Five spiritual practices that help you be your best self

The Five Yamas

Lessons from the yoga mat

The Yamas are one of the spiritual practices I learned about in yoga. The Yamas, when practiced with intention, add to your groundedness and balance, allowing you to live in peace, good health and harmony with yourself and your world.


I talk about spiritual neuroscience a lot

Spiritual neuroscience teaches how negative behaviors became habits by repetition, which is the good and the not-so-easy-to-take news. The good news: Once you start repeating intentionally positive behaviors, you can actually create new patterns and habits that will eventually replace the old. The other news: It can be so challenging to begin to let go of the behaviors you used to protect yourself early in your life. It can feel so tender and so uncomfortable when you start making these changes. You are not alone. Your heart knows your true essence, trust your heart. Remembering the good news will it easier for you to make each effort willingly — one thought, one word, one action at a time. It will pay off. I’m living proof. (You can read other articles I’ve written about neuroscience here, here, and here.)

I like to look at spiritual practices for transforming consciousness through many different lenses.

I recently learned about the five Yamas (and their sister practices the Niyamas, which I’ll come back to in another post, if you find this one useful), in a yoga class, of course. The Yamas are described as universal, and outer-oriented, in the teachings. But what I really like is applying each principle from the inside out. How am I treating myself? First I look at my relationship to myself, and when that is in balance, then I can apply the same principles to my family, friends, community, clients, colleagues — in ever-expanding ripples, to my world.

Let’s look at these spiritual practices as the gentle and powerful internal shift-makers they can be

  • Ahimsa — compassion, doing no harm. Remember that your own sovereign, sacred, essential self is the same one you honor in the people you love and serve. When you say “Namaste” at the end a yoga class, recognize the internal Divine in yourself first. When a client wants to do forgiveness work, I tell her to begin by first seeing herself at peaceful and content, to visualize herself as healed and forgiven before she extends that same prayer outward.
  • Satya — truthfulness. How do you describe yourself to yourself? How do you talk to yourself? When you are harsh, and judgmental, you are thinking and speaking from fear, resignation, disappointment, and bitterness. Start by changing the way you talk to and about yourself. Cut yourself the same slack you freely give a loved one. Be your own loved one. Try this: imagine putting your arm around yourself with love and compassion. Then speak the real truth, the one that reminds you that you are a child of the Divine.
  • Asteya — non-stealing. More than just about the tangible, we can look even deeper. What old feelings of deprivation and entitlement drive you to be out of balance in your relationship with yourself and with your world? Are you demanding more time from friends, loved ones, and teachers than you really need? Reclaim your balance with gratitude and generosity. Express gratitude, daily, and give of your time, your treasure, and your talents. Stretch yourself: share a little more gratitude and give a little more of what you have than you think you possibly could; that little bit more is a powerful healing.
  • Bramacharya — moderating the senses, lack of excess. What keeps you from standing in your sovereignty? One place to look is at your excesses. Are you living in balance, or are you manifesting addictive behaviors so much that you can’t feel the ground under your feet? Start here: Choose your media wisely: what you read, what you watch. Make intentional choices about what you eat, and about the people in your life. Moderation opens the way to a more mindful and balanced life.
  • Aparigraha — absence of greed. When we enjoy what we have with equanimity, without grasping too tightly, we are manifesting this quality. How is your balance here? Do you take the same care of others’ possessions as you do your own? Do you hold on so tightly that you lose the ability to release what no longer serves you? Are you trying to get others to love you so you can feel better about yourself? If you tend to hold on too tightly, step back and let go a little. If you are afraid to show up and claim what’s yours, take a slightly firmer grip. Find your balance.

So, beautiful, what do you think? How are you folding these spiritual practices into your own life? Let me know in the comments. Blessed be!

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I’m a barely tamed hippie, sage, seasoned, sarcastic (not all the time any more, but still). I’m a mom, a daughter, sister, a neighbor, and a friend. I’ve been on this meandering journey — like you, probably — seeking a better connection to and experience of peace, harmony, and fun in every bit of life. I’m single, quite good at it, and mostly love it. I’m here for the conversations I get to have with you, which these days center on exploring the mystery and beauty of life, work, health, aging, and creative expression. Want to know a little more about me and my journey? Explore the site. Read the blog. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and LinkedIn.

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    • Monica, thanks and welcome, nice to see you here.

      Great comment; Turning that tendency around opens the door to major transformations, I think. Because absent the inner shift, what you end up with doesn’t have the same strong foundation you can see when you’ve done the inner work.


  1. Sue, I love this piece about these virtues. As humans, we need to continually view and review these, always asking how we can honor them more fully and learn from them more deeply.

    • Chara, welcome here.

      There’s a blessing in that reality you describe so well — continually committing and reviewing keeps me so nicely on my chosen path. And that’s a good thing.

      Love and light,

    • Tracie, thanks for the loving acknowledgement, and I love how we can lean on each other for inspiration.

      Love and magic,

  2. I’m a bit of a spiritual neuroscience nerd myself! I love the idea that we are all “one good thought” away from something (or something else) wonderful. Today I am grateful for the willingness to continue to learn and grow. Thanks for being a part of that.

    • Andrea, so happy to share the love of neuroscience with you! And thanks for the way you put this: being one good thought away from something wonderful. Love it!

      Blessed be,

  3. Ahimsa is still my favorite Yama to write about. Not only is it the practice of compassion and non violence towards others but also one’s self. I see the practice of ahimsa as a way to make peace with the judge and jury inside your head 😉

    • Peggy, that’s it! Making peace with the pack of yammering monkeys in my head. So much more accessible — do-able — than having a goal of eliminating them altogether.

      I don’t think that ever happens, but when we can make peace with it/them, we don’t get as sucked in, right?

      For me it’s like the negative yammering becomes more like an out-of-tune radio station. I get that something is there, but I can’t really hear it very well.

      Thanks for the comment!

  4. This is so full of wisdom! I loved the truth of this article. It is amazing that we can go so far without realizing loving the sacred means loving ourselves. Just getting that in my life. Your article is beautiful and offers truth and inspiration. Fabulous!

    • Kimberly, hi. Welcome.

      That’s beautiful. I am tattooing this on my heart: “Loving the sacred means loving ourselves.” In fact, I am also tweeting it — crediting you, of course. Thanks!


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