Some of you will be familiar with Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, Raja Yoga, the Royal Path. This is the great gift Patanjali gave the world, laying out a very simple and yet profound set of guidelines for removing the obstacles on our path to Enlightenment.
These Limbs form the basis of any Sadhana or spiritual practice to purify the physical, mental and spiritual bodies. However, Patanjali isn’t just guiding us to a healthy mind and body, his aim is the perfection of physical, ethical, emotional and psycho-spiritual health, opening the way for the eventual cessation or transcending of all mental functioning.
Patanjali acknowledges that we are already perfect or Enlightened in our Essence. However, we have allowed ourselves to be distracted from the Truth and in the process we have accumulated stress, fatigue and toxins, resulting in a loss of connection with our Essence. The Eight Limbs give us the means to remember who we really are. As Aldous Huxley said, “Our goal is to discover that we have always been where we ought to be”. The Eight Limbs are a journey to reconnect with the Divine, so it’s a journey back to Love. Tagore said, “While God waits for His temple to be built of love, men bring stones”. It’s time to put aside the stones and make Love the central theme of everything you do.
The Eight Limbs also cover just about every New Year’s resolution you may have made, plus much more Let’s look at them and how they relate to our lives.
The five Yamas are most commonly referred to as codes of moral and social behavior, how we should behave towards others. However, our attitude towards others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves.
Ahimsa (non-violence). See if you can be more kind and loving to yourself. Are you getting enough rest, eating a healthy diet, balancing your emotions, doing things just for fun.
Satya (truthfulness). Be true to yourself. Listen to your body and let its signals of comfort or discomfort guide you.
Asteya (non-stealing). Be grateful for all you have and live in wealth consciousness. Be discerning with your time. Wasting your time is stealing from yourself.
Brahmacharya (celibacy). Don’t waste your energy. Be aware of how your body feels and favor activities and situations that energize you rather than those that drain your energy.
Aparigraha (abstaining from greed). Remember that you are the Universe. There is a Vedic saying, the ignorant man desires material things, the intelligent man desires spiritual goals but the wise man just loves and everything comes to him. Be the wise man.
The five Niyamas are the principles for living our own lives, which directly effect our spiritual journey.
Saucha (purity). Take an inventory of how you are behaving physically, mentally, and spiritually. What are you inviting into your mind and body through your senses? Now is the time to be alert and make conscious choices. We are beings of Light, bring the Light back into your life.
Santosha (contentment). Accept that the moment is always perfect. Stop fighting against the past and look for future opportunities. The Joy of the Absolute is always with us. Look for the Joy even in every day activities and let it be your guide.
Tapas (discipline). The world can be very chaotic and confusing at times. Now is the time to regain our mastery in everything we do. Be aware of the things or people that no longer serve your journey, thank them and let them go. Pay attention to all aspects of your life and be moderate in everything.
Svadhyaya (study). Look within. Ask questions such as, “Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? Before you do something, ask yourself if it serves your journey. Begin to let go of any unnecessary or self-destructive tendencies.
Ishwara Pranidharna (devotion). Recognize the Divinity within yourself. Surrender to your own Divinity. See everything you do as part of your spiritual practice.
Nowadays we think of asanas as the poses we make in a yoga class. However the full meaning of asana is seat or posture, or more exactly the seat of consciousness. It’s the position that allows us to move beyond awareness of the mind and body and into Pure Awareness. This can be
accomplished when we settle completely into a yoga pose or our meditation seat but also at any other time if we live our lives with Grace.
Grace reconnects us with the Divine. Grace is when all effort is relaxed and the mind settles into the Infinite. Bring gracefulness into everything you do. How do you walk, how do you sit, talk, dress? Be graceful.
Prana is the life-force. When prana leaves the body, the soul also leaves. Pranayama means to expand this life-force and be fully alive. Prana is intimately connected to breath so pranayama uses breathing exercises to expand it throughout the body. There are three basic types of pranayama, inhaling, exhaling and retention. Ask yourself what new things do you want to bring into your life? What is it time to release and which things do
you want to keep. Use your breath to breathe in goodness, love, compassion and breathe out anger, greed, sorrow.
Pratyahara is to withdraw from feeding the senses. Most of us are over stimulated so become aware of how much unnecessary information you are taking in through your senses. Start noticing the things that distract you from your spiritual journey, whether they are situations, thoughts or emotions. Notice which unnecessary things you keep repeating.
Practice recapitulation, where you review your day without judgement, just before going to sleep. Then let it all go, all the cares and concerns, leave them in the past. As you go through your day, remind yourself that all you are experiencing is not really who you are. Become the witness of all you do.
Dharana translates as focused attention but unlike normal concentration, dharana means holding the attention within a spiritual center. This could be having awareness of the inner light of one of the chakras, holding the awareness on a Divine form, physical or imagined. Dharana is training
the mind for deeper meditation, effortlessly repeating a mantra or sacred sound and returning to it whenever we drift away. We could say it’s the first stage of meditation.
What we put our attention on grows in importance so this year try to spend more time with your attention on life-supporting qualities. Things like multi-tasking, mental confusion, conflicting desires, fantasies and day dreaming weaken dharana so try to minimize them this year.
Some simple dharana exercises to support our spiritual growth are:
- Attention and breath in the navel area – restrains negative energies which keep us in the lower chakras.
- Attention and breath in the heart center – establishes us in a higher state of purity.
- Attention and breath in the crown chakra – allows us to achieve our higher desires and accomplish everything.
- Attention and breath above the head – brings purity and auspiciousness to everything we do.
Dhyana is the perfection of your meditation. It’s described as when a series of identical thoughts (in our case the mantra) arise before the previous one has subsided, creating a perfect continuity. In India they describe this as similar to pouring oil from one pot to another, a seamless flow.
Make a commitment to be regular with your meditation practice. Thoughts may still come but, with continued practice, the periods of continuous flow of the mantra will increase.
Dhyana eventually carries the limited awareness to its source of Pure Awareness. Dhyana is weakened by expectations, rigidity, compulsive behavior and lack of trust. Try to minimize or eliminate these from your life.
Samadhi isn’t something we can gain by trying. Samadhi is the culmination of all the other Limbs, the goal of our spiritual practices. Samadhi is the silent field of Infinite Possibilities, which remains hidden until we allow all activity and distractions to cease.
As being regular with your meditation, spend time and if possible live in calm peaceful surroundings, minimize your distractions, practice self-acceptance, align your desires to support your spiritual goals, try not to take anything too seriously.
May your life be filled with Love and Light.