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The Seventh Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Dhyana (meditation)

Last month, we covered the sixth limb of Ashtanga yoga – dharana (concentration).  Now we are going to explore the seventh limb:  Dhyana (meditation).

Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 This month’s focus: DHYANA

The last three limbs of Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga are inward practices.  The sixth limb, dharana (concentration) and the seventh limb, dhyana (meditation) are higher stages of the same discipline.  Dharana is the concentration on a particular physical or spiritual centre and dhyana is a continuous meditation or deep thinking beyond the mind.  Next month we look at Samadhi (absolute consciousness or union) which is the ultimate goal of yoga.

When practising dharana (concentration) we focus on a particular object or word/phrase.  Dhyana is sustained concentration which we refer to as meditation.  As we begin to have focused concentration, we progressively move inwards to a meditative state.

It is very difficult for a beginner to meditate for long periods of time.  Asana (postures) is what we usually begin with when we begin yoga for the first time.  We begin with the here and now – our body.  We are familiar with the physical world.  The body is tangible.  We can feel it.  So what better place to start.  Once we work on the body through asana, the body becomes more supple and is able to sit comfortably for a sustained period of time.  If the body is not comfortable, how can we hold a seated pose for meditation? With regular asana practice, we become more comfortable in our physical body, which leads to a more ready attitude towards meditation.  For this reason, meditation is well practiced and well received by the body and mind at the end of an asana practice.  Once you have calmed the body, calmed the mind… you are now ready to take your seat and just be.  Simply be.

At first glance, yoga can look like acrobatics or gymnastics.  However, it is within the asana practice that we learn many deep inward lessons that translate into our seated meditation practice.  You can experience concentration and focus in your asana practice! When you focus your attention on your alignment, you are practicing dharana! As you become more experienced, your concentration becomes much easier and you find yourself ‘lost’ in the practice, where often times you come in and out of a pose and do it ‘without thinking’.  This is dhyana.  As you become more supple and experienced in the practice, your mind becomes at ease and you focus without strain.

Ashtanga yoga has often been described as a ‘moving meditation’.  This has been my experience in the 11 years I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga.  At first, I felt lost in the poses, trying to remember the sequence of postures and correct alignment.  However after some time, the postures came more easily to me.  I didn’t need to focus so hard on my alignment, because it just came with regular discipline and commitment.  There are times I have practiced and been so ‘lost in the practice’ that I was uninterrupted by thought and felt like I was in a meditative state.  I sometimes get half way through my practice and suddenly stop and think, ‘How did I get here?!”

As the mind repeats asana over and over, your yoga practice becomes second nature.  The mind becomes so well trained, that eventually your mind will rest in the present moment.  This is dhyana…meditation!

  • When you practice asana, observe the mind… are your thoughts focusing on the pose, or is the mind wondering about the chores you have ahead of you?
  • Where is your drishti (focused eye gaze) when you practice asana? Your eye gaze is vital in assisting the practitioner to remain focused.  The mind goes with the eye…if you are looking at your neighbour…your thoughts will no doubt follow!

 

“I felt in need of a great pilgrimage, so I sat still for three days and God came to me.”  – Kabir (15th Century Indian Poet)

 

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The Sixth Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Dharana (concentration)

Last month, we covered the fifth limb of Ashtanga yoga – pratyahara (controlling the senses).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the sixth limb:  Dharana (concentration).

Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 This month’s focus: DHARANA

Dharana derives from the Sanskrit word ‘dhri’ which means ‘to hold, carry or maintain’.  Dharana is often simply referred to as concentration.  It is the concentration on a particular physical or spiritual centre.  For the Christian, this focal point would be Christ; the Muslim, Allah; the Jew, Yahweh and for those with no religious preference, it may simply be concentration on the divine, a source greater than we are.  Dharana is viewed as the entry to meditation.

