteya – Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya – Abstinence
  • Aparigraha – Non-greed

The Yoga of Relationships

1. Nonviolence

While nonviolence can read as a reminder not to kill your mother-in-law or partner in a moment of rage, it also stresses the idea of living compassionately in general!

Being in tune with your own thoughts and actions helps you as a yogi to calm down and let go of anger and hatred. Ahimsa also means that we can’t be violent towards ourselves, including the way we treat our bodies and minds.

Applying this to your relationship:

There will always be challenges of some degree in relationships, something that triggers us to behave in a reactive way. When you find yourself in a heated moment, take time to watch it, sit with it, be aware of emotions that appear, and then mindfully practice compassion.

Take a deep breath, step back, and align with the bigger picture. Watch your thoughts, words, and actions. Remember that some things cannot be taken back.

2. Truthfulness

This yama insists that we speak the truth even when it seems easier to tell white lies. It asks us to conduct our lives with honesty in behavior, thought, and intention. It guides us to be careful with our words and to always speak with intention.

Applying this to your relationship:

Honest communication forms the basis of any healthy relationship, and deliberate mistruths and deception are harmful. Probably the hardest form of this practice is being true to our own heart and inner destiny.

Confusion or mistrust of our values make it hard to recognize our heart’s desire, and even when we do recognize it, we may lack the conviction to live our truth.

Being honest with ourselves takes courage. Sometimes, following what we need for our growth may mean leaving unhealthy relationships and taking risks that take us beyond our comfort zone. Be true to yourself. How else can you make others happy, without your own happiness intact?

3. Non-stealing

This includes cultivating a less materialistic view of life, reining in desires for things that aren’t ours to have. We’ve all been taught that stealing is wrong, but so is longing to have someone else’s success and lifestyle. It also asks that we don’t steal unnecessary time from people, as time is irreplaceable.

That doesn’t mean putting aside your dreams and goals and settling for what is in front of you. It means being comfortable with where you are right now, practicing gratitude and mindfulness for all that you have already have, and allowing yourself not to be distracted.

Remember that every day, you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be.

Applying this to your relationship:

Allow yourself to be fully present in the company of your partner. Spend quality time together each and every day, putting aside any distractions such as your phones and work! Make dinner, bath time, or that moment before sleep sacred times to share gratitude and love for what you have together, right now.

Agree to let go of any silly complaints to maximize quality time together.

4. Abstinence

When he wrote this yama, Patanjali definitely meant celibacy, which doesn’t really fit too well into our daily lives today! It was believed that sexual energy took the yogis focus away from their journey.

Applying this to your relationship:

Abstinence in this context means moderation in our actions to fill our sensual cravings. Avoid using your sexuality recklessly, choosing your sexual partner with care and ensuring that all intimacy comes from a place of love with someone who deserves and respects you.

It isn’t hard to see that manipulating and using others sexually creates pain, attachment, and resentment. Sex is one of the most powerful forms of communication in any relationship, so use it wisely.

5. Non-greed

As a generation, we’re obsessed with material goods! This yama encourages you to separate your true needs from what are simply desires or wants, to stop lusting after things that prevent us from recognizing that happiness is an inside job. It’s important to appreciate what you already have.

This yama also encourages us to let go of the need to control what happens next. Life changes, and it demands that we don’t hold on too tightly and are able to adapt and change with it.

Applying this to your relationship:

Remember that everyone needs space, that by holding tightly onto your partner you’re limiting both their growth and individuality, as well as potentially that of the relationship. Allow space for personal development. Have trust and faith in yourself and your ability to create your own happiness.

By finding peace and happiness, you’ll come to your relationships from a place of empowerment and compassion, both of which are highly attractive in a partner!