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The Eighth Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Last month, we covered the seventh limb of Ashtanga yoga – Dhyana (meditation).  All previous posts can be found on the YWG GRACE-MAIL archives.  Now we are going to explore the eighth and final limb:  Samadhi (absolute consciousness).

 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: SAMADHI

If you walked the streets and asked people what they think the purpose of yoga would be, many would suggest that yoga is about flexibility, strength, fitness and health.  As much as this is true and these are definitely by-products of practicing yoga; the ultimate goal of yoga is not about touching your toes and feeling healthy.  The main purpose or goal of yoga is self-realisation.  Pure consciousness.  Samadhi.

According to Patanjali, this eight fold path of yoga leads to a full experience of samadhi, which is the realisation of pure consciousness.  It is a supreme experience where through acute sensuous perception, one has direct knowledge of an object in truth of its own nature, completely free from the distortions of our imagination.  In other words, one generally distorts their sense perception based on preconceived ideas and beliefs, hence samadhi is the full experience of seeing things for what they are, not what one thinks they ought to be.  This is where one uncovers the union of yoga; union between humanity, unity between human and nature and union with God.  Samadhi can be seen as a state of emptiness of the human mind and language and fullness in itself.

So yoga shows the way to Samadhi.   Yoga is not simply an accumulation of asana or devotional practices, but rather a transformation of body and spirit which aims for completion of the whole person.  Samadhi can be described as a state of ‘enstasy’.  We are all familiar with the term ‘ecstasy’ where one is in a state of outward joy or bliss.  However, Enstasy is described as an inward state of joy or bliss.  The term enstasy was coined by Mircea Eliade to describe the state of Samadhi as ‘standing inside oneself’ as opposed to the Western term ‘ecstasy’ which is a state of ‘standing outside oneself’.   So the joy or bliss one experiences in a state of Samadhi is derived from within us, not outside or external sources.  Yoga engenders an inward blissful state… a state of complete awareness…Samadhi.  It is a state so complete that it is indefinable beyond speech.  It is experienced.

So now that we know the purpose of yoga, how do we achieve this state? Well over the past few months, we have looked into detail at Patanjali’s eight fold path which leads to Samadhi.  Quite simply though, avoid over thinking it…start with the here and now.  Get on your mat, breathe, move and be mindful.  Do your yoga practice and all will come!

 “Practice, practice.  All is coming.” Pattabhi Jois

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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 Third Limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: Asana (Posture)

The last few months we have covered the first two limbs of Ashtanga yoga – yama and niyama.  Now we are going to explore the third limb: asana (posture) which is the most popular in the Western world.

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: ASANA

Asana, the third limb, is often referred to as posture and is the aspect of yoga practice that is often misunderstood and taken for the sum of all yoga practice, rather than an isolated practice of yoga.  Asana literally means “seat” and is the seated position or posture where one’s body is firm but relaxed.  The yoga sutras describe asana to be ‘stirum sukham asanam’ which means ‘steady and comfortable meditation posture’.   Asana is not about performing fancy moves with the body, but rather about certain ways of holding the body along with certain attitudes.

One must be in a meditative state when practicing asana and these certain movements promote concentration of the spirit and inner connectedness, thus assisting one to pray in a purer fashion.  The aim of asana is to achieve an effortless alertness where one’s body is focused on the infinite.  Through the practice of asana, a daily communion with God (the divine, the source, the universe…) is promoted, thus making it easier to receive graces.

One may ask the question: is it possible for one to isolate the physical aspects of yoga as simply a method of exercise without incorporating the spirituality behind it? This is an important reflection as we can see that yoga practices open one’s mind and body to grow in consciousness and awareness.  Through yoga, physical and psychological healing can aid one to experience divinity through the transformation of the whole person.

Ultimately, asana is a means to prepare the body for spiritual exercises, with less obstacles, in order to find union with God (the divine, Allah, universe…or whoever that source is for you).

I often say in class that the entry and exit of a posture is just as important as the posture itself.  Do we enter and exit with mindfulness? Are we only concerned about the posture, or is how we approach it and leave it equally as important? We could certainly translate these thoughts into ordinary life – how do we approach situations in life that may be challenging? How do we leave them? Do we rush in and out of situations or do we mindfully address them? With complete awareness?

 “Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless.
After you’ve practice, the theory is obvious”
 -David Williams

 

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The Fifth Yama: Aparigraha (non-coveting)

To refresh, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

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

We previously looked at the fourth yama – Brahmacharya (continence).  Now, let’s explore the fifth yama – aparigraha in more detail.