Concentration, although may sound quite abstract; it is not simply a stagnant state, it is one of great spiritual awakening which demands action.  Dharana can be seen as the practice (the work it takes) to get your mind to a place ready for meditation (which is the next limb referred to as dhyana).  It involves bringing the mind to a focal point, over and over in order to maintain concentration and prepare for meditation.

In concentration, the yogi focuses all his/her attention on a single object, whether the object is an external object like the flame of a candle or an internal object like a mantra (a short phrase usually in Sanskrit that is repeated constantly in the yogi’s mind).  Having something to focus on assists the mind to find a place of stillness; calming the fluctuations of the mind.  The mind easily wanders and moves from one idea to the next.  Concentration on an object or word/mantra helps the yogi calm the thoughts.  You will never be able to get rid of the thoughts of course, but the idea is that you learn to have mastery or control over the thoughts.  Dharana is about redirecting the mind again and again to the object or word/phrase.

The awareness of dharana draws us deeper and deeper within and the fluctuations of the mind begin to fall away naturally.  This limb is about adopting the mental focus and internal gaze necessary to meditate.  Dharana helps us to still and quiet the mind so you can effortlessly flow into meditation. This internal practice leads naturally into a meditative state, dhyana, which is the seventh limb of Ashtanga yoga which we will look at next month.

 Have you practiced dharana?
What ways have you practiced dharana?
Do you find it easier to focus on an external object like a symbol or candle or is it easier for you to focus on a word/phrase?

Try this – Select any object that the mind likes such as a rose, apple, candle, a religious icon and concentrate on it.  Sit comfortably with your object in line with your eyes (you may need to place your object on a chair or table) and set a timer for 5, 10 or 15 minutes. Naturally as you stare at your object, your mind will wander to a series of thoughts.  A good way to stay focused is to incorporate an internal mantra to help the mind stay focused.  Repeat your mantra internally over and over slowly and with a sense of rhythm.  As your mind naturally runs away, bring it back to your mantra. 

A word on Mantras – sometimes it’s a great idea to choose a mantra that is not in English as we have natural associations with the English language.  If you choose the mantra/word ‘love or peace’ your mind will naturally start directing to one thought after the other about what those words mean to you.  If you choose a word that really has no meaning to your conscious mind, then the mantra becomes simply a sound or vibration and frees your mind from the associations of language.  A Sanskrit phrase that I use at the end of class which you have heard is ‘lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu’ which translates as ‘may all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.’  I love this mantra.  Another short mantra which I love is the Aramaic word ‘maranatha’ which I say with four syllable vibrations ‘ma-ra-na-tha’ which comes from the Christian tradition and is often translated as ‘Come Lord, Jesus’.  Whatever your mantra is, keep it short and simple, something you can remember and has a nice internal rhythm to it. 

Closing the eyes – if you prefer not to use an object to concentrate on, you can simply sit still in a comfortable position with the eyes closed and practice dharana by repeating your mantra over and over.

“People often feel that they’re scattered in day to day life.  They get a taste of dharana and they’re surprised. Concentration gets easier as you practice it. It’s joyous to concentrate on something, there’s pleasure in it. When you get familiar with dharana, the mind becomes a much less restless place to be.”  – Thomas Amelio

 

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The Fifth Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Pratyahara (Controlling the Senses)

Last month, we covered the fourth limb of Ashtanga yoga – pranayama (breath control).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the fifth limb: pranayama (breath control).

Just a reminder that the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

 

This month’s focus: PRATYAHARA

Pratyahara is centering the mind with control of the senses.  The yoga sutras define pratyahara as ‘the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses’.  You can liken the state of pratyahara to a tortoise who hides in its shell or the return of sun-rays at sunset.  Pratyahara encompasses the ability to direct your five senses internally instead of externally.  The yogic paradigm suggests that there is an internal world within each one of us that can be explored, and only by withdrawing from the exterior environment can one begin to investigate the inner world.

