I thought it would be a nice idea to start to do a small blog on the ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’, as Ahimsa has come to mind a lot recently.
Astanga Yoga is actually named after the’ Eight Limbs’, as set out in the Yoga Sutras – – written by Patanjali around 400 BC. An eight-step guide to ‘self-realisation’ or ‘enlightenment’. These steps are:
Yama – The practice of (universal) moral principles
Niyama – The practice of personal disciplines
Asana – The practice of physical postures
Pranayama – The practice of breath control
Pratyhara – The practice of withdrawal of your senses
Dharana – The practice of focused attention
Dhyana – The practice of meditation
Samadhi – Self-realisation/ Enlightenment
Yama (the first Limb) is broken down into five practices that form the ethical foundations of how to live your life. These are :
Ahimsa – Non-violence
Satya – Truth
Asteya – Non-stealing
Brahmacharya – Transforming a vital force (sexual energy) to a spiritual level
Aparigraha – Greedlessness
As I said at the beginning of this blog, I would like to focus on Ahimsa, which means ‘non-violence’ to yourself and to others. It is the start of the Yamas (more on the other Yamas in a future blog) and it is something that always plays on my mind.
As a young person I always found it incredibly difficult to come to terms with the amount of cruelty that goes on in the world and it’s still something that I continue to struggle to deal with on a daily basis.
I don’t have to talk about the atrocities we hear in the news. Human beings fighting against one other for colour, race or creed. The wanton destruction of our planet and natural resources. Not to mention our obsessiveness with maintaining ownership and dominance over animals to do with as we please.
We witness(and partake in)different degrees of cruelty every day. Simple acts such as treating other sentient beings with disrespect through word, actions or even simple thoughtlessness.
Just because you don’t witness the act of cruelty or violence it doesn’t negate you from the chain of that act. Without the demand for meat we wouldn’t be farming to such distorted and unnatural proportions Something to begin to acknowledge next time you are about to eat that sausage, beef burger or piece of fried chicken.
The amount of pressure we live under on a daily basis in this western world can also naturally turn the focus of frustration inwardly and onto ourselves. From obvious acts of violence such as self harming (in its many forms). Through to working ourselves so hard within the corporate companies that our health gives way. Guilt often being attached somewhere along the line. The weight of guilt ( a chosen emotion that can be controlled through reason) encourages us to continue on this path of self-harm in order to feel the acceptance we are looking for from our colleagues and superiors. Continuing on the path of conforming to the unnatural pressure of today’s standards.
As the decades roll on, it appears that people feel most comfortable with constant stimulation and communication at all times. That stillness is something that is uncomfortable to deal with and to be avoided as much as possible. Unfortunately this leads to living in a society that expects instant gratification. An expectation that loses touch with the natural world.
In these times it’s a difficult thing to see the bigger picture and remain objective, especially when those things have to do with our personal wellbeing and development.
It is easy to get caught up in wanting to be judged as the ‘best’ in the group or wanting to be recognised as having ‘special’ abilities, as that is what our current society dictates.
However when on the mat, our truth cannot be avoided.
Maybe you are that person born with the ability to be the best in the room at ‘performing’ asana (there are Bikram yoga competitions you can join!;0) but more likely you are like the majority of people in the room. Each special in our own way and struggling on our individual paths — with our own difficulties that we face each day.
That’s regardless of whether you have just stepped onto the path or have been walking that same path for years, as the issues unfold with each year.
I think there is a reason Ahimsa is the first of the Yamas and first in the Eight Steps. That is because it a primary feeling that arises when you are on that mat. There are simply two pathways that lead you to feeling angry.Either through being hurt or through frustration. We cannot help but feel frustrated when we feel we are being held back.. (surely more is more, bigger is better, fastest is best)….shouldn’t I be getting more postures??
With the unrealistic and unnatural expectation of how fast things should be moving. A feeling that we are conditioned to feel, in order to conform to our present society.
There is a lovely quote by Lao-Tzu that says:
Do you have the patience to wait
Till the mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
Obviously this completely goes against how we are conditioned to live within our society. Making this even more incredibly difficult to achieve, and yet that is exactly the attitude we should be taking with us each day to that mat.
It easy to let your frustrations get the better of you and start punishing yourself, ignoring what your body is telling you and allowing that dominant force, ‘the ego’, to dictate our actions by ploughing on regardless. Usually leading to pain, injury and more frustration.
We can be conned by the bright lights of our Western society but yoga is an Eastern practice. Step outside the box and try not to set yourself up with unrealistic expectations that lead to feelings of failure. Begin your practice in the most neutral place possible and don’t be disturbed by what is unveiled. Appreciate your flaws as you would your qualities as they help you to learn.
One of my favourite quotes by Rumi is:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning is a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor…Welcome and entertain them all.
Treat each guest honourably.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
It says so much about life. Approach each day with as much equanimity as possible.
There is strength in getting through the pain. There is pride to be found at the end of a difficult journey. Be kind to yourself on that mat and don’t be suckered in by society’s unrealistic conditioning.
Be you. You are perfect and exactly where you are meant to be.