 Focus: APARIGRAHA

Aparigraha is often interpreted as non-greed or non-coveting.  It is the abstention from possessiveness, greed, selfishness and acquisitiveness. Aparigraha is about accepting what one has and being mindful when giving and receiving.  In our contemporary consumerist society, this concept of simple living is a difficult one for many to grasp especially when we just have to get the new iPhone 5 or the latest gadgets or fashion items.  Ask yourself how many computer devices you own – a phone (perhaps more than one?), a computer, a laptop, an iPad… anything else? Aparigraha invites us to choose simple living by looking at our lives and asking ourselves the right questions – do we need this extra item? Am I being greedy? Is what I have enough? Will I truly be happy with more possessions?

In essence, there is nothing wrong with being wealthy or having many possessions; however it is the attitude of consumerism and attachment to possessions that can be harmful.  No doubt we have seen how wealth can lead to greed and excessive absorption of earthly cares in famous figures and even people that we know personally.

So instead of focusing on what we do not have or what we need more of…let us draw our attention to gratitude.

I started a gratitude journal about two years ago when I had a miscarriage.  I was absolutely devastated and I found it hard to get out of my sadness.  This journal I found is an App on the iPhone so it was really easy to use and something I wouldn’t forget to do.  Each night I would record what I felt gratitude for that day or in life in general.  This simple practice really helped bring me back to a positive outlook on life.

I read this quote once ‘if you can’t change it, then change the way you think about it’ and I found a daily gratitude journal helped me maintain a positive outlook each and every day, even the tough ones.

So how do you practice aparigraha in your life?
Do you take more than you need?
How do you show gratitude for what you already have?

Gratitude turns what we have into enough
Melodie Beattie

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The Fourth Yama: Brahmacharya (Continence)

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

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

Last month, we looked at the third yama – Asteya (non-stealing).  This month, let’s explore the fourth yama – brahmachharya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: BRAHMACHARYA

Brahmacharya is keeping control of one’s desires, particularly sexual ones.  It is chastity of word, thought and deed.  One who practices brahmacharya is said to be one whose mind is always fixed on the divine Being to achieve purity of heart.  Attachment to sensual pleasures, such as sex is seen as an obstacle to spiritual knowledge.  One who pursues the ascetic life interprets brahmacharya as strict celibacy; where traditionally yogis lived in seclusion.  However the contemporary yogi often interprets this yama to mean an appreciation of the sacredness of all acts and faithfulness to one partner or spouse.

The practice of Brahmacharya gives good health, inner strength, peace of mind and long life. When one’s focus is less on the physical, the mind begins to focus on the spiritual.  Strength and fortitude are obtained which gives purity and calm to the mind.

‘Brahma’ means divine and ‘carya’ means ‘movement’ so we can interpret brahmacharya to mean recognising the divine in all movements or beings.  Brahmacharya calls the yogi to live a sanctified life seeing sacredness or divinity in all actions by living a life of mindfulness in all relationships.

How do you live brahmacharya in your own life?
Do you value mindfulness and sacredness in all your relationships?

To be able to realise God, one must practise brahmacharya
~
 Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa

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The Second Yama: Satyam (Truthfulness)

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

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

Last month, we looked at the first yama – Ahimsa (non-violence).  This month, let’s explore the second yama – satyam in more detail.

 This month’s focus: SATYAM

Satyam is truthfulness.  It refers to truthfulness in action, word and thought.  By making the heart and the lips the same in conformity with the facts, one creates an atmosphere of truthfulness.  There should be no split in personality – the yogi should be the same on the ‘outside’ as well as the ‘inside’ through living a life of honesty and truthfulness in the present moment.  Yogis are called to live their lives in simplicity of truth and strictly avoid hypocrisy; making a firm commitment to veracity in all aspects of their lives.  We should avoid temptation of presenting false facts or gossip.

Does being truthful mean that you blurt out whatever you feel or think?  If you consider the first yama, ahimsa (non-violence)…yogis are also called to have an attitude of kindness in all they think, say and do.

In Sanskrit, Sat means ‘true or real’ and ya means ‘ness’.  A way to look at the term ‘satyam’ is to ‘be real’.  Being truthful or honest, is to be real.

 “When you blame, you open up a world of excuses, because as long as you’re looking outside, you miss the opportunity to look inside, and you continue to suffer.”
~
 Donna Quesada

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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