II:31 Jāti deśa kāla samayānavacchinnāh sārvabhaumā mahāvratam
These great vows are universal, not limited by social standing, place, time or circumstance.

This is the thirty-first sutra of the second chapter of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. It refers to the previous sutra, which lists the five yamas (non-violence, truthfulness, not-stealing, continence, and non-greed). The yamas are the first of the eight limbs of ashtanga yoga – ashta (eight) anga (limbs). The fact that Patanjali lists the yamas as the first of the eight limbs suggests they are the starting point for all the others.

Patanjali is making it clear that, for serious practitioners of yoga, these observances should not be broken by any excuse (class, place, time or circumstance).

Class: Whether we are upper, middle or working class, royalty, or part of the 1% of billionaires.

Place: Whether we are in Dublin, India, the Sahara Desert, the Arctic circle. Whether we’re at home, at work, at the yoga shala, on holidays or in our parents’ house (can you see where this is going at this time of year?).

Time: Time of day, time of year, time of the month, Christmas Day. Also, the ‘age in which we live’ does not give us an excuse to ignore the yamas.

Circumstance: A lottery win, a stressful time at work, illness, the birth of a new baby, the death of a loved one, any situation we find ourselves in or anything that happens to us; that is circumstance.

So this is very clear. If we want to become yogis and live in a state of equanimity we should try to follow the yamas all the time, regardless of time, place, and our own personal circumstances or history.

That is not easy. In fact, if we were to try and follow all five yamas even for an hour we would start to notice that it is very difficult.

Here’s a suggestion for you over the Christmas period. Pick one yama and observe your ability or inability to follow that for a week. Just to bring one’s attention towards the yamas is the first step in the process.

Pattabhi Jois used to say that, through the practice of the ashtanga yoga method, the yamas (and niyamas) would happen automatically. It depends, of course, what he meant by ‘practice’. I don’t think he just meant the postures and the breathing, bandha, and drishti. To him, practice was a much more all-encompassing term for living the life set out in the yoga sutras.

So if we are to go deeper with our practice we should give some thought to the other limbs. Maybe observing our reactions to the concept of the yamas is a good place to start?

As the old Ram Dass quote goes, “if you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family”. So what better time to start practising the yamas than Christmas?

II:30: ahimsa satyāsteya brahmacaryāparigrahā yamāh
Yama consists of non-violence, truthfulness, not-stealing, continence, and non-greed