Embodied Living: Taking Yoga off the Mat (an introduction to the Eightfold Path)

By Deni Spirovski

How incomparable is that post-Yoga feeling? The one where you leave feeling both energised and calm, peaceful but strong, disconnected from your troubles and more connected to yourself. It’s being totally balanced; embodying the truest parts of who you are. You leave the class with a sense that everything is going to be alright ~ even if you walked in feeling the exact opposite. Sometimes it’s referred to as the “Yoga high” and, just like the other kinds of highs, this one can be short lived too (have you ever walked out of class feeling blissful and then something happens and jolts you straight back out of it?). But the beauty is that this feeling doesn’t have to be a fleeting moment. This is because, ultimately, Yoga was never meant to be this way ~ it was always meant to be a way of life.

So how do we do this? How do we take Yoga off the mat?

We can begin by looking towards incorporating the breadth of Yoga philosophy in our daily lives. So with that, I wanted to share a really integral part of Yoga philosophy with you. It’s called “The Eightfold Path” or “The Eight Limbs of Yoga”. This pathway offers practical steps we can take if we want to instil a little more Yogic living in our lives. It was composed at least 1700 years ago by a sage (or group of sages - no one really knows) called Patanjali and is found in his work known simply as, “The Sutras”.

The Eightfold Path gives us a really solid way to examine our actions, thoughts and practices so that we can truly reap the benefits of Yoga in our daily lives.

It guides us beyond the postures (asana) we do in class and gives us a total of 8 different aspects (or limbs) we can consider for Yogic living. Even though we aren’t all Yogis living in a cave somewhere in the Himalayas, we can still refer to this path for guidance in our modern lives, and with this, we can truly bear the fruit of this wholistic practice for mind, body and soul.

And so here it is...

The Eightfold Path

The first 2 parts are the Yamas and the Niyamas. Both are guidelines for conducting ourselves ethically in order to live in harmony with the world around us as well as taking care of ourselves. There are 5 “sub- disciplines” for each.

1. Yamas ~ Moral Disciplines(these are how we relate socially)

Ahimsa (Non-violence) Being kind to the Earth and all of her inhabitants (including ourselves!). It’s about doing no harm in thought, actions or words.

Satya (Truthfulness) Being honest, speaking your truth.

Asteya (Non-Stealing) Besides the obvious, it also means not stealing others ideas, creative flair, fashion sense, etc. It’s about stepping into what your own truth is and trusting your own authentic expression.

Brahmacharya (Abstinence/Correct use of energy) Traditionally it refers to abstaining from sex. However, we can also look at it as not over-exerting our creative energy or our energy in general. Having respect for the immense creative power we have within.

Aparigraha (Non-greed) Being content with what you have and not striving for more in terms of material items or experiences that are beyond the necessary.

2. Niyamas = Self-Observances + Disciplines (self-practices)

Saucha (Cleanliness/Purity) Purity of the body physically (internally + externally e.g. having a shower, fasting, etc.), purity of our thoughts and cleanliness of the space we live and work in.

Santosha (Contentment) Facing our challenges and finding contentment with whatever may arise. This is not to be mistaken as spiritual bypassing as it is very much the opposite. It’s about giving ourselves the space needed to feel what we need to feel and finding acceptance for that. We’re facing things head on. With this we can allow ourselves to find peace with whatever occurs as we learn how to release it and reside back in contentment.

Tapas (Self-Discipline) Creating a daily practice, knowing when enough is enough, adhering to the care of your body + mind as a disciplined priority (fill your cup first!). When we have self-discipline we also have self-trust ~ with this anything is possible.

Svadhyaya (Self-Study) This can be self-inquiry meditation to understand your true nature, reading of spiritual books or books/ podcasts that uplift and help you grow and also learning from trusted teachers on how to transcend our earthly limitations. It’s about going beyond these obstacles by cultivating self-awareness through inspired study.

Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender)

This is about having faith in something greater. Trusting the path you’re on and maintaining your confidence in the fact that there is a bigger picture/higher power at play; that everything is going to work out in the end.

3. Asana ~ Physical Postures The limb we all know and love - this is about caring for our physical body with postures that build strength, release tension, massage our inner organs and optimise our physical functioning. It is very much about honouring the temple that our soul resides within so that we can prepare our body for meditation.

4. Pranayama ~ Breath Control These are breathing exercises that help us to master the flow of Prana (life-force) within our body. It enables us to gain control over our respiratory system, our nervous system and therefore leads to better control of our mind. Pranayama strengthens the connection of our physical body to the energetic layers of our being so that again, we can prepare ourselves for meditation.

5. Pratyahara ~ Sense Withdrawal Bringing ourselves inward and being able to separate ourselves from external stimulation (i.e. through the senses - sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste). When we are able to discipline our senses, we are more easily able to practice meditation. We can do this by trying to close our eyes and focus on our breath until we begin to shut down our responses to external stimuli.

6. Dharana ~ Concentration The next stage: being able to focus our attention on a fixed point. It can be considered as the first step of meditation. Concentration can be a focus on anything such as our breath, the third eye, on the qualities or image of a deity, a spiritual painting (such as a mandala/yantra) or perhaps on a certain chakra. We want to work on having a focus of one-pointedness.

7. Dhyana ~ Absorption Dhyana is the second step of meditation whereby the meditator is totally absorbed in the point of concentration (dharana). It’s the point where the barriers of the mind dissipate and you start to notice the energy of the mind. This is where the mind is purified and we begin to access higher states of consciousness.

8. Samadhi ~ Bliss/Enlightenment/Oneness Samadhi is the final destination - the point where we become totally merged with the highest level of consciousness. This is the ultimate state of Yoga; complete union with the divine in all our actions. There are different levels of Samadhi that one will experience before the final point of integration with universal consciousness. One of these levels could be considered as that “Yoga high” we mentioned earlier.

And there it is, Patanjali’s Eightfold Path.

It’s a lot to take in but it is certainly worthwhile trying to implement just a little bit into our days. Once we start to bring these principles into our lives more and more we begin to radiate. Life feels just that little more special and we begin to feel that “Yoga high” in our daily lives.

And so, we become embodied, modern-day Yogis.

Om, Deni.

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