Applying the 8 Limbs of Yoga to Modern Day
Many years ago, an Indian sage named Patanjali wrote a now famous treatise called The Yoga Sutras. This document offers a blueprint for living a life filled with joy, peace, and satisfaction. Who doesn’t want more of these in their life? Patanjali speaks of the human condition and the desire to feel fulfilled, peaceful, and happy. Unfortunately, that is not what we see in ourselves or others much of the time. We forget that our true nature is blissful, clear consciousness.
Patanjali presented this as a complete system of practices. When applied faithfully and regularly to our lives, this practice gives the promise of eliminating suffering so that we can exist as the conscious, blissful individuals that we were created to be. Now does this mean that we will not experience pain or difficulties in our lives? No, not at all. We will however have the tools to shift our perception of the situations we consider painful into the experience of a blessing. Sounds good, right? It does take work. Embodying the eight limbs of yoga is a lifelong journey. It requires commitment, patience, and the willingness to be honest with yourself.
According to Patanjali, the root of our pain or discontent is ignorance. It is so easy to become strongly identified with our possessions and our stories, but ultimately we are not our things and we are so much more than the stories we tell. The world will go on long after us, and in our hectic modern lives, it is easy to forget that.
This way of thinking is created by the fear and anxiety of losing the possessions, belief systems, and relationships that we cherish—the things we become attached to.
The thing is, we may continue to crave more and more pleasure, not ever feeling satisfied. The result will be a mind that is always moving, never content, and never calm (rajas), or a mind that is heavy, dull, and uninspired (tamas) When we apply time, energy, and dedication to all the limbs of yoga, the outcome is a mind that is calm, content, harmonious, and clear (sattva).
This does not just happen on its own. We need to carve out time in our lives to incorporate these practices. In the beginning, there will always be something to get in the way or slow the progress down. The ego would much prefer to go shopping, play on Facebook, or do almost anything other than this kind of work. It takes dedication and consistent surrendering. If this is how you are going to live your life, it needs to be more than a weekend class you attend or the occasional whim of inspiration.
Does the energy to stay on this path come easy? Not at first and not all the time. Sure, there are blessed times when you will flow through life with peace and ease. Then there are other times when you feel you are trying to push a boulder up a hill. That is when it is most important to stay the course and keep up the practice.
Let’s quickly overview the eight limbs. The first four are considered the outer limbs. These are how we prepare ourselves for the deeper practices by building strength and flexibility in our bodies and minds. This is the foundation we are going to build on and it needs to be strong, solid, and even. The fifth limb, pratyahara, works as a bridge. This practice links the outer and inner limbs together. It is often an overlooked limb, but very important. The last three are the inner limbs which just naturally flow from one into the other. Beginning with one pointed focus or concentration leads into meditation, which leads into complete absorption with the present moment, with your source—fully realized. Yes, this is the goal!
This has been my experience and relationship with the sutras. I am far, and I mean far, from fully realized with all of this. But I am filled with gratitude to be on this path. Over the next few months we are going to climb up the branches of Patanjali’s tree. Join me as we journey together on a path towards a more well-rounded and balanced life. This is an exploration of finding joy, peace, and satisfaction. The reward is getting a glimpse of ourselves as conscious and blissful beings.