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The Five Yama

Exploring the Five Yama: A Journey to Understand the Essence of Yoga - By Tim Steel

Reading time: 4 minutes

The silent stillness of the air hung effortlessly between Zen Ki and his teacher Kisen. Kisen waited patiently for Zen Ki to respond to his exploration of the five Yama and their pivotal role in changing an asana practice from a stretch and relax routine into a far more complete immersive experience.

Zen Ki looked blankly at Kisen hoping enthusiastically for a prompt. Finally, Kisen took the lead.

‘Look what you need to get your little head around is this. No Yama, No Yoga. Know Yama, Know Yoga. It’s that straight forward.’ Kisen shuffled on his meditation zafu before continuing. ‘Yoga is the seamless union between the formlessness that is mind with the phenomenal world that your life is expressed as, right now. In truth they have never been and cannot be separate or two. The yoking is experiential for the practitioner and so we use Yama as a tool to engage in embodying this side of our growth and practice.’

‘Oh! I see!’ responded Zen Ki hoping to extrapolate a further explanation from his teacher whilst simultaneously wishing to appear engaged in a full understanding of the matter at hand. In truth he was being somewhat distracted by the delicious Jammie Dodgers he had noticed Kisen had on the little table, which lay between them.

Struggle as he might, Zen Ki couldn’t help but think the little Dodgers would go very nicely with his Earl Grey tea, which was now seemingly going cold at the expense of listening to Kisen.

Kisen continued nevertheless. ‘The first of the Yama is Ahimsa, it’s the practice of non-violence in thought word and deed.’

Zen Ki interrupted, ‘So to scoff down say,’ he paused briefly feeling for what he felt were the right words, ‘a Jammie Dodgers’ He paused again intimately exploring every syllable as they formed the words that began to fall from his lips. ‘Is ok really, as no one has suffered or hopefully even come to an untimely end in the pursuit of its consumption!’

Zen Ki without realising had begun the journey from his own zafu and was reaching over to grasp the pack of biscuits from the far side of the table. Kisen with perfect timing intercepted his attempt and scurried them away.’

‘Pay attention!’ He scolded smacking Zen Ki on the back of the hand.

‘Sorry they are just so delicious, so very tempting. I think it’s the little Jammie bit in the middle!’

‘At least that embodies the second one I suppose!’

‘The second one, I’ve not had a first one yet!’ protested Zen Ki.

‘The second Yama, not a second biscuit ya fool! Satya or truthfulness. Inarguably the strongest of sanitisers. The natural light to any language and in this case highlighting nicely the need to observe the third Yama, Asteya, the practice of not taking that which isn’t yours!’

Zen Ki moved uncomfortably in his seat trying to avoid his teacher’s laser blue piercing eyes. Kisen however leant over with the Dodgers and offered forward the now open pack, ‘Would you like one?’

‘Oh, I think I would thank you; I must say I have a hankering for a little cheeky Dodgers from time to time!

Kisen sat back in his chair and smiled a dry smile to himself but couldn’t help his head from shaking from side to side in disbelief and wonder for the natural opening life was offering as a teaching to Zen Ki before his very eyes

‘The fourth Yama is Brahmacharya’ he began, ‘which can be seen as having a sense of something greater established in your self-awareness. A sense of the non polaric divine expressed through all phenomena, a sense which encourages the yogic practitioner away from a sense of self-indulgence.’

Zen Ki chewed slowly on his biscuit and decided it was best not to ask for a second one after all or risk the wroth of his teacher!

‘Swallow it!’ Kisen insistently pressed the point.

Zen Ki did so and then sipped his tea to wash it down. It turned out that his tummy was less interested in spiritual growth than perhaps his higher parts of consciousness and began to make subliminal enquiries as to the likelihood of a second biscuit after all!

Kisen soldiered on. ‘The final Yama, the fifth one for your consideration and for you to committedly observe is called Aparigraha.’

‘Apara what!’ Zen ki responded.

‘Aparigraha! It means to not accumulate in a possessive way!’ Kisen reached down and retrieved the biscuits from the floor where they had been resting somewhat nervously away from Zen Ki’s enthusiastic reach and tossed them across to him. ‘Yes!’ Zen Ki exclaimed without thinking! ‘Oh, I’m sorry did I say that out loud!’

‘You did!’ retorted Kisen. Zen Ki happily opened up the biscuits for them both to share and laid them out on the table next to his tea.

‘In truth my young Zen Ki, these are not religious dogma or commandments of an unseen god. They are solely offered as guidance to the aspirant from those teachers that have gone before who deemed them useful to the yogi’s journey.’

With that the two of them became lost in conversations of wild vinyasas and legends of handstands that supposedly had gone on for ever.

Zen Ki the unclever monk though on the way and not yet a master in his own right had actually grasped the most important of dharmas. To be emersed in the joy of just being is the very expression of the yoking that the ancient Yoga teachers had revealed.





Tim Steel

Tim has been teaching and practicing yoga for over thirty five years and is an ordained Soto Zen Buddhist monk.