Jean Dechanet describes the external senses as servants of the soul, not masters and the internal senses must be wise and active.  In order to have this control, one must get to know one’s mind.  A simple exercise of pratyahara would be to spend some time daily observing the mind; its drumbeats so to speak, and gradually after consistent practice, it will grow calmer.  Self-inspection is one of the most effective and penetrating criticisms which leads to mental control.    When the senses are at rest, a sense of internal stillness causes the mind to be clearer.

Saint Teresa of Avila describes the senses as inhabitants of the castle of the soul which if not ordered and controlled can plunge into inner darkness.  For the yogi, the senses should be refined and tuned into the experience of the divine….be it Allah, God, Jesus, Yahweh or simply the universe.

So what does pratyahara look like in a practical sense? It can be described as the state of non-reaction to external stimulus – like a state of being in the world, but not of the world.  Many of us can relate to pratyahara in the resting posture of savasana.  The last posture we practice in a yoga class; lying completely still on our back and the practice of falling into deep rest and relaxation.  Initially it seems difficult and we shuffle into a comfortable position but once our physical body is still and relaxed, the mind then begins to become still and relaxed and soon enough you are in a blissful state of relaxation where you withdraw from the external world but without losing contact with it.  You may still register the sounds around you, the temperature of your skin, your position on the mat; but it does not disturb your mind or body.  So your sense organs still receive the input of what is happening around you however you are unresponsive to it because you are in a state of pratyahara.  Like a tortoise who hides in its shell is still able to hear and feel the outside world, but is now unresponsive to it.  Or the sun that sets, is still present in the world although introspective.  So in pratyahara, it’s as though you are removed from your senses.  This is the beginning of being in a true meditative state!

  • Do you give yourself time during your day to practice pratyahara? ….Simply sitting or lying still while focusing on relaxing the body will naturally relax the mind and encourage you into a state of withdrawing the senses…
  • B.K.S Iyengar says that in Sanskrit, pratyahara literally 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.
  • Pratyahara is built brick by brick through the first four limbs of Ashtanga yoga – yama, niyama, asana and pranayama, then utilised in the last three limbs – dharana, dhyana and samadhi.  It is the fifth petal of yoga, also called the “hinge” of the outer and inner quest.  It is the pivotal movement on yoga’s path.
  • Pattabhi Jois says in Yoga Mala that yoga is a path we step into and that will lead us towards unveiling the Self.

 “Pratyahara helps the mind acquire knowledge of the self”  -B.K.S Iyengar

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The Fifth Niyama: Isvara Pranidhana (Devotion to God)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Isvara Pranidhana (devotion to God). 

 Last month, we looked at the fourth niyama – swadhyaya (self-study).  This month, let’s explore the fifth niyama – isvara pranidhana in more detail.

 This month’s focus: Isvara Pranidhana

 Isvara pranidhana relates to the practice of devotion to God.  Patanjali’s reference to the divine in the Yoga Sutras is not restrictive to a particular conventional God but rather a universal divine force.  According to Patanjali, liberation can be achieved without devotion to God however this is seen as a subtle and dangerous path, which results in ambition and pride.  Liberation through devotion to God is the safest and happiest pathway which leads to attitudes of humility and service.  We can look at isvara pranidhana not necessarily as a specific God of a particular faith tradition, but rather a surrendering to a higher power or source.  Today, many struggle with this concept as in our modern society, the concept of God or the divine is often lost; and rather there is a greater focus on human capabilities and wisdom.  Patanjali stresses the importance of an ongoing practice of ishvara pranidhana as a means to obtaining the ultimate unified state of yoga: Samadhi.  Devotion to God or ‘surrendering’ helps us shift from the individual and obsession with ‘I’ to a more balanced focus on the sacredness of all things and ultimately reunites us with our true Self.

