As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t dare try teaching the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to my classes. First, my knowledge of this ancient text is based on my four-week Teacher Training, during which we primarily studied the 1st two books; since then, my study has been on my own. Second, there are some great Raja Yoga teachers out there whose experience included decades of studying, translating, interpreting and practicing the Sutras; they are the true teachers.
I do, however, like to design yoga classes where (I hope!) our actions on the mat find purpose through the wisdom of the Sutras. In the beginning of March we embarked on an eight-month exploration of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, as introduced in Sutras 28 & 29 of Book Two of the Sutras. Drawing from my 2010 blog about the Eight Limbs:
“Book Two of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras lays out yoga’s Eight Limbs. Probably the most widely known and practiced are Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises) and Dharana (concentration as a form of “meditation”).
“But there are five additional limbs – and I believe they are in order for a reason.
“The Eight Limbs represent a process of growth from heady self-examination to soulful universal connection. The first two limbs – Yama and Niyama – list the ethical premises of yoga. After we’ve set our intentions for values and virtues, we move on to Asana, to address physical limitations such as aches and toxins. Next, Pranayama continues detoxification, awakens our life force energy and balances our nervous system. With the 5th limb, Pratyahara, the senses are softened to remove outer distractions. During Dharana, we concentrate intently on one point of focus. Deepening into the 7th limb, Dhyana, our concentration shifts into meditation, and there is no separation between the meditator that point of focus. The 8th limb, Samadhi, is generally described as “enlightenment” – but to me, that harkens of apart-ness. I like to think of Samadhi as one-ness. It occurs the moment when our practice of yoga’s previous seven limbs brings such peace and confidence that we are selfless.
“For me, Samadhi would be a state of consistently being my best self and offering that self in service to the world.” (From https://urbanyogaden.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/focus-mayjune-the-eight-limbs/).
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The month of March has been an introduction to the Limbs with emphasis on the 1st limb, Yama (or abstinence).
When considering how I might practice the ethical or philosophical virtues of yoga, I ask myself, “Who do I want to be as I walk down the street? How do I want to treat myself and others?” In response, I return without fail to the very 1st Yama – that essential virtue that sets the foundation for all other virtues: Ahimsa. Non-harming.
It’s a tough question to ask, “How might I be harming myself and others?” Ugh. Do I really want to look at that? Well, no. But, yes. And so, when our classes started our journey through the Eight Limbs, I set the deep intention to squarely face my own vulnerability and begin to abstain from whatever harming tendency (or tendencies) I might have.
More will be revealed.
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“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.” – Mahatma Gandhi
Lately I’ve been using “we” instead of “I” when teaching and writing. For example, “When we practice X, we experience Y.” Hello? Who am I to decide what anyone outside of myself is experiencing in practice? And so, to finish off this particular blog about living yoga in daily life, I want to apologize. It is wrong of me to take the position of “we” when aiming to simply pass along what “I” have experienced.
I am hoping this awareness will end the pattern. Feel free to call me out when necessary. OM Shanti.