Week 4 in the books! Half way there!
I am going to do things a little bit different this week and share one of my favorite lectures from yoga training. I touched on it a bit in one of my first posts but wanted to dive a little deeper into the content because it just doesn’t apply to myself; someone going through yoga training, or even a yogi, but really everyone in general could benefit from this type of self- reflection. I love learning about this type of philosophy. It sparks so many questions and inward reflection that usually causes people running for the door. I'll probably lose half of you a few sentences in, but you should keep reading and really think about the meanings of the words and how it applies to your life at this very moment! It'll cause you to think and hmm, maybe think about being a better person.
It’s the idea of the Eight Limb Paths, the core of yoga. These eight steps are basically guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life and provide the structural framework for a yoga practice. One isn’t greater than the other; but serve as a moral and ethic conduct, self-discipline, reflection inward & outward in order to bring completeness to the individual. We all have our own understanding of yoga, our conceptions and thoughts either negative or positive, we practice for different reasons, and gravitate towards different styles and methods of teachers and styles. To me, yoga is all about connecting the body, spirit, and mind as well as becoming more self -aware of not only ourselves, but also how we react towards others around us. [I’ll spare you my thoughts, but if you want to read more you can read my first post here.]
Quick background-very brief: the foundations of yoga philosophy were written down in The Yoga Sutra of Pantanjali around 200 AD. This text is said to describe the inner workings of the mind and provides the Eight Limb Path for controlling its’ restlessness to enjoy an everlasting peace. So, you can see the physical and the mental component of yoga is equally as important. One doesn’t take priority of the other, it is all about balancing the two out to achieve a state of harmony.
OK, so what are the 8?
Yama : Universal morality
Niyama : Personal observances
Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Control of the sense
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi : Union with the Divine
The first two limbs that Patanjali describes are the fundamental ethical precepts called yamas, and the niyamas. Both are mostly concerned with how we use our energy in relationship to others and to ourselves. The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is yama, how we relate to ourselves inwardly is niyama. These are the two that I really want to focus on in the post, not because they are the most important, but after my own inward reflection they were the two that I felt I needed to work on the most and you will see why in a minute.
The first limb, yama, deals with one’s sense of integrity, focusing how we behave in our lives. Think of them as the rule you were taught when you were a little child, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The five yamas are:
Ahimsa: nonviolence; implies that in every situation we should adopt a considerate attitude and do no harm.
Satya: truthfulness, understanding that open and honest communication is the formation of any healthy relationship.
Asteya: non-stealing; This also means that if we are in a situation where someone entrusts something to us or confides in us, we do not take advantage of him or her.
Brahmacharya: continence or moderation of the sense.
Aparigraha: non-covetousness; take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy.
If we stick to the five yamas, the moral virtues, we can purify human nature and contribute to health and happiness of society. Easy right......?!
Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. They are more personal and intimate.
The five niyamas are:
Saucha: cleanliness, more important than the physical cleansing of the body is the cleansing of the mind of its disturbing emotions like hatred, passion
Samtosa: contentment, modesty and the feeling of being content with what we have and to be at peace within.
Tapas: heat; refers to the activity of keeping the body fit or to confront and handle the inner urges without outer show.
Svadhyaya: I love saying this word! It's the study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self, find self-awareness in all our activities and efforts, even to the point of welcoming and accepting our limitations. It teaches us to be centered and non-reactive to the dualities, to burn out unwanted and self-destructive tendencies.
Isvara pranidhana: surrender to God or give your energy to the divine being you believe in.
The other 6....
Asana is the physical posture and this is the limb that we are probably most familiar with and the strongest at! Here, we build strength, release tensions, improve mobility and circulation, and lastly explore and control our mind and emotions as thoughts arise throughout different poses.
Pranayama literal translation is “life force extension.” It is a breathing technique that is very important to yoga that will help guide you through your practice. It allows you to build heat in the body, link your moves and flow. I once had a teacher tell me that it wasn’t about the moves but about the breath. If you can just breathe through calmly then you can get through the practice. Once you have control over your breath you can have control over your mind. Think about it.
Pratyahara, the fifth limb, means withdrawal or sensory transcendence; a practice of non- attachment to sensorial distractions. We direct our attention internally and take a look at ourselves. This withdrawal allows us to objectively observe our cravings: habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and which likely interfere with our inner growth.
Dharana is focus or concentration. We focus our attention on a single point. Extended periods of concentration naturally lead to meditation. So, no multi-tasking!! You are focused on one thing, one point only. All of your attention is absorbed here.
Dhyana is ultimately a state of being keenly aware without focus. Meditation or contemplation.
Samadhi is a state of ecstasy. The body and senses are at rest, as if your asleep, yet the faculty of mind and reason are alert, as if awake; one goes beyond consciousness. The achievement of samadhi is a difficult task yet it's the goal of all yoga.
After reading these, where do you think you could spend some time of reflecting? I've always been working on the idea of ahimsa (part of the yamas) in the sense of how I react towards others and watching my reactions in situations. Am I reacting too quickly in ways that are violent (with words)? Or when I am confronted with violence or aggression, what can I do to end the cycle? How can I stop non-violent thoughts or words? I've noticed that I am more clam in situations and can handle stressful situations with ease. Little things that I thought were once important, don't seem to both me as much- you know what I am talking about- you miss you workout- your coffee order was wrong, you missed the train, you had your whole day planned but nothing went as scheduled...etc. Another one that I've been trying to work on is dharana. I used to think that you could multi-task, but can you really give 100% effort into 5 things that you are trying to do at once? I am now trying to focus solely at the task on hand with intention and then move on to the next.
What about you? In what areas of your life could you afford to be more aware of your actions as they happen? How could you practice "aparigraha"? In other words, do you really need all of the things that you own? Where could you practice more moderation in your life? Does the idea of instant gratification hold you back from reaching any of your goals? What can you do to stay more grounded and in the present moment?