 I was recently in Bali and as always, I am in absolute admiration of the complete surrender the Balinese people have to God.  Each morning, all shop fronts, market stalls and homes are ritualistically offered up in surrender to God.  Offerings to God are an integral part of daily life with the use of natural materials (such as banana leaf, rice,  a flower) which are placed throughout the home and door steps.  This is a gentle reminder to all that there is a higher power at work, despite human efforts.  Similarly, when I was in India, I was in absolute awe of the beautiful and elaborate offerings made to Lakshmi (the goddess of good fortune and prosperity) that women made each morning by drawing sacred and intricate diagrams (rangoli) on the earth in front of their homes.  These offerings once again remind the individual, the families and the public, that we surrender to something higher than ourselves.  These physical offerings remind us to shift our perspective from our narrow and individual concerns, and instead invite us to surrender to that which we cannot control.  Through surrender, we are able to peel the layers of the ego, and calm the mind’s distractions; reuniting us with the source (God, divine, universe, higher power) which leads ultimately to individual freedom.

 At the beginning of each yoga class, I invite you to offer up the yoga class for something (a need such as wisdom, strength or even offer up for a person who is struggling or a relationship that needs healing).  This remind us that the yoga practice is a ultimately a selfless one.  Yes, we may roll out our mat with the intention of feeling good and getting a ‘work out’ but ultimately, an ongoing practice of yoga shifts the mind and heart from the needs of ‘I’ to the needs of others.

How do you practice ‘surrender’ in your daily life?
What do you use as a daily reminder to surrender to a higher source?

balinese-offerings-441896-m

Ishvara pranidhana is not about what your yoga can do for you, but about approaching your practice in the spirit of offering.”  -Shiva Rea

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The Fourth Niyama: Swadhyaya (Self-study)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the seconde niyama – tapas (austerity).  This month, let’s explore the third niyama – swadhyaya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: Swadhyaya

Swadhyaya is the practice of self-study and self-analysis.  Sva is interpreted as ‘self’ and adhyaya means ‘investigation or inquiry’.   As yogis, we are encouraged to self-inquire daily through practices such asana, pranayama and meditation.  Traditionally, swadhyaya is attributed to the study of sacred texts.  According to Patanjali, in order to attain a greater understanding of one’s true being, the study of scriptures is important.  The scriptures are used to assist one in engaging in life spiritually through self-inquiry.

We can often go through life without looking deeply within ourselves, our values, actions and the impact we have on others by our thoughts, words and actions.  The yogi is encouraged to engage in self-reflection by analysing the impact they have on others.  You may think you come to yoga to build fitness and build strength and flexibility; which of course is true; however, through these practices we are engaging in the act of swadhyaya.  We flow through postures using breath and movement, building concentration… we scan the body, we bring our awareness to our breath, we still the mind…all practices of self-reflection.  By doing this, we get to know ourselves more honestly and see ourselves for what we are, not who we think we are.

So how well do you practice swadhyaya in your life?
Do you take time out daily to focus on your breath?
To sit still with no TV, music or stimulation?
How can you incorporate some self-reflection daily?
Do you look within to seek guidance, understanding and wisdom?

“Study, when it is developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”  -The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11.44

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The Third Niyama: Tapas (Austerity)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the seconde niyama – Santosha (contentment).  This month, let’s explore the third niyama – tapas in more detail.

This month’s focus: Tapas

Tapas is the practice of discipline and self-control.  It literally means “heat” and refers to an inner fire or energy which enables one to control the body and the mind.  The ability to do this is created by ascetic practices such as fasting, silence and self-discipline leading to the ultimate tapas which is union with the Atman (Self).  This heat-producing work often requires a level of self-denial or selflessness and can include practices such as walking instead of catching a bus, almsgiving, practicing regular and consistent asana (posture) and pranayama (breathing exercises), donating regularly to a charity and a commitment to mindful speech.  These practices of self-discipline are quiet and controlled and may also include regular ritualistic worship.  Spiritual disciplines for the yogi are considered channels to heightening one’s desire, awareness and love of God.

In our modern day society, tapas is becoming lost, especially with the immediate access to everything we could ask for, there is little reason to wait or show any discipline.  Some examples are our quick access to knowledge via the Internet, overuse of our credit cards and who uses snail mail these days when email, text messages or Facebook create an instant response? It is difficult to exercise self-control in a society that does not value the practice of self-denial or selflessness.

