The Eight Limbs of Yoga-Part I
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the quintessential text of the art and science of the practice of yoga as a whole. In it contains the ancient wisdom of how to lead a significant and purposeful life by following ashtanga, or the eightfold path. Ashtanga literally means eight limbs (ashta=eight; anga=limb), and it is these 8 limbs that guide you toward achieving a life full of high morals through self-disciplined physical and spiritual practices. This means that just simply doing Asana will not allow you to attain the kind of life most of us are searching for—a life full of abundant truth, compassion, joy, good fortune, gratitude, adventures and the like. Rather, all eights limbs must be present and pertinent in your everyday life in order to journey toward a virtuous existence.
Because the eightfold path is elaborate and extensive, I will break down each limb over the next couple of months in order to keep the concepts attainable and understandable. In addition, I suggest that these limbs be put into action. If you only read about becoming a better person, you may find it difficult to see results. It is by taking action that you plant the seeds of change.
After reading about a particular limb, see if you can apply it to your daily life. Take note of what changes arise. How do you feel? What kind of experiences are happening as a result of your focus on these limbs? What lessons are you learning? What transformations are you noticing in your relationships, your body, your perspective and overall wellbeing?
Please feel free to post your stories and thoughts in the comments section of the blog so we can open a dialogue among all of us yogis who are interested in the eightfold path.
The First Limb
The first limb is called Yama. This course of action deals entirely with ethics and your sense of integrity. The 5 Yamas are a set of standards that steer you in the direction of honorable living. They ensure you behave in a righteous manner toward all living things and Mother Earth.
The 5 Yamas are as follows:
- Ahimsa~non-violence; compassion for all living things
- Brahmacharya~sense control
Although there are 5 Yamas, today I will focus on the first three.
Ahimsa asks us to be mindful in the ways in which we treat others. This means that we have a responsibility to do no harm as well as to create friendly, harmonious and considerate interactions with others and the creatures in it.
I wanted to take a moment to share some examples of what Ahimsa could look like in your life.
*speak positively about and toward others
*smile at anyone you encounter
*do not cause any type of physical or emotional harm or stress to any person, creature or nature.
*allow someone to go in front of you in line at the store or in your car
*speak to and treat others with respect
*perform gestures of compassion
*disagree in a respectful manner (agree to disagree)
*donate your time or money to those in need
It really is simple to implement small acts of Ahimsa in our daily lives. Can you think of any acts of compassion you have shown toward others today?How can you make the practice of Ahimsa a habit in your life?
Satya is a commitment to speaking, thinking and acting honestly. There is an art to how we speak the truth. Words are powerful and if you are not paying attention to what you say and how you say it, you could cause unnecessary harm to others. Remember though, that Ahmisa asks us to always act compassionate. Therefore, the aim of Satya is to not hurt others with deliberate deceptions and mistruths. Rather, this precept shows us that the foundation of healthy and strong relationships comes from honest communication and action.
Again, take a moment to think about a time when you were honest with your partner or friend. Also think about a time when you weren’t. Have you ever had dishonest thoughts but refused to act on them? Do you ever find yourself lying to not hurt somebody’s feelings? Instead of lying, could you tactfully say the truth to not hurt the other person so much?
Asteva directly relates to Satya. Stealing something that does not belong to you is an untruthful act and Satya asks you to refrain from ever doing so. If someone entrusts something to you, it is imperative to not mistreat them or their stuff. This Yama also invites us to not take advantage of anything that is not freely given. If someone lends you a book or a movie, it is imperative you take care of it and return it in a timely manner. If we ask someone for their time, again, do not exploit them. Make sure you act appreciative and humble because in a sense, wasting someone’s time is also like stealing it.
Have you ever had something stolen from you? How did it make you feel? Have you ever stolen something from someone else? How did that make you feel?
What makes the Yamas so powerful is that you are in control of them. If you want to be happy and enjoy good fortune in your life, you can. Everyday you can decide to help others and spread love. However, if you want to embrace the darkness of life and wake up miserable everyday, you can do that too. It is a choice, yogis. And if you want to choose the path of light, or you are already on this path, you can begin to shine brighter by choosing to apply the Yamas into your daily life.
The eightfold path is a journey of a lifetime. Do not let it discourage you. Instead, let it ignite and excite you.
Remember what Lao-Tzu said: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Limb by limb you can embark on this path, taking it one step at a time, and experiencing the positive affects bloom in your life as you go…..