Ashtanga yoga is the pathway to attaining “absolute truth.”
Yogic philosophy and the Yamas and niyamas (the first and second limbs of yoga) offer us a roadmap on how to treat ourselves and others, and as a result, connect more fully with our inner truth. The eight limbs of yoga offer anyone who is willing to partake a wonderful guide to more mindful living, and they teach us the ethical practices of yoga. This pathway to absolute truth is one combining inner and outer work, physical practice, our breath, mindfulness, concentration, and meditation. Yoga is not a religion, but it is an opportunity to live a better quality of life, and a more purposeful one at that.
1. Yamas: Restraints for One’s External Tendencies or Behavior.
- Ahimsa – non-violence. Are you a bulldozer or a forklift to those around you through your thoughts, words, and actions? Ask yourself if this is lifting people up or crushing people down.
- Satya – truthfulness, honesty. Ahimsa helps us to not use truth as a weapon. Satya questions us being nice vs. being real.
- Asteya – non-stealing. We steal others time, attention, power, and confidence. ADHIKARI: the right to know or the right to have; you are a visitor in life, not an owner. Take note of all that you take that is in fact not yours. Reflecting on the first two yamas, we may steal more than just someone’s property.
- Brahmacharya – nonexcess. “Acting in Brahman (Holy Spirit)” means entering each day with a sense of holiness rather than indulgence, remembering that everything is sacred.
- Aparigraha – unselfishness, non-possessiveness. Non-attachment and being able to “let go.” We are like a monkey in a cage with a banana; we choose our attachments rather than our freedom. Why?
2. Niyamas: Self-Control Over One’s Internal Tendencies.
- Saucha – internal and external purity. What is your process of purity? Think about what used to be our “Sunday best” purity in each moment? Focus on consistent purity rather than selective purity.
- Santosh – contentment. Gratitude will keep us out of our own pettiness and allow us to receive our own abundance from the Universe. We tend to “play things up” when we don’t feel content with what is; here we must take responsibility for ourselves and our actions.
- Tapas – austerity or self-discipline. You are not rocked by the external world. Here we are offering the next higher version of ourselves. A crisis is a terrible thing to waste …
- Swadhyaya – scriptural study or self-study. Knowing our true identity as divine. The world reflects what we are seeing, not what is actually there; it is a mirror. Self-study breaks the ego (Ahamkara). Take some time each day to read and study that which invokes the greatest good in you.
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to God or universal consciousness. Life is not meant to be a battle. We are not here to have to “prove,” but rather to become one. Here we no longer need the moment to be our way; we see a higher purpose for us.
3. Asana: Physical Exercises.
We can use asana to help train the physical body and teach discipline and all that is reflected in the Yamas and niyamas. We treat ourselves as an aspect of the divine.
4. Pranayama: Breath control.
Our breath is everything; without it, we do not exist here on this earthly plane. Our breath is the gateway to the many dimensions and layers of the self and higher consciousness. (Note that Ayama means a dimension, not control.)
5. Pratyahara: Withdrawing the Mind.
Understanding that this is not just our senses but the mind as well. Iyengar says pratyahara means “to draw toward the opposite.” The normal movement of the senses is to flow outward and this limb is concerned with going against that grain; a difficult reaction. Our minds are flooded with negativity; we must work to move towards the opposite.
6. Dharana: Concentration.
We are a society of quick and CliffsNotes. Unfortunately, we can miss out on valuable knowledge and relationships by skimming over everything. The value of pointed thought, self-analysis and introspection cannot be understated. Time spent on self-observation of inner thoughts, desires, and conduct helps guide us toward Dharana.
7. Dhyana: Meditation.
“Dhyani,” which means “to think of.” In the process of meditation, we calm the mind, which leads to the realignment of our inner self to the right path. Meditation is everything we engage in; initially, we sit to meditate and eventually, we live to meditate.
8. Samadhi: Enlightenment.
There are different stages of Samadhi and one can experience it at any moment: a blip, a moment, that takes you towards your bliss. We all experience these blips. The goal of the above practices is to attain Samadhi infinitely.
This post was originally written for Nature’s Pathways.