Needless to say, 2020 has already been a year full of unprecedented events, despair, losses, and grieve – and I think most of us have felt like giving up at least once during the past months.
But now is not the time to give up – it is time to act. It is a wake-up call to all of us. A crisis is defined as any event that will lead to an unstable and dangerous situation affecting people, communities and society. However, crisis is also sometimes referred to as a tipping point for change. If we keep this in mind, now has never been a better time to make a positive change in your life.
Subsequently to this, I’ve been reflecting on my own life and what changes I want to make – I have asked myself what’s important to me and how do I create a life in which I feel like my true self and in harmony with myself, with others while also dealing with all the inevitable uncertainty and fear.
I’m on my way, thanks to yoga.
In this post, I’ll outline what the 8 limbs of yoga are and how they can serve as a guideline to dealing with uncertainty, avoiding immorally and unethically decisions and behaviors, and ultimately help refine you as a person.
The 8 limbs:
The 8 limbs of yoga may seem rather complicated and they are! Thus, for beginners, I’d recommend to only concentrate on the first 4 limbs, which focuses on refining our personalities, gaining control over our bodies, and developing awareness of our true self. You will still benefit from practicing just this.
The second part of the 8 limbs is the tricky part. The 5-8 limbs deal with our senses, the mind, and pursuing a higher state of consciousness. To get to this stage of the ashtanga takes strength and stamina, and only a few actually get to this point – but yoga is a process. Those who keep practicing will get there! Moreover, this stage can only be experienced through a dedicated and persistent practice of the 8 limbs.
The definition of the 8 limbs and their meaning are as follows:
The first limb is about ethical standards. It focuses on our behaviors and how we conduct ourselves in life. In short, Yama can be explained as: Treat others as to how you want them to treat you. The Yama consists of the following acts;
The second limb is about self-discipline and spiritual observances. For instance, keeping up a self-care routine through meditation or regularly make sure you align with yourself with your values and actions.
Niyama consists of:
- heat; spiritual austerities.
- study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self.
- surrender to God.
The 3rd limb, Asana, is probably the most commonly known of them all. The asana is the postures practiced in yoga. The practice of asanas is a structured set of postures, which aims to develop our discipline and improve our ability to concentrate, which are equally fundamental skills for good meditation practice.
Pranayama means “life force extension” and is a breathing technique designed to gain control over the respiratory process while making a connection between the breath, the mind, and the emotions. Pranayama is believed to have a rejuvenating and calming effect on the mind and body.
The practice of pratyahara is about stepping back and taking a look at ourselves. This allows us to objectively observe habits that are perhaps detrimental to our health and interfere with our inner growth (consumption, materialism, envy, discrimination, prejudice, etc.)
In the previous stage, pratyahara creates the setting for dharana, which means concentration. In the practice of Dharana or concentration, the aim is to slow down thinking and focus on a specific energetic center in the body, an image, or a sound. The important thing here is to focus on one thing only.
Dhyana is the ultimate state of awareness without paying any attention to your surroundings. In other words, this means that the mind is quiet. Although concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana) may seem to be one and the same, there is a fine line of difference between these two. In this stillness of Dhyana, the mind only produces few or no thoughts at all.
Patanjali describes this as the completion of the yogic path. At this stage, the experience of bliss and being at one with the Universe should prevail. OK, it might sound a bit wishy-washy, but the point is that at this stage you are at peace with your physical, mental, and spiritual self.
This post was not meant as absolute truth, neither am I saying that the 8 limbs of yoga have all the answers and nor do I agree to everything prescribed by Patanjali. However, I do believe that we as human beings need to start to draw our attention and awareness inwards and ask ourselves; what can I do better and how can I make a positive change? And then act upon it! Following the principles of the 8 limbs of yoga is a good place to start, and it does not cost a dime, yet it pays off triple!