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living those good vibrations: reflections on yogic ethics

According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, at the root of yogic practice is an ethical sensibility that reminds aspirants it’s not just what or why we practice but importantly how we practice.  Asana (body), pranayama (breath), and mental attention (meditation) are allies in cultivating the how aka ethical, or conscious, behavior. 

The Sanskrit word “yama” relates to the concept of ethics.  Sutra II.3 reads:

Ahimsa Satyasteya Brahmacaryaparigraha Yamah


Yamas consist of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-greed

Often referred to as “The Great Vows,” the Yamas, encourage restraints or reining in and are universal guiding principles that help regulate social order. Unlimited in their scope, Patanjali states that these vows are to be upheld regardless of place, time and social status. Cultivating a lifestyle of actions, words and deeds inspired by the great vows has many benefits. Sri Swami Satchidananda explains: precious life force is preserved and positive vibrations are shared, helping to elevate everyone to a higher state.  These vows, the Yamas, are:

Ahimsa — Non-Violence: Not causing pain in thoughts, words and deeds.

Satyam — Truthfulness: Speak and act from truth with clarity, honesty and authenticity

Asteya — Non-Stealing: Don’t take what is not yours

Bramacharya — Continence: The ancients would say to abstain from sex in support of  preserving energy in support of moving in the direction of the highest truth; conscious participation is likely more relevant today

Aparigraha — Non-Greed: Only take what is essential

The teachings of Patanjali place these ethics at the foundation of a yogi’s lifestyle: asana, pranayama and meditation. In the spirit of exploring yogic conscious behavior, consider:

Pick one yama to commit to for an entire day:  Wake up and set the intention to cultivate that yama all day. Start your day off authentically and set your intention in a way that is supportive for you. Practice breath awareness (below) for at least 5 minutes

At 1pm, pause, practice, reflect: Repeat the breath awareness practice for at least 5 minutes How is your process going so far? Course-adjust as needed.

In the evening, close the day with another 5 minutes of breath awareness and journal: What experience today most challenged your cultivating of your chosen yama?  Where were you successful? What did you learn? What insight can you take away from this experience?

Breath Awareness: Find a comfortable sitting or reclined position were the body is at complete ease. Close your eyes and become aware of the fact that you are breathing. Notice the sensation of the breath wherever is easier for you - perhaps the feeling of the breath in the nostrils, as it hits the upper lip or as is moves the rib cage and abdomen. Commit to watching the breath, just being with each natural inhale and exhale. If and when your attention wanders, just notice that it did, and lovingly, kindly return your attention to the breath.


lotus watercolor by Ann of Nashville

text by Jillian Bobwicz: Jillian writes with a heartfelt intention to support others by sharing insight and information she has gained through 15 years of practicing Yoga and Ayurveda. A lifelong environmentalist and feminist she is passionate about women’s health and aspires to live more deeply in tune with the rhythms of nature as they manifest in her body and surroundings. Jillian holds certifications from YogaWorks(500hrs), The California College of Ayurveda, Cornerstone Doula Training, Karma Kids Yoga, Mama Tree Prenatal Yoga and earned a Bachelors Degree from the University of Delaware focused on History and Journalism. She is currently on hiatus from teaching yoga and building a career in Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability with an emphasis on women’s and family health. 


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