And a Fair Bit Of Practice … Some Killer Self-Discipline … Good Karma … And …
And enlightenment means what exactly?
Though it may not take you to the all-seeing-all-knowing heights of levitating bliss, physical yoga - asana – delivers more benefits than just physical prowess. A 'true' yoga practice engages an equally powerful inner experience.
Yoga originated from an ancient spiritual practice and ushered countless people towards enlightenment. Devoted students, after years of practice and guidance, became intimately connected to the unified whole of creation. BAM! A definition of enlightenment.
Yoga asana is one of the eight steps to enlightenment. Eight steps, and then you’re there! Yoga-as-enlightenment was first described by an Indian scholar called Patanjali in 200 B.C. He called it the eight-limbed path of yoga. Some describe it more casually as the art of right living.
Here are the first two limbs of the eight-limbed path to yoga. If you master these qualities, you will at least possess of a happy and peaceful spirit. It makes sense that you would need such a spirit to be able to progress further.
The Eight Limbs
How you conduct yourself towards other people and in society. Yama describes five wise characteristics:
1) Ahisma. A vegetarian’s favourite. Ahisma means non-violence. Do not injure or show cruelty to any creature or person. Practice compassion. A yoga student who is rarely injured observes ahisma in his asana practice.
2) Satya. Commitment to truthfulness. Wisely this comes after ahisma. Speak the truth, as long as it does not conflict with ahisma. Honesty is the bedrock for higher human existence.
3) Asteya. Non-stealing. It implies not taking something that is not freely given. Besides the usual assumption of what stealing means, it also includes demanding another’s attention, as this is also stealing.
4) Brahmacharya. Sense control. Some people interpret this as sexual abstinence; however a better definition would be to behave responsibly with respect to our goal of moving toward the truth. Random sex, drugs and Rolling Stones? Not Brahmacharya mahn.
5) Aparigraha. Take what is only necessary or what we have earned. Observing Aparigraha neutralises the desire to acquire or hoard wealth. Let go of our attachment to things.
The second limb concerns the attitude that we adopt toward ourselves. It aligns our personal behaviour to support our journey towards enlightenment:
1) Sauca. Purity and cleanliness. Yes, it means to practice outer cleanliness, but also inner cleanliness. Yoga asana, breathing techniques such as pranayama, and regular dietary cleansing programs all help the body to maintain its cleanliness. There is also a mental component. Sauca promotes the cleansing of negative emotions such as hatred, anger, lust, greed, pride and so on.
2) Santosa. Contentment. Be happy with what we have, rather than unhappy with what we don’t have.
3) Tapas. A variety of appetizers in Spanish Cuisine. No, this is the hipster tapas - the one that was here before it was trendy. This tapas describes the disciplined use of our energy. It's the inner fire that purifies the subtle nerve channels of our body. Tapas directs our energy to enthusiastically engage life. If we multi-task and are unable to give our responsibilities its due attention, we are not practicing Tapas. Observing what we eat, our posture, how we breathe are also tapas.
4) Svadhyaya. Self Study. Cultivate a self-reflective consciousness; be centred and non-reactive to the dualities of our lives such as hot - cold, hunger - satisfaction, tired - energetic. It sounds so easy...
5) Isvarapranidhana. (eeeeh Makarena) Celebration of the spiritual. Incense and tie-dye clothes not required. Isvarapranindhana suggests that we tune in, not zone out. Contemplate God, or the greater workings of our universe. Be ever aware of the omnipresent forces that constantly press upon us. This is my personal favourite, though I love them all.
The eight-limb path may seem to be a linear ladder. Achieving one stage leads us to the next level, just like Super Mario world. It's true on one level, but at the same time, the system is highly inter-connected.
Consider these first two limbs the roots of a tree; unseen support that inspires growth. Championing Yama and Niyama creates fertile ground, from where the student can progress quickly onwards toward enlightenment.
Limbs 3 and 4. A promise of perfect health.