Ever wonder what yoga is beyond super flexibility and zen people wearing black yoga pants and chanting om? One of the historical teachings of yoga is in the ancient text, The Yoga Sutras. I am reading a translation by Sri Swami Satchinanda. I found myself meditating lately on the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The practice of asana, or yoga postures, is just one of the eight limbs Pantanjali offers us in this text. Asana is what brings many people to yoga in the first place, yet most people also find that the other limbs of yoga also resonate with them. They help guide us in the direction to lead healthier, happier lives. They help us find a way to live. I have been coming to the conclusion recently that that is what spirituality is all about, learning how to live a good life, whether or not you believe in God, Buddha, or Mother Earth, that seems to be the bottom line. The Good Life. A Good Life. Here are the Limbs:
- Yama (Abstinence)
- Niyama (Observance)
- Asana (Posture)
- Pranayama (Breath Control)
- Pratyahara (Sense Withdrawl)
- Dharana (Concentration)
- Dhyana (Meditation)
- Samadhi (Contemplation, Absorption, Super-Conscious State)
The first of the eight limbs references the Yamas, in particular practicing non-violence (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and non-greed (aparigraha). Non-violence is equivalent to not causing pain. In 2.35 he further clarifies that In the presence of one firmly established in non-violence, all hostilities cease. Finding non-violence in our physical yoga practice teaches us how to challenge ourselves healthfully. It teaches us how to turn off the hostilities and tensions we hold inside of us, and to stop bringing hostilities upon ourselves. We eventually learn to carry this off the mat and practice it in our lives. We soon realize that violence can come in the form of physical violence but also in thoughts, words, tone of voice, and actions. I notice it in my tone of voice to my family at times, and I can finally see the violence it brings back upon me.
Truthfulness is not lying. In sutra 2.36 he clarifies that for one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient. “All nature loves an honest person.” Being truly honest can also lead us to a state of fearlessness allowing us an open life. This brings us the fruits of work without doing the work, according to Pantanjali. Who doesn’t want that?!?! It also implies we should no longer tell white lies and if by being honest we will cause trouble, difficulty or harm to anyone, we should keep quiet. Instead of saying, “I don’t know,” we can be frank: “I know but I don’t want to tell.” As a yoga teacher I most definitely can’t lie about who I am, how I’m feeling, what I know and don’t know. We have to be willing to tell people what they don’t want to hear, show people what they don’t want to see. Over and over again. I find this to be a major challenge. Somewhere along the lines I learned that all conflict = bad and I am starting to realize that some conflict is good, it can offer that healthy challenge we all need to grow, an opportunity to see things from another perspective, an opportunity to see things outside of ourselves.
Continence is celibacy. YIKES, I KNOW. By one established in continence, vigor is gained says Pantanjali in Sutra 2.38. “It doesn’t mean you must completely stay away from sex. Instead, be moderate. Preserve as much energy as possible. A yogi should always keep this in mind. Teaching yoga is not like teaching history or geometry. The teacher must impart a life force – a little current – into others. How can he do this if he himself is weak, if he has a rundown, discharged battery?” ….all I can say about this is interesting perspective 🙂
Non-greed is not hoarding things, or not accumulating beyond our capacity to use things in the proper way. In sutra 2.37 Pantanjali states that to one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes. If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us. If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us. Kind of like personal relationships. If nature knows we aren’t greedy, she gains confidence in us, knowing we will never hold her for ourselves. May we all clean out our closets from time to time, internal and external. Having just finished up a fall dietary cleanse, there is something very energizing and inspiring about cleaning our diet, digestive system, giving our bodies a break, and also of getting rid of the piles of dust and crap that accumulate around our house. It helps us feel open, let go of old emotional patterns, pass things on to people who need them more than us. Do I really need 3 bikes, a car, a pantry that’s stocked for apocolypse? Hmmmm.
On that note, my cleanse went really well! I am feeling amazing going into my busiest time of the year with work and travel. This is so rare. I went out for a post-cleanse celebratory lunch and guess what I was so excited to order? A freaking green salad with tofu and bean soup! It’s amazing how it really resets your mind and body and turns off the excessive desire for junk food. It’s humbling to be reminded how much good food I am so blessed to eat every single day. How many people eat a bowl of rice and that’s it each day? Wow.