Sometimes Yoga is described as an eight-limbed path; eight steps to freedom!
Do you know that the ultimate goal of yoga is to cease the stirrings of the mind?! Doesn't that sound good?! A settled mind! Each step of the eight-limbed path is a piece of guidance, that you can use to bring greater calmness and wellbeing into daily life.
Here are the eight steps. They may sound a bit odd because they have odd names for 'Westerners', but once you start to understand each one and apply it to life, you realize how common sense they are! Just like any guidance we choose to apply in life, we can keep going back to these, learning and living them in new ways as our inner and outer life changes. Multiple steps can develop in you at one time; each helps to develop the others. You will find this for yourself as you practice.
Whilst they are eight steps, a person would be wise to focus on 1 and 2, giving themselves an honest reflection of where they are with the Yamas and Niyamas. This reflection is followed with refining the way we live our lives, so that we are more aligned with our natural state; exactly what the Yamas and Niyamas bring us towards. There is another article dedicated to the Yamas and Niyamas.
1. Yamas - are the guidance for how to act in the outer world (people, places) for greater peace of mind. They include things most people are very familiar with, such as not harming ourselves or others with our words or actions and telling the truth. There are five Yamas: without-harm, without-lying, without-stealing, without-excessiveness, without-possessiveness. The Yamas and Niyamas together are very powerful tools for greater peace of mind.
2. Niyamas - are the guidance for how to reflect using our inner resources, for feeling greater inner harmony. They include matters such as contentment and self-discipline, which all of us wish we had more of! Whereas the Yamas are mainly a guiding force for harmonious ways of being in society, the Niyamas help us to seek and find harmony within ourselves. There are five Niyamas: Purity, Contentment, Self-discipline, Self-Reflection, and Contemplation of Truth.
3. Asana - what we commonly know as 'yoga poses', but the word more correctly means 'to sit'. Asanas are the shapes and stretches we make with the poses, which help to align our postures, ease tightness, and correct unhelpful patterns of movement. Asana should enable us 'to sit' for the next stage of the eight limbed path:
4. Pranayama - means 'control of vital life force'. From a scientific viewpoint, Pranayama uses breathing practices to calm or stimulate the nervous system. For instance a calming practice would help us to relax, be mindful, and feel less stressed; more content! A stimulating practice might help us to get alert for a physical game or exam. Beyond the science, Pranayama is said to help cleanse the body (which yoga sees a a shell for the soul) of old, stagnant, or unhelpful energies and beliefs that are blocking the light of True Self.
5. Pratyahara - means sense withdrawal. This is where yoga begins to take on a life of its own. The previous step of Pranayama prepares us to have the sensation of relaxing our whole being. When this occurs we naturally forget to listen, to feel, to smell. We start to become absorbed in an experience that is the quietening of the outer world. From here, we can dive to the inside; a world much neglected in modern society.
6. Dharana - means concentration. Some teachers say it means the ability to focus on one single object (such as a sensation of breath, a sound like a mantra, or image in the mind) for 144 seconds! You should try that! How long can you focus on one thing before a thought, an itch, or something else distracts you from it? You may have had subtle glimpses of concentration, for instance, when you are calmly focused on painting, or stitching, or tending a garden.
7. Dhyana- means meditation. What most of us do these days is not meditation, it is mindfulness or concentration; and it is very worthwhile! Whereas step 6 Concentration, sounds like some effort is required, meditation is effortlessness observation of the object, which leads to...
8. Samadhi, or True Meditation, as taught by the eight limbed path, is complete absorption in the object of meditation; so much so that the one observing, becomes completely merged with the object! This may sound a bit foreign, but it is possible. It happens in a flash and teaches us directly that "all is One".
Whilst we won't all set out to follow the whole path, there are profound advantages to our wellbeing in everyday life to looking at steps 1 through 4. We can influence our physical nervous system and peace of mind directly, by applying the guidance in our daily lives.
See the articles on Yamas and Niyamas to get started. If you would like some assistance to develop your own contentment through the eight-fold path, you can message using the contact form.
A note about religion: This article has not been written with any type of religion in mind. If you are a person of faith, your own faith likely has its own set of guiding principles that are the first steps to seeking True Wellbeing. The ones presented here are not meant to conflict with or replace your own beliefs, whether you be a Spiritualist, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or any other path. In fact, upon reading this, you may have noticed some similarities to your own faith. Awakening Wellbeing is an inclusive entity, with a purpose of harmony, both for the individual and between groups of people.
Image: Ian Alexander, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons