Happy Monday, you radiant yogi being! And Happy Halloween! As we delve more deeply into our yoga practice together, let’s explore in more detail the Eight-Limbed Path of YOGA.
While there are eight steps to this lifelong practice, the biggest benefit and the ultimate endgame is: PEACE. There are numerous physical, physiological, mental and spiritual benefits of a yoga practice; you’ve undoubtedly already experienced many of them, but the true goal is ultimately to find an art of living in peace and harmony within yourself and all other living creatures.
While the path is eightfold, we can work on each of the steps simultaneously or in any order that evolves organically for the individual. Most of us come to the practice through the third step – asana – which is a wonderful entry point! Remember that yoga meets you exactly where you are without reservation or judgement.
The first step in the path is called YAMAS – they can be considered as five moral guidelines, ethical considerations or universal vows. Patanjali instructs us in the Yoga Sutras that we should practice the Yamas on all levels: in our actions, words and thoughts.
Ahimsa is the practice of non-violence, which includes physical, mental, and emotional violence towards others and the self. The starting point of your yoga practice begins with YOU. The most violence that we create is often towards ourselves through our reactions to events and others, habitually creating judgment, criticism, anger or irritation. I have observed within myself that for many years I habitually bullied and shamed and criticized myself which I mistakenly thought was motivating myself to achieve more and be more successful. As I began to observe this, slowly I realized how much violence I was directing inward and ultimately outward through these thought patterns. The most effective way to foster ahimsa is to practice being compassionate to yourself, first and foremost, and then towards others. I try to allow my heart to remain open and loving and I strive to accept events, situations and others exactly as they are. Each time I experience my reactive self, I try to replace those thoughts and feelings with kindness, acceptance and love. This is very challenging and usually not very fun. And I practice forgiving myself for not having compassion with practicing compassion.
Satya is the practice of truthfulness. We strive to live and speak our truth at all times. As always, we start with truthfulness towards ourselves – being honest and authentic with our own reality, opening to acceptance and loving gratitude. Since Ahimsa must be practiced first, we must be careful to not speak a truth if we know it will cause harm to another. Living in your truth not only creates respect, honor and integrity but also provides the vision to clearly see the higher truths of the yogic path. It also gives those around us the strength and permission to walk proudly within their own truth.
Asteya is non-stealing, and is self-evident: not taking what is not freely given. While this may on the surface seem easy to accomplish, when we look at the deeper implications of this Yama, we see how challenging this practice truly is. As an action, this is pretty clear-cut; obviously, we know not to take what is not ours, like theft of items from a store or someone’s home. But when we look at the level of words and thoughts, it becomes an entirely different practice. Asteya also refers to taking others’ thoughts and ideas and passing them off as our own. Constantly arriving late and having others’ wait for you is a form of stealing someone’s time. Practicing asteya also relates to dominating conversations without allowing the other person to speak and burdening others with our negative chatter (ahimsa).
Brahmacharya or continence technically refers to practicing abstinence or moderation in a sexual context, but the overarching thought is to practice control over all of our physical impulses of excess. The thought is that we attain knowledge, vigor, and increased energy when we channel the satisfaction of physical urges into higher goals. This applies to the overindulgence of food, wine, social media, binge watching TV shows, shopping and even getting addicted to the physical practice of yoga. To break the bonds that attach us to our excesses and addictions, we need both courage and will. And each time we overcome these impulses of excess we become stronger, healthier and wiser. One of the main goals in yoga is to create and maintain balance. And the simplest method for achieving balance is by practicing Brahmacharya, creating moderation in all of our activities. Practicing moderation is a way of conserving our energy, which can then be applied for higher spiritual purposes.
Aparigraha is the practice of non-coveting. Yoga teaches us to trust in the abundance of life. When we truly open up to the the truth that any and everything that we ever need shall be provided for us, we can resist the urge to cling, grasp, grip and possess anything. This is similar to the concept of stewardship – that we are all here to care for and pass on the gifts of this Earth – but we own nothing. As with all of our Yamas, this one can be so challenging in our consumer-driven society. How can we deprogram our minds’ need to own, possess, acquire and collect? When we know our true intrinsic value, we can stop searching for our worth to be defined as what we have and focus on who we are.
Whether you are an enlightened being who lives, breathes and eats the Yamas to perfection, or you are a flawed struggling yogi like me just trying to do better and be better each day, please, please, please practice compassion for yourself! You are doing the best you can each day. We all stumble, and we all know that we have this wonderful YBD community that always supports us and lifts us up. Know that you are so loved, and we are so grateful to have you on this shared journey called life.