I Got Eight Limbs–and I Ain’t Afraid to Use ‘Em!
Yoga is a way to harness our awareness and anchor it in this moment. The eight limbs of RajaYoga give us a framework in which we can build and practice present moment awareness in our day to day lives. We move away from the trap of thoughts like, “I would be happy if I could have (more money, a better relationship, a nicer boss, unlimited free babysitting, a bigger house, that cute pair of shoes)” and we embrace our aliveness in this moment. We don’t need anything to change. We can love ourselves, our life, and the people in it exactly as it all is, right here, right now. What freedom. What beauty. What a miracle! Miracles can take a lot of work, but luckily there’s yoga. The kind I practice has eight limbs.
The first limb is made up of the yamas, ethical disciplines that are essential to everyday life in order to be in harmony within ourselves and in the world. They include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, moderation, and non-hoarding.
The second limb is the niyamas, the observances we practice to relate to the world–inside and out–in healthy and balanced ways. They are comprised of cleanliness, contentment, purification, self-study, and surrender to a higher power.
The third limb is the asanas, the postures of yoga, designed to heal the body and mind that that we may journey the inner and the outer paths unhindered.
The fourth limb is pranayama, mastery of the breath. When breath is brought under our conscious control, we are able to regulate physical and mental states and bring them into greater harmony.
The fifth limb is pratyahara, withdrawal of the senses. Instead of being tossed around on a sea of our own tastes, our likes and dislikes, we bring our senses under our conscious control, and find freedom in the ability to be with what is, regardless of sensory input. The ability to leave aside sensory awareness gives us greater freedom to navigate within and experience the enormity of our inner consciousness, that in us which exists beyond the senses of the body and the thoughts of the mind.
The sixth limb is dharana, concentration. We focus the mind’s power by bringing it to stillness. Maybe today it is only for a few seconds, but those few seconds of stillness give us the space to experience being. As we are able to sustain focus for longer periods of time, we experience greater and greater awareness of the one self that exists beyond the world of form.
The seventh limb is dhyana, meditation. When our ability to concentrate is strong and sustained, we experience ourselves melding with the object on which we are meditating. It could be a flower, a candle flame, the face of a deity, the breath, a mantram, a white wall, inner space, all of these or none of these. Whatever it is we choose to meditate on, once we are able to really truly focus on it, we experience a softening of the boundaries that we call body self me you it. It is no longer me and the flower–now it is simply being. The lines of distinction are blurred, and it is all one.
The seventh limb is samadhi, bliss. All of the other limbs lead us to this place. When we go deep in our meditation, we can eventually lose sense of the duality associated with the ego self–body/mind, us/them, you/me, inside/outside, hot/cold, pleasure/pain. When duality fades away and we experience pure oneness, we awaken in awareness of our true nature–infinite, unbounded joy. This is a spontaneous experience that arises naturally. It cannot be given or taken away, it cannot be forced or controlled–we can only practice and create the right conditions for it to occur. Maybe we catch a glimpse of it from time to time, but just an instant spent in awareness of our true self gives us the motivation to keep trying, to keep practicing, to keep reaching for this self, so that eventually we may abide in awareness of it.
Our daily lives gives us the chance to live the eight limbs, to apply them in all circumstances, so that we may continually evolve as conscious beings making conscious choices that bring joy, hope, and healing to the other beings with whom we share this planet. Daily life continuously presents us with challenges, and this affords us the opportunity to either react with our ingrained habits, or to slow down, step back, awaken and try something new. When we choose gentleness over impatience, we grow strong. When we slow down and focus, we get more done. Life gives us an infinite number of possibilities to keep trying again and again and again. If we aren’t happy with what we did a moment ago, here is this moment to say, “Ok, let’s try something else.” Thank you life!
I’m very excited to share what I know of this amazing path of yoga with anyone and everyone who is interested. Feel free to come along for the whole ride, or just walk a few steps with me now and again. In the end, as in the beginning, there is your infinite self, always present, unchanging. If I can be a small part of your journey back home to yourself, it will be the most precious gift you could give me.