The 21st Century is the age of the quick fix. We eat unhealthy food, then head to the gym to burn off the calories. We drink too much and take painkillers to ease the headache. If we want something we can’t afford, we put it on the credit card and worry how we will pay for it later. We prioritise anything over getting enough sleep, relying on coffee to get us through the day. A productive afternoon can be waylaid by the lure of the dopamine hit offered by social media.
We treat our lives and our bodies as if they will last forever, taking it all for granted, until we can’t anymore.
This is not a criticism of anyone’s life choices, apart from my own. I have done, and still do, all of these things (although of course, I don’t drink anymore)
Most of us are living pretty stressful lives, juggling multiple demands on our time, energy and attention.
It is no wonder that we struggle to take care of ourselves, do the things we want and need to do, and develop and maintain meaningful relationships. We are not living in a world that wants us to do this.
Our society is based on the need for a distracted, unhealthy, unhappy, disconnected population. The capitalist ideology that is the foundation of modern civilisation depends on a steady stream of consumption beyond what is required to meet basic needs. And people don’t do that when they are content with their life.
If the modern world requires us to be distracted, unhealthy, unhappy and disconnected, then finding a path to contentment is a truly revolutionary act. Wouldn’t you want to be present, healthy, happy and connected to the world around you, and to yourself? I know I do. That, to me, seems to be what life is meant to be about.
Yoga offers us a path to this way of being. Not the acrobatic postures you see on Instagram. Not the multi billion dollar industry that has sprung up in the space where Yoga meets capitalism.
Yoga is not an exercise class. It is not a fashion statement. It is not a quick fix for stress and tension, although you will feel pretty instant benefits from it’s practices.
Yoga is a way of life that promotes present, healthy, happy, connected living.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written thousands of years ago in India, shows us a path for life that will provide mental, physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing and growth.
It is not about how you do the postures, but about how you live your life.
The Eight Limbs of Yoga laid out by Patanjali, the foundations of classical Yoga, offers a path to enlightened and wholehearted living that we might need more in the modern world than at the time of their development.
The Eight Limbs of Patanjali are
- Yamas. These ask us to look at how we show up in the world, how we treat the world around us. They are intended to help us curb our base animal instincts, to live and act in the world with greater consciousness. The Yamas are
- Ahimsa – non harming
- Satya – truthfulness
- Asteya – non stealing
- Brahmacharya – control of desires, often interpreted as sexual restraint
- Aparigraha – non grasping, not hoarding
- Niyamas. These guide us to grow and evolve in our humanity, to become more human, so that we can find the Divine in ourselves. The Niyamas are
- Saucha – cleanliness
- Santosha – contentment
- Tapas – discipline
- Swadhyaya – self study
- Ishvara Pranidhana – surrender to the Higher Self
- Asana. These are the postures and relaxation practices that help us to keep the body healthy and capable of sitting in meditation practices.
- Pranayama. This is the art of breath control. The original purpose of Asana was to enable the body to be fit for Pranayama.
- Pratyahara. This is withdrawal of the senses. We train the mind to let go of the need to react to sensory information (including our thoughts) and be still.
- Dharana. Focused concentration. When the mind is able to still to the point that one can focus completely on the object of concentration.
- Dyhana. This is the state of meditation, in which the mind’s focus is so complete that the object and the mind seem to be as one.
- Samadhi. This is the state of enlightenment. Samadhi is when the seeker is able to transcend the material world and become one with spirit. This is what Swami Gitananda also termed ‘Awareness of Awareness’
The true purpose of Yoga is spiritual growth with an aim to reach Samadhi, that final state of enlightenment. Therefore, everything laid out in Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras is with this goal in mind.
You don’t, however, need to be consciously on the path to enlightenment to reap the benefits of following this path.
I certainly had no spiritual aspirations when I trained to teach Yoga. The person I was then would have run a mile from the idea that I was becoming spiritually connected through my training. I associated spirituality with religion, and I wanted nothing to do with that. But as my recovery journey will testify, I certainly found a new way to live through Yoga. And one that has brought me a greater sense of who I am and who I want to be.
The first 5 of the limbs of Yoga are things we can do. The final 3 are states we achieve through dedicated practice of the first 5.
Although on this blog I will be talking more about Pranayama, breath control, than most of the others, it is not possible to isolate pranayama from the other limbs.
If we don’t examine how we live, then practices of Pranayama simply become another quick fix for the stress we create for ourselves.
Think about the Yamas and Niyamas, and reflect on how you can apply them to your own life. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments!