According to Patanjali, the father of modern yoga, the practice of yoga is an eight-limbed path, also known as traditional Ashtanga Yoga. This eight-limbed path is a prescribed method of practice written in The Yoga Sutras (likely the most famous work of literature written about yoga) that is meant to help a practitioner reach a state of enlightenment or connection with the universe as a whole.
Patanjali explicitly wrote in The Yoga Sutras that the eight limbs of the Ashtanga Yoga path are:
1) Yamas – The Restraints
The restraints are listed as the activities that yogis should abstain from. These “don’ts” are:
- Ahimsa (non-violence)
- Satya (truthfulness)
- Brahmacharya (celibacy)
- Asteya (non-stealing)
- Aparigraha (non-covetousness and non-acceptance of gifts)
2) Niyamas – The Observances
The observances are listed as the activities that yogis should do. These “dos” are:
- Saucha (purity and cleanliness)
- Santosha (contentment)
- Tapas (austerity)
- Svadhyaya (self-study or study of the scriptures)
- Ishvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God or the Absolute)
3) Asana – Physical Postures
4) Pranayama – Breath Work or Control of the “Life Force”
5) Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the Senses
6) Dharana – Concentration and Focus
7) Dhyana – Meditation
8) Samadhi – Enlightenment, Nirvana, Bliss
Patanjali states that if all steps are respected fully and sequentially, following this eight-limbed path of Ashtanga Yoga will lead one to enlightenment, or to connection with the universe or the “Whole.”
In recent years, as yoga has grown in popularity in the Western world, the practice has been molded to become more of a physical exercise focusing exclusively on the asanas. Historically, however, the physical practice of yoga was only used to prepare the body to sit in meditation for long periods of time. Meditation and enlightenment were the goals of the practice and the physical postures were simply used to attain those goals.
So, in this day and age, how can one incorporate this more holistic approach to yoga in a personal practice? Let’s focus on the first Yama or restraint, for example – ahimsa, or nonviolence. The practice of ahimsa can be applied in many ways into our daily yoga practice. Ahimsa is both a physical body practice as well as a mental and spiritual practice that can manifest itself in many different ways.
Traditionally, yogis eat solely a vegetarian diet because of this one Yama. Consciously choosing to not consume meat because you do not want animals to suffer for your gain is a practice adhering to the principle of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence. Ahimsa is not only nonviolence toward others; it is also nonviolence toward ourselves. Ahimsa can translate in to your own physical yoga practice. Often we may find ourselves contorting our bodies and sometimes “pushing” ourselves to reach picture-perfect postures. Practicing ahimsa in our own physical yoga practice of asanas means never harming your own body or pushing yourself beyond your own limits and capacity. The practice of ahimsa can also translate to self-care. Nonviolence means not abusing your body with drugs or alcohol. It also means caring for yourself enough to consume foods that nourish while also staying active and physical to keep your body in shape. Acknowledging that “your body is your temple” is a practice of ahimsa toward yourself.
The practice of nonviolence can move even deeper into the mind. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best: “Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.” Being nonviolent within the mind is a practice that may be even more challenging. Ahimsa teaches us to control the mind so that we do not think violent or destructive thoughts. Nonviolence means not hating, not despising, not criticizing, not destructing – no matter the circumstances. We see powerful examples of ahimsa in the news when families of murder victims publicly forgive the murderer. This is a practice of ahimsa in one of its highest states – refusing to hate someone that has deeply wronged you.
Ahimsa of the mind is not only limited to other people though. We can practice nonviolence of the mind toward ourselves, as well. We can certainly practice ahimsa when we self-judge. We are all our own worst critics. Offering encouragement and gentle self-care and self-love rather than beating ourselves up for past mistakes is a practice of ahimsa toward ourselves. Caring for our own bodies and our own minds is the only real thing that we have control over in this world, and a yogi’s path is to learn to master these elements of life.
Ahimsa is the first Yama and the first step along the Ashtanga Yoga path. It is one of the most fundamental elements of a yogi’s journey. Learning to be nonviolent toward others and toward ourselves is paramount in our search for peace and enlightenment, offering opportunity to be kinder, gentler, and more centered and grounded.
Practicing ahimsa can translate across large expanses of your life and your practice. Like all of yoga, ahimsa is a practice of both the body and the mind. Incorporating ahimsa into our daily lives and daily practice can create drastic effects. Following all the steps of the Ashtanga Yoga path can teach us to become better and better, which will eventually help us to reach a state of connectedness, a state of awareness, and a state of enlightenment.
To learn more about the Ashtanga Yoga path ( the 8 limb path) and the practice of ahimsa, join Feeling Soul Good for their 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training course in the nature of Northern India or beautiful Bali, Indonesia 2017
For more details, please visit: www.FeelingSoulGood.com