In 2007, one of my beloved yoga instructors gave me the assignment of spending a month thinking about the Yamas and keeping a journal to record my observations. It did not matter whether I spent the whole month observing only one or two, or all five. What mattered was cultivating awareness. Yoga, after all, is the practice of expanding our awareness to enable our spiritual growth. While I believed at the time that I had a pretty good handle on the Yamas, this exercise resulted in a deeper understanding of the endless variety of ways we can continue to practice, really practice, our yoga both on and off the mat. As in all things yogic, awareness was once again expanded.
Yama translates as Restraint and refers to the moral restraints that we observe toward others. Yama is the first limb of the Eightfold Path, or Eight Limbed Path (Asht'Anga) to spiritual enlightenment. The Yamas are categorized accordingly:
Ahimsa -Non-Violence, or restraining from violence in both word and deed.
Satya - Truth; being truthful to ourselves as well as others
Asteya - Non- Stealing; refraining from taking what is not ours
Aparigraha - Non-Hoarding; eliminating greed
Bramacarya - This is a tough one for the western mind to grasp. The true translation is abstinence from sexual activity. Kinder, gentler yogis of modern times have tweaked the translation a bit to something like: avoid promiscuity. The real reason for this particular yama is less about the immorality of promiscuity (a western concept), and more about the belief that spiritual energy is drained from men through ejaculation. Make of it what you will.