Eight Ways to Stop Suffering
The Eight Limbed Path (proposed in the 7th Century AD as part of the “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”), describes the significance of yoga. Patanjali’s work is a formal and systematized book – on yoga as a discipline of mind, body and spirit.
The yoga practice that occurred 5000 yrs ago is even more relevant today. It is meant to quiet the mind and to find peace within, on the road to self discovery. It offers a realistic practice that helps one to meet difficult situations with courage and composure.
The first two limbs, the Yamas and Niyamas (ethical principles for living authentically) act as the stalk from which all the other limbs grow. As Donna Farhi suggests in her wonderful book, Bringing Yoga to Life “Yoga is less about standing on our head than standing on our own two feet, and that the physical practice of yoga remains mechanical gymnastics until transmitted by our intention to clarify the mind and open the heart.”
The Yamas and Niyamas, teach us how to live with intention, clarity and an open heart.
Limb #1 The Yamas: (Describe how to respect all things- within a society)
Ahimsa: (non-harming) When feeling connected we see ourselves reflected in another being, and have compassion for another's circumstances. We also realize that every living soul wants the same thing, to be loved, to be understood, and to be free to enjoy.
Satya: (truthfulness) Authenticity encompasses all modes of communication, verbal and non-verbal, and shall not be used to cause harm. Truth is being able to decipher what is real. It is living with compassion and virtue.
Asteya: (respect for what belongs to others) Not desiring another’s possessions – physical, intellectual, or any kind at all. To realize that all of us have equal access to our essence and that the desiring of possessions only causes suffering.
Brahmacharya: (conduct or behavior of God) To take on a broad sweeping view, where we can observe all things with impartiality and compassion.
Aparigraha: (non-grasping) Not seeking to possess needless or extravagant goods. To not accumulate self gratifying gifts & material possessions to please the ego.
Limb #2 The Niyamas: (Show us how to live soulfully- within the self):
- Saucha: (purity) Physical & mental cleanliness; moral and intellectual decency.
- Santosha: (contentment) Having a positive view toward past, present and future, no matter the circumstances which aims to balance the psyche. This is best measured when the outlook is difficult.
- Tapah or Tapas: (fire, ardor & fervor of spiritual practice) Purification is achieved through heat. To subject yourself to the process of transformation or alteration requires a good amount of discipline. Purification is not always something undertaken willingly as it often involves a certain amount of discomfort in the moment, to reap the gains later on.
- Svadhyaya: (daily study of spiritual texts) Progresses one toward self discovery, (ie) who we are, what we are, etc.
- Ishvarapranidhara: (devotion) Observation and devotion to the mystery of life, or God. Also pertains to the quality of our actions. Quality that comes from the heart with no attachment to any strict outcome allows for flexibility, joy and change as it may come – and therefore an avoidance of Duhkha. (suffering)
4. Pranayama is breathing exercises to better manage the energies that animate the body (ie. feelings, emotions & desires)
5. Pratyahara is withdrawing and mastering the senses.
6. Dharana is immovable concentration on an internal or external location.
7. Dhyana is the flow of concentrated energy in an unbroken current, towards that internal or external location.
8. Samadhayah (or Samadhi) is the complete integration with the object of meditation. The physical object dissolves and leaves one meditating on the essence of (all that exists).
Suffering is a result of following the stories, judgments and prejudices of the mind and believing them to reflect reality and who we are. Through the practice of yoga one becomes aware of the function of the body and the fickleness of the mind and comes to realize a third entity called "Purusa", the perceiver, the Higher Self, God, Krishna, etc.
The actual seer of the internal and external happenings and relationships to things, is not the physical body and not the neuronal firings of the brain. Studying a translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's (which encompasses the Eight Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga), brings a fresh outlook and a path to freedom from what we once imagined to be true. It is quite an eye opener and quite a journey!
Heather Johnston is a Registered Dental Hygienist and Certified Yoga Instructor. She enjoys all aspects of health, is fascinated with anatomy and evolution, and is always looking for ways to strengthen the body and mind.