Yama : Benefits of restraint & a non-reductive interpretation

Image credit Max OppenheimImage credit Max Oppenheim

Image credit Max Oppenheim

Yama :

Benefits of restraint

Written March 2020

My sincere feelings of loving support to those of you who are struggling in any way in this time.

All of your practice has served you up until this point and whilst in it will help you feel lighter, in light of seemingly extreme circumstances. Coronavirus and the economic crash are two tidal waves of a sea that was always there, if we care to look! Take solace in the fact you ARE that wave, inclusive of the energy which drives it. 

Sounds far fetched?

Then read on…

Yoga to me is a way to exist in peace, with knowledge of our true nature. Our true self is much more connected to the environment than we often give credit for, so to be 

Yoga is a practice in each moment off the mat as well as on. At times like it comes as a disguised reminder to be present and build that awareness of your greater aspects beyond your physical practice.

Yama is commonly understood to be a practice of restraint, and we can see a situation like this as encouraging us towards acceptance of restraint towards many things. So a practice of restraint helps us with the behaviour more than the situation. It’s beneficial to practice restraint when the going is good in preparation of times like this where we can feel more grounded in the environment of seeming lack and tendency towards panic. Of course there never is lack when you’re connecting to your spirit, which is limitless and ultimately immaterial.

When we deepen our practice of Yama, we come to realise the potential difference between asana and yoga practice. A posture with application of these principles brings us into a fuller experience of our complex interconnected being and prepares us for the advanced practices of direct connection to our true self, such as sense withdrawal and meditative concentration. 

A reminder of 5 yamas :

1 Ahimsa

commonly translated as NON-VIOLENCE

2 Satya


3 Asteya

Commonly translated as NON-STEALING

4 Brahmacharya

Common translated as ABSTINENCE

5 Aparigraha

Commonly translated as NON-ATTACHMENT

Note above a few mentions of the common translations which have been interpreted upon translations from a span of over 2000 years and numerous Indian and (more recently) Western cultures.

Simon Borg Olivier offers a refreshing and non reductive perspective on the yamas which makes them more relevant to us modern minds, and which I draw this interpretation from. I honour him and all his teachers with this inference.

If we take Ahimsa as literal “without violence” it doesn’t really hold up in our world which humans don’t judge to be particularly violent day to day, it’s not hard to refrain from violence (that we know of) for most of us.

So we can make this yama more relevant and applicable by calling it gentleness. I suppose most people don’t really need to try to be non violent in their own perspective, but we can all work towards being gentle. 


It is indeed an art form to be gentle and graceful in as many circumstances as you care to be conscious of. Asana shows us.

It encourages and cultivates conscious presence to guide the objects of your physical surroundings gently, to treat the whole world as if you were guiding a helpless baby, then you embody the caring compassionate nature of your true self.

Diligently practicing ahimsa and noticing if frustration, or another expression of mental attack or resistance accompanies your experience as a baseline is practicing ahimsa, you don’t need to be a saint! 

Behaviours can materialise as fear or an inability to formulate empathy or reason at any scale. The skill of gentleness is refining it so much you can see through even these minor seeds that have potential to grow into gross behaviour. 

This way you can identify very quickly any and all attempts of attack or grievance, be them from your own mind or the nature of unlovingly reacting to and separating from others. 

Together with loving movement and breath, Simon Borg Olivier offers us a yogic interpretation of yama for modern people:

1 Gently

Move slowly and effortlessly

2 Honestly

as inside as outside

Move actively from core, 

not momentum or gravity

3 Generously / 


Giving space to listen to 

the body and breath

4 Efficiently

Modify use of energy, 

stretch less tense less

5 Free from


Intuitively flow, 

quell mental concepts

with proprioception

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