21st June annually is Yoga Day!
Yoga is not just the asanas/postures that has become the most commonly practiced aspect in the West. Yoga has "eight limbs", it is an eight-fold path,which provide tools to live a meaningful life including practice of moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline.
Meditation is yoga. Self discipline and self love is yoga. Being a nice person is yoga. Feeling content is yoga. Breath control is yoga. Self inquiry is yoga. Learning to concentrate and focus on a single thing is yoga and feeling bliss and a deep sense of oneness is yoga.
Lets take a very brief look at these 8 limbs and how each help provide the solid foundation to step into the next.
1. Yama. There is 5 sub-categories in Yama but to over-simplify, it is about being a nice person.
In a nut shell, it is about the Golden Rule "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." These teachings include help with truth, nonviolence, self control, greed, grasping and powerful desires for possessions.
2. Niyama. Again, there is multiple sub-catagories but to summarize, Niyama is about self discipline and spiritual observance.
Practice of Niyama can be anything from regular attendance at church services to giving thanks before meals, to regular meditation or regular contemplative walks alone in nature. It is about study of scriptures and/or of one's self. Connecting and surrendering to God and cultivating contentment.
Again, I am over simplifying but this is interesting to look at each limb, even briefly, and realize what a solid foundation this could provide for a more peaceful, well-rounded person.
3. Asana. The postures practiced in yoga classes.
The yogic view is that the body is a temple of spirit and the care of this precious temple is an important step in spiritual growth. Asana's help develop discipline and concentration which will both provide helpful skills to get us ready to be able to focus and meditate.
4. Pranayama. Loosely translated to "Breath control". This helps us recognize the connection between the breath, the mind and the emotions.
Yogis believe pranayama (which is literally translated to "Life force extension") rejuvenates the body as well as actually extends life. There is now much scientific evidence to support this and pranayama or "Intentional breathing" or "breath work" is now prescribed to and utilized by;
- Navy seals for calm & focus while under pressure & stress
- Returned veterans to treat PTSD
- Cancer survivors, to reduce likelihood of re-occurrence
- People suffering anxiety disorders to calm & still the mind and body
Pranayama also helps with gaining mastery over our body and emotions and develop energetic awareness of ourselves.
The first 4 steps/limbs are designed to help refine our personalities, gain mastery over the body & develop our awareness of our subtle energy systems.
This prepares us for the second half of the journey which involves dealing with the senses, the mind and attaining higher states of consciousness.
5. Pratyahara means withdrawal or sensory transcendence.
This is the practice of taking our awareness away from the external world and outside stimuli. By directing our attention internally we detach from our senses and this creates an opportunity to observe ourselves - our cravings, our habits and see detrimental patters we have formed which inhibit our health and/or inner growth.
6. Dharana Having now dealt with external distraction we can now start to deal with the mind, itself. (I hear you scream and run away! No, stay- we can do this!)
This is the practice of concentration which precedes and prepares us for meditation.It involves learning how to slow down the thinking processes by using a single mental object. This could be, for example;
- A specific energy center of the body
- A silent repetition of a sound or word
- Focusing on an image of a deity
Practicing extended periods of concentration naturally lead to a meditative state.
7. Dhyana Meditation or Contemplation. The uninterrupted flow of concentration.
There is a fine line of distinction between Dharana (Concentration) and Dhyana (Meditation). Dharana practices sinlge-pointed concentration and attention, Dhyana is a state of being keenly aware without focus, with very little thoughts or even none.
Do not be disheartened if this seems like an impossible goal. It simply takes practice - like everything else- so do not give up. Even when you dont reach this state of inner stillness in your meditation practice, it is still deeply beneficial to you - your body, mind and spirit.
8. Samadhi A state of pure bliss and ecstasy.
At this stage, the meditator merges with their single point of focus and transcends the self altogether. Sometimes described as the experience of union with the divine.
Another day, I would like to share with you my transformative experience of Samadhi that occurred when I was about 28 years old. I knew at the time that the 6 years of meditation and various practices had provided me the strong foundation on which to be able to experience this. I only wish I had found the 8 limbs of yoga earlier in life to provide me the lessons and structure to reach this sooner! But alas, everything comes at the right time.
But for now, thank you for sharing this brief exploration with me, into the 8 limbs of yoga and I will leave you with an inspiring quote from a speech given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The idea of international Day of Yoga was first proposed by the current Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi during his speech at the United Nations general Assembly on
27 September 2014. He stated;
Yoga is an invaluable gift of India's ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature. By changing our lifestyle and creating consciousness, it can help in well being. Let us work towards adopting an International Yoga Day.— Mr. Narendra Modi
Taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Yoga_Day