A REALISTIC APPROACH TO THE 8 LIMB PATH
Here in the yoga community we often hear phrases focused on gratitude or being in a state of oneness with all living things. That all sounds great, but is it real? Well, the answer is no, at least not always. Life happens, to all of us, yogi or not. We are not those athleisure models doing crazy backbends or standing on our fingertips as we slowly with control lower everything to the floor, nor are we the super meditated practioner that graces the cover of yoga and meditation books. Sure many of those men and women have amazing skill, and strength and what appears to be a deeply focused inner zen. But guess what life ain't always rainbows and cupcakes, even for those who look to have reached enlightenment, (think) yoga teachers, models and instagram yogis just to name a few, in fact, for most of us it rarely is. No matter if your a soda swig'n, pop junkie or a spandex wearing, Om chanting yogi! When you consider the state of our nations physical and emotional health its not at all surprising that we are all struggling to maintain some form of happiness.
- Our current President Donald Trump only has a 42% approval rating with the American public. Let's not forget to mention the countless marches, walks and protests that have occurred since he took office in January. Gallup.com
- Up to 90% of all Americans have claimed that they have been unhappy with their body image as an adult. DoSomething.org
- Many men and women (homo/heterosexual) report being in unhappy relationships. The data on this one is a little sketchy but just go ask someone in the break room. Most of us know several people who feel trapped or just unfulfilled in that sacred relationship.
- More than 115 million people reported a "major stressful event in recent years. NPR.org
So what are we to do in this state of discontent? You guessed it. Yoga and all her practices, this is referred to by yogis as the 8 limb or 8 fold path.
Let's break it down Y'all!
- Yama - Ethical standards or vows.
- Ahimsa - Non-Violence
- Satya - Truthfulness
- Asteya - Non-Stealing
- Brahmacharya - Moderation
- Aparigraha - Non-Grasping
- Niyama - Observances or self disciplines.
- Saucha - Purity
- Santosha - Contentment
- Tapas - Discipline
- Svadhyaya - Self Study
- Isvara Pranidhana - Surrender
- Asana - These are likely the yoga postures that brought you to the mat in the first place and we love them, most of the time. However, the goal of the asanas are not to touch your toes...shocker! They are to prepare the body for meditation so you can sit steady and still for an period of time.
- Pranayama - Breathing techniques. Often taught briefly in yoga classes, consider this a taste. True pranayama practice lasts longer than a few minutes at the end of you 60 -90 minute yoga sesh. When using these techniques under the care of a well trained teacher they help us to manage our energy levels, bringing us up when we are down and vice versa. Just like asana this is to prepare the mind and body for meditation.
- Pratyahara - Withdraw of the senses. Here we focus on turning the attention of the mind inward. Chances are most of us have experienced this practice in our classes as we take a moment at the beginning of class to observe our current human condition. Pratyahara is again an extended version of this practice, letting the outer world melt away so the inner world can be revealed. This practice is also often referred to as mindfulness.
- Dharana - Concentration. As we focus on this practice we notice that each prior limb is a prerequisite to the next. Here it would be nearly impossible to have clear mental focus without the withdraw of the outward senses. We often use techniques labeled as meditations by today's standards within Dharana that assist us in our inward focus. These techniques include guided spoken meditations, breath focus, or candle gazing.
- Dhyana - Meditation. There is a fine line here between Dharana, the practice of one pointed attention and Dhyana, the practice of meditation. In reality they sound quite similar, not only in Sanskrit but also in action. But that is just it, Dhyana requires no action, it is a spontaneous happening in the body. While practicing Dharana some of us slip off into that place where we have full awareness of our surrounding yet a detachment to the time and space we are in, time seems to stand still and until we slip back into the sensation of this moment it becomes apparent how much time has truly passed. The hardest part here is the harder we try the further away we become from this goal.
- Samadhi - Enlightenment. This particular limb has vastly different theories. While it is believed by some that this level on the spiritual path can only be reached as we converge with the true source of divinity, signaling the end of this life cycle. I however resonate with the concept that this is the state where we can truly travel through life fully at peace connected to the source of Divinity. When in this state there is no judgement or expectation because it has already been discovered that true happiness and bliss are not something created by external experiences. This liberation allows us to live unveiled, seeing this life as what it truly is, a divine soul having a human experience.
All of this information is great but now what? We still have all of our issues, responsibilities and character traits we had before this short read. The truth is anything worth having is going to take some focus, commitment and the ability to keep trying even when we feel like we are failing. Some of the tools I find useful are going to yoga classes with experienced or well trained teachers (note yoga high), developing a personal practice, a productivity planner, mind mapping and a meditation app.
We will all still have highs and lows but with these tools and a little self love the highs will be higher and the lows won't be as low or last as long. It is important that we understand that this human experience is not designed for our lives to be perfect, but as an experience to bring us closer to our Divinity. This means feeling, even the things we don't wish to feel, allowing us to have our cupcake and eat it under a rainbow too.