So how do you practice tapas in your life?
In what ways can you try to exercise self-control or discipline?

If you want to read more about tapas, an article that I found interesting can be read here.

“How much do you want it? That’s how much effort you give to the desire. That’s the offering. It has to be equal.” -John Friend, founder of Anusara yoga

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The Second Niyama: Santosha (Contentment)

To refresh from last month, the five niyamas (codes of conduct/regulations) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1.  Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Last month, we looked at the first niyama – saucha (purity or cleanliness).  This month, let’s explore the second niyama – santosha in more detail.

This month’s focus: Santosha

Santosha refers to contentment of one’s lot in life and the desire for no more than what is available to you.  It is an internal balance where one accepts the pleasures and pains of the world and preserves a sense of contentment within.  A key understanding of santosha is living in the present time; not longing for the past or worrying about the future, but an awareness of one’s responsibility in the present time.  Santosa is about cultivating an inner state of satisfaction with what you have – with whatever comes, be it the joys and the suffering.  Contentment is not a passive acceptance of suffering, but a balanced and controlled way of seeing the world, where an attitude of equanimity is closely associated with peace and joy.

This sense of contentment can be difficult in our often busy, materialistic world.  It is easy to buy into the ‘Greatest happiness’ perception of life, where we see happiness as a future goal… “If I get this job, then I will be happy… if I get married, I will be happy… if I earn this much money, I will be happy….”.  This way of thinking promotes a future/goal oriented attitude where happiness is not yet realised until a future achievement is gained.  The fact is, when one does achieve these goals, often times it does not bring this sense of happiness one was searching for, or a sense of contentment.  It is not uncommon to seek the next future desire to then make us happy.  When one seeks santosha, and finds awakening in the contentment of the present, our ‘need’ for things dissipate and a deeper sense of joy and contentment resides within.  This releases a sense of simplistic freedom within oneself.

So how do you practice santosha in your own life?
How do you live in the present moment and find contentment right here, right now, even when life is difficult?

True happiness comes from contentment with whatever one has, not with thinking that one will be happy when one gets all one desires.
~
 Edwin Bryant

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The Second Limb Of Ashtanga Yoga: Niyama

The last few months, the focus has been on the first limb of Ashtanga yoga – yama (restraints).  As discussed a few months back, there are 8 limbs of Ashtanga yoga:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

We will now focus on the second limb, niyama.

Niyama refers to individual discipline or observance and is the Sanskrit term meaning rule or law.  They refer to the cultivation of following good habits.  Like the five yamas, the niyamas are not exercises or actions to be simply studied; they represent far more than an attitude, but an inner state of the mind. The niyamas are more intimate and personal than the yamas and they refer to the attitude we adopt toward ourselves.

The five niyamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Saucha (purity or cleanliness)
  2. Santosha (contentment)
  3. Tapas (austerity)
  4. Swadhyaya (self-study)
  5. Pranidhana (devotion to God).

Let us examine these niyamas in more detail. This month we’ll focus on the first niyama, saucha.

Saucha is total cleanliness and purity of both mind and body. The body is considered to be the temple or dwelling-place of the Atman (Self) which is used to worship the divine and so external and internal cleanliness is of chief importance.  External cleanliness (bahya) is seen to have a psychological effect on a person and includes general hygiene, a clean environment and adhering to a healthy diet.  Similarly we need to follow a mental diet where internal cleanliness (abhyantara) helps to cleanse and strengthen the mind.  This includes cultivating connections among those who are spiritually minded by regulating our reading, conversation and generally our intake of mental “food.”  Saint Francois de Sales observes that constant awareness of cleanliness of the mind is important so that “once thrown off its balance, the heart is no longer its own master.”  Christian mystics have stressed the importance of being in a state of purification where one’s mind is rid of distractions of thoughts and desires; cultivating sensitivity to what is pure and wholesome.  Purification is not seen as emptying out but leads to greater intentness in one’s life where self-purification comes from not only self-effort but by through centring oneself to a personal identification and unity with the divine.  For the yogi, purification is connected with an inner transformation where one can more clearly see God.

 Through simplicity and continual refinement (Saucha), the body, thoughts, and emotions become clear reflections of the Self within. Saucha reveals our joyful nature, and the yearning for knowing the Self blossoms.
~
 Yoga Sutras 2.40-2.41

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The First limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: YAMA

Last month, we looked generally at Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  The Eight limbs are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Each month, we will take a close look at each ‘limb’ and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

This month’s focus: YAMA

Patanjali stipulates yama as the universal social discipline, the great commandment that transcends all ages, creeds, country and time. The term yama can have different interpretations; rein, curb, bridle, discipline or restraint.  In today’s context, yama would mean self-control or forbearance which would then describe one’s particular attitudes (disciplines) which then influences their behaviour.  The Yamas are the behaviour patterns or relationships between the individual and the outside world.  Patanjali mentions five different yamas:

  1. ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Let us look at Ahimsa, the first yama in more detail.

Ahimsa is non-violence or non-aggression not only in action but also in speech and thought.  One must observe ahimsa in the way they speak to others and even in their body language, cultivating love for all. One must see themselves as a servant to others, and be willing to put themselves at the service of others (when of course the purposes are good, not evil).  A truly helpful person is described as a public bus; it travels along a fixed route to a destination but available to all who care to use it.

Ahimsa requires more than simply an attitude of patience, control and endurance; it is a true open heart of love and forgiveness towards others.

Ahimsa means kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals.  This is one reason why you would often find many dedicated yogis who are committed to a vegetarian diet.  It is deeply connected to this notion of non-violence towards all living things.  Ahimsa calls us to reduce the suffering of others and helps us recognise the preciousness of all life.  Ahimsa is core to the spiritual and ethical practice of yoga.

Some reflection questions to consider on the role of ahimsa in your life:

  • Love can transform us… how has love in your life (through giving and receiving) transformed you in any way?
  • In what ways have you observed ahimsa in your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you have not observed ahimsa in the best way?
  • What is one thing you can give more attention to in your life that contributes to ahimsa?(Remember ahimsa encompasses thoughts, speech and actions … small acts are truly significant!)

Next month, we’ll look at the second Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path…. Satyam (truthfulness).

 Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (Sanskrit mantra)
Translation:
May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.

 

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Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path

At the end of last year, we looked at the true meaning and purpose of yoga: a spiritual practice that invites us to still the mind in order to connect ultimately with the divine.  In order to achieve Samadhi (pure consciousness), Patanjali, who is often described as the founder of yoga, explains an eight fold path that assists the yogi on this ultimate realisation of consciousness.

 Patanjali presents a system called Ashtanga Yoga (ashto meaning “eight”, anga meaning “limb”), the Eight-Limbed Yoga, also known as the Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  This practical guide to living presented by Patanjali is what distinguishes yoga as a spiritual practice, not simply another form of exercise.  The limbs, according to Patanjali are the various areas which one should observe in order to clear the mind of impurities so that the Atman (the Self) can be revealed which leads to samadhi, the realisation of pure consciousness.

 The first two limbs that Patanjali begins with are the fundamental ethical precepts called yama and the niyama.  These first two limbs apply to one’s behaviour towards others and to one’s personal development respectively.  The third limb is asana, which is the physical discipline of yoga, which is often called posturePranayama is the fourth limb and refers to breath control followed by pratyahara which is the practice of controlling the senses from external distraction.  Dharana is the process of concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness followed by dhyana which is the devotion and mediation on the divine.  Finally, the ultimate goal is the eighth limb – samadhi which is absolute consciousness and can only be arrived at as the result of a dedicated practice of all other seven limbs.

In the next GRACE-MAIL we will take a close look at each of these limbs and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

 “It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed” ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutras