The yamas are the principles of ethical behavior for everyday life in our relationships with others and with ourselves, as written in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras outline the theory and practice of yoga.
Once you become familiar with the yamas, they grow and evolve with you as your life grows and evolves. When I was first exposed to the yamas, the principle that affected me most deeply was that of brahmacharya, or right effort.
Slowly throughout our lives we’re given lessons that guide us toward right effort, although the natural inclination is to cling, grasp and strive for what we want. Right effort speaks to the habit of stepping back, starting with OM, and easing our way through the journey.
It is easier said than done, just as all the simple yet profound lessons in life.
If you want to feel this in your body, sit on your mat with your legs stretched out in front of you. You may want to sit on a rolled up blanket if it is easier. On the exhale, slowly fold forward. This is paschimottanasana, seated forward fold. The tendency in this pose is to strain to reach your toes. The tendency is to strive to stretch as far as you can reach.
Yet this is a relaxation pose. In order to best feel this pose, bend your knees and rest your torso against your quads, then slowly straighten your legs and stop just before you begin to feel like you are straining. Now breathe deep and with each breath, you may find a bit more space to straighten your legs a bit more with each exhalation.
Now forget the pose and feel the experience. Let the breath breathe you and let go. Release. Resist the urge to grasp or cling to what you feel your perfect pose may be, just let the pose be whatever the pose is. Let your body be wherever it is today. Let yourself be.
The feelings that we experience in this pose – resisting the urge to strive and adopting the right effort – is a wonderful metaphor for life as conserving our energy and efforts and focusing on ease and finding more space in the body will help us find the true benefits that we are seeking.
Now apply this to your life right now. What are you grasping for? What do you want that you are not getting? What are you striving for? Step back and start with OM. Let go of the need to grasp.
One of my favorite quotes is ‘what we seek, we are’… I believe it’s Rumi. Whatever you seek in the world, you must first find within yourself before you ever find it outside of yourself. In different terms, if you never find love within yourself then you will never find love in the world. If you never find compassion within yourself, then you never find compassion in the world.
Step back and start with OM. Apply the right effort to whatever you are doing and avoid grasping, clinging and striving. This is what we can learn in seated forward fold, to practice right effort. This is brahmacharya.