A common question asked amongst Yogi’s is how do I reach enlightenment?
According to the Vedic scriptures, Patanjali has the answer. Let me elaborate…
The word ‘Yoga’ has come from the Sanskrit word ‘Yuj’, which means ‘to yoke’ or ‘to unite’.
Yoga is a spiritual practice with the goal of self-realisation leading to Moksha, enlightenment, ‘the transcendent state attained as a result of being released from the cycle of rebirth’.
The discipline of yoga is based on a subtle science of bringing the mind, body & spirit into harmony & unison.
Patanjali was a great sage in India & author of Vedic yoga scriptures including the Yoga Sutras, a classical yoga text outlining the eight steps required to attain Self-Realisation & Moksha. The Sutras are methods & guidelines for yogis to embark on spiritual growth through right living.
These 8 guidelines are referred to as Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. ‘Ashta’ means Eight & ‘Anga’ means limbs, commonly translated to the Eight Limb Path of Patanjali.
Patanjali’s Eight limb path to self-realisation includes:
1. Yama (moral codes, ethical standards & integrity)
2. Niyama (Self-purification, discipline and spiritual observance)
3. Asana (Posture)
4. Pranayama (Breath Control)
5. Pratyahara (Sense control)
6. Dharana (Concentration)
7. Dhyana (Meditation)
8. Samadhi (absorption into the universal consciousness, liberation, self-realisation)
Each limb prepares you for the next.
1. The first step towards moksha is Yama (moral codes, ethical standards & integrity). The Yama’s are made up of five ethical standards to assist you in right living. The word Yama means ‘restraint’ or ‘control’.
1. Ahimsa (Non-Violence) – Ahimsa is the act of non-violence towards other living creatures & yourself. The abstinence of causing harm or pain through injury or non-injury. Non-injury refers to not causing harm or pain through the non-physical sense, this includes verbal & mental abuse. Being kind with your words not only to others but also to yourself so that you do not cause a harmful impression on the mind. The mind and body are intricately connected, thus when you cause harm to the mind you cause harm on the body. The same is true for the body, if you cause harm to the body you cause harm to the mind.
Ahimsa teaches us to always act out of kindness, with a gentle loving heart, touch & speech.
2. Satya (truthfulness) – Your essence, your spirit, the true self is your truth. Understand this truth & always act and speak from this place, refraining from lies, judgment & fabricated stories. Your actions should be in accordance with your thoughts & word. Be true to your word. To get closer to your true eternal self you must live a life of truthfulness, in action & with the words you speak.
3. Asteya (Non-Stealing) – Non-stealing of physical/material possessions. Asteya also refers to non-stealing of someone’s time, if they do not give it freely to you. Being mindful of what you expect and ask of others for your own gratification. Non-stealing can also refer to someone’s work & creations. Asteya is non-stealing of someone’s dignity or rights, referring to sexual misconduct towards another being &/or abuse of power.
4. Brahmacharya (abstinence) – Control of sexual desires & sensual gratification. This sacred act is reserved for expressing love & uniting as one, not for lustrous pleasure. According to Ayurveda & yoga sexual activity, if not done under the right intention can lead to loss of Ojas (vitality) & Prana (life-force energy), with reduced energy it is hard to move through to the next steps in the eight paths of right living.
5. Aparigraha (non-greed, non-attachment, non-possessiveness) – All attachment leads to suffering. The practice of aparigraha is not being attached to the outcome of your actions, not being consumed & possessive over ideas, beliefs or thoughts. The practice implies not taking more than you need (non-greed), living in moderation. Aparigraha also means not being attached to the love to you give & receive. We all love our friends and families but there are times where this ‘love’ can manifest into an attachments or possessiveness (and in hindsight would not reflect true love). The saying “To love someone is to let them free” can come into play with Aparigraha. You can love wholeheartedly without the need for control over another being or attachment to what you get in return from them.
2. Niyamas is the second limb in the eight-limb path of right living. It also includes five steps which look at self-discipline & spiritual observance.
1. Saucha (Purity/cleanliness) – Cleanliness and purity of the mind, body & environment. Through mindful practices, purity of the mind can be achieved. Catching our thoughts and judgements before they manifest into a negative story is a starting point as to where we can transform the thoughts into more positive high vibrational one. Stillness and quietness helps us clear & clean the mind. Healthy living with right movement & nourishment from food helps to clean & purify the body. Ayurvedic cleanses are a practice that has been used for 1000’s of years to clean the mind & the body. A clean environment is important for the proper functioning of the mind. Clutter in our external world can reflect clutter in the mind.
2. Santosha (contentment) – Contentment with where you are at in life. Although it is important to better ourselves, environment, life situation and the world around us we must also accept and be content with where we are currently at. With that acceptance comes a positive energy and ability to move forward with inspired action without being attached to the outcome. With contentment in your life, you learn to flow with the universal energy knowing that all that is supposed to unfold will. Yogis practising santosha will be happy and content with what they have and do the best with what they have in any situation.
3. Tapas (Austerity/discipline) – To strengthen our mind & our body we must practice self-discipline. The daily practice of discipline can be referred to as tapas. This is self-discipline with physical practices, food, mediation, thoughts, habits, sexual desires. For centuries Ayurveda & yoga has used fasting as a spiritual practice of tapas (far from the way it is seen and used in our modern world today).
4. Svadhyaya (self-study) – Svadhyaya is the practise of self-study and reflection so that you can gain spiritual growth. This personal development has become widely talked about and written about in our modern world. You can read all of the personal growth books out there but if you do not apply the teachings to your life, reflect on the person you are and take inspired action to implement change than you will not ‘grow’. The Vedic scriptures that reflect on svadhyaya are; The Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Sutras, Ramayana, Puranas & Mahabharata.
5. Isvara pranidhana (Surrender & devotion to the supreme) – Let go of your expectations, whilst doing your best to live fully & authentically. Surrender & devote your life to the supreme. Know that there is a power much greater than “I”. That power is the divine and it is in all things, including ‘self’. “I” being referred to as the ego-self and “self” being referred to as the eternal spiritual self.
3. Asana (Postures) – The third limb refers to yoga postures. This is the ‘Yoga’ most widely practised in the west. Although we can now understand that just practising asana postures is not the true definition of ‘yoga’ without incorporating all of the 8 limbs. When we say, we are going to ‘yoga’ we are referring to a posture class, so in fact what we term Yoga Classes in the west should actually be called Asana Classes if we look at the definition of yoga through Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga.
4. Pranayama (Breath work) – Pranayama can be translated to “life-force extension”. This is the practice of connecting the breath with the mind & body. Our breath holds oxygen which is food for prana, the life force energy within us. Pranayama rejuvenates the body & the mind, and can extend life itself. Pranayama is used to purify the body & influence the flow of energy (prana) in the Nadis (energy channels of the body).
5. Pratyahara (Control of the senses) – This is the practice of directing our attention inwards, moving our awareness away from external stimuli of the outside world to focus on our ‘inside world’. These days our senses are constantly being drawn to external noises, sights, smells, touch and taste. We are overstimulated & lack control of the senses, leading to stress and anxiety. Taking control of the senses allows us to ‘come home’ and find a subtle peace.
6. Dharana (Concentration) – Dharana is the practice of slowing the mind so that we can concentrate & focus on a single object or mantra. Overtime this single-pointed concentration can lead to Dhyana (meditation). Concentration is an important practice that can be applied to all facets of life, bringing more awareness and mindfulness to our everyday sense of being.
7. Dhyana (Meditation) – From single-pointed concentration we can move into meditation where our “increased focus of attention is unbound by time & space”. Our state moves from focus to awareness & stillness without or very limited thoughts.
8. Samadhi (Self-realisation/Consciousness) – The state of Samadhi can only be achieved when all other 7 limbs have been attended to. It is the final state of self-realisation, liberation, moksha. It is a state of pure bliss, ecstasy & oneness with the supreme, free from pain and suffering.
Patanjali’s eight limbs of Yoga teach us the right way of living. Each limb is just as relevant today as it was when it was written 1000’s of years ago. The timeless wisdom can be applied to our everyday life to gain more insight and understanding to oneself so that we can live a more peaceful and content life, finding clarity amongst the chaos of our external modern world. It teaches us to study the self daily so that we can reach a state of peace within us and act in a way that is true to our higher self, respectful, ethical and integral.
By following the eight-limb path we embark on a journey to liberation, self-realisation and free from suffering.
For more insights into Ayurveda & Yoga, you can sign up to my ‘Intro to Ayurveda ~ Lifestyle Medicine for the Mind.Body.Soul’ online course. Launching August 17th.
If you would like to practice Saucha (Purity/cleanliness) and cleanse the mind & body, join me for my 6 week Ayurvedic MindBody Reset Cleanse. www.Harmonyinspiredhealth